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It’s a good thing, because black people were hugely dependant on their employers – we were their source of income.
Demetrie didn’t have a car; she didn’t have health insurance. And that was the understanding: you come and work for our family, you look after us for the rest of our lives, and we’ll look after you for the rest of your life.
The Help took five years to write, got at least 45 rejection letters from agents, and when finally published went straight into the American bestseller lists.
It has sold a quarter of a million copies so far in the US, and is still selling briskly.
It is like those idyllic streets where the teenagers in American horror films live.
Stockett is telling me about her grandparents, who played a big part in her life when she was a child.
Now the help is being paid better, they’re being treated on more equal terms, but we’ll never have that intimacy with them again.
Blacks and whites are not close any more in Mississippi. We had to separate and break off that dependancy so that down the road we can come together as equals.’ In her afterword to the book, Stockett quotes the writer and journalist Howell Raines: 'There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. I’m so naive and stupid that I never gave a thought to where she went to the bathroom until I was 20. It never occurred to me that she had a separate bathroom, but when I came home from college I found this door on the outside of my grandparents’ house.’ The Stockett family went to Demetrie’s funeral, it was the first time Stockett had been to a black church.
And there was a rope swing in there, and we could drive old trucks around…’ Mostly, she liked the fact that everything stayed the same at her grandparents; they ate lunch and supper there every day. If you came to lunch once my grandparents would set a place for you for the rest of your life, and expect you to come.’ But she was a little bit displaced.For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism.’ Stockett says it took her 20 years to realise the irony of the situation with her beloved Demetrie. 'I’d never had any interaction with black people except those who worked for our family.