Judging a Book by Its Cover


“Ma’am, you go on ‘head of us.” My grandmother said and motioned with her hand. “Yes,” said a voice behind me. Confused, I turned around in the line and saw an older white woman gathering her items shuffling past us. Her cart was loaded. We had only a few things…a loaf of bread….a pair of stockings…and several odds-and-ends totaling maybe less than a third of her purchases.

With a slow drawl in her voice, she asked my grandmother, “Is this here your grandbaby?”
“Yes ma’am.”
They both stared at me with the expectancy that southerners give children – a visual cue to speak.

Book cover of "The Help" as seen on Amazon's site for the UK

“Hello.” I managed to say.
They continued to talk but I was incensed.
Images and dialogue from the movie Roots conjured up in my mind, “We is free.”

Why would she let her go in front of us? I didn’t try to hide my discontent, it was clearly written on my face. I wanted her to see it.

“We only have 6…” I started to say interrupting their conversation. But my grandmother shot a glance at me that told me exactly what she was thinking: shut up. I obliged.

As we walked toward the car, I completed my thought. “We only had 6 things, why would you let her go in front of us?”
“I use ta wuk fa her family,” she said with a cool voice.
“Yes ma’am.”
“I cook and clean at ‘dere house and a few others on da same street.”

Don’t hold it against me I was only 8 maybe 9 years old.

“We needed da money. And das wha folks did ‘den. We did wha we had ta do.”
“But we don’t have to live like that anymore.”
I reached for her hand. It was soft, her skin was the color of honey.
“Well no we don’t, but just all da same.”

This happened in the 1980s. I didn’t know how to tell my grandmother that day I was angry; that I didn’t understand why she felt the need to subjugate herself to that woman. That she no longer worked for her family that she wasn’t better than us and that things were very different from that time. But I did not; I did not say a word out of respect and love for her.

I recently watched the movie, The Help and even before I saw the film or thought about reading the book, just the reference to the plot gave me the same feelings I had with my grandmother that day.
Bitterness. Ambivalence. An odd sense of pride.

And even after I watched the movie, I had the same feelings.
Bitterness. Ambivalence. An odd sense of pride.

Book cover of "The Help" as seen on Amazon's site for the US

Some would say that it was a misrepresentation of how life was for southern Blacks in the 1960s and that it glossed over key historical events that would have made the film true to life. I don’t disagree however; I wanted to look at the movie as purely a cinematographic work of art.

I couldn’t.

Sure, there were some characters in the movie that you cheered for – don’t all great movies have an underdog that triumphs in the end? And sure, there were moments that held you at bated breath.

But I had some fundamental issues with the premise of the movie. One of the characters ask another, “How did you feel, leaving your own child while you took care of other people’s children?” Throughout the life of the film that question went unanswered. There was never a response provided.

As a child that grew up with a grandparent and parent that served as a cook and sometimes domestic, I feel most qualified to address that question. My answer would be that my mother gave the best of herself during the day, and at night it felt as if we got what was left.

And so I entertained the thought of reading the book. But truthfully I can’t do that either. I found it interesting how the book was marketed in the United States versus the United Kingdom (see pictures of the covers on the right). Just the cover from the UK alone is enough to make me NOT want to read this book. Bleh.

So in spite of what they say, you can judge a book by its cover.

7 thoughts on “Judging a Book by Its Cover

  1. Bridgette

    I really like this, It reminded me of my father and when I was a child, we took hand me downs from his boss’s wife and kids and even tho they were too big or too small my dad thought we had struck gold, I spent a lot of angry moments when my dad wasnt looking cutting those things into itty bitty pieces….I enjoyed the movie and will prob. read the book but it helps me to realize where we’ve come from and some things our kids dont have to face…BIG UPS KnowledgeMaven!!!

  2. I read the book when it came out but I won’t see the movie. This movie has made box office history in terms of dollars. Its popularization makes me question just how far we are in our thinking about sex and race in this contemporary culture of progress for people of color. That the movie would be portrayed as girlfriend chick lit minimizes life as it was for both races and translates the message that these relationships were the norm, that there there was a blurred color line during a time that distinctly divided us quite publicly with white and black water fountains. It has been more disturbing to hear blacks raving over the book. And while I enjoyed the book on some level, even it set us back in time with its use of dialect. An enslaved intellect of blacks makes this kind of story something to rave about, So, what popularizes this story among non-colored peoples?

  3. Nice piece, well written. I confess I enjoyed the film for its superficial, feel-good, homogenous, Hollywood vibe, not for the truth or any measure of accountability…

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