After seeing the trailer for The Help, I went out and read the book this weekend. It’s an uneven novel, and some of its more visceral moments probably won’t make it into the movie — I think this Janet Maslin review of the book’s racial politics is largely accurate, if it underestimates the book’s portrayal of the difficult relationships between sources and journalists.But one sort of side element of the novel that really stuck out for me was the role of culture and fashion in the main character Skeeter’s transformation. Some of the choices are a little obvious, like when she hears “The Times They Are a-Changin’” on the radio before, and says it’s the best thing she’s ever heard. But I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a world without knowing about Bob Dylan, or the possibility of someone like him, or of music that sounds like his did. Music does open you up like that. And I love a scene where, shopping in New Orleans, Skeeter finds herself whisked off to a showing of Emilio Pucci’s new collection. Sure, dress shopping is frivolous compared to the civil rights movement, and the book never tries to pretend they’re equivalent, but those dresses, those colors, those cuts, they give Skeeter the sense that she can present herself differently, that she doesn’t have to fit her hair and her body into styles they would never be able to bend enough to accommodate. Her real work is journalism. But the discoveries she makes through culture may be personal, but they’re not unimportant.
The Times They Are A-Changin’