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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Helps Point of View

Novelists use lots of different points of view. First person is preferred by many because it is close to the reader and comfortable for the writer. First person is very American. Ever since Huckleberry Finn came long with his Missouri patois of Mississippi river idioms a love affair was born with the down home insider who gives us the real low down as we navigate our way through the novel. Many first novels, mine included, are first person narration because a single point of view naturally coalesces around the main character

The Help uses multiple points of view. Mostly in the first person of the characters. Faulkner did this in Absalom Absalom and really became the benchmark for this type of narration. Multiple viewpoints gets around the restriction of first person which is you are stuck inside the head of one character. This can be tricky in a novel that moves around and we have to have insight into areas the main character might not necessarily be involved in. Authors use tricks like the ones I used in Tobacco Sticks of sneaking my character around, putting him outside doors and literally peering in keyholes

But in Katherine Stockett gets around this problem in The Help by using the view points of the  maids and one of the women who also it turns out to be a writer. This allows us to move around in the story and yet get the inside scoop which is the essential element of The Help which is the maids point of view. So in that regard it works very well. The risk of multiple narrators is that the author cannot pull it off or these switches are jarring to the reader. When I first started The Help I was sad to leave Abilene, but then along came Minny who picked up the slack with a more fiery blunt point of view.

Stockett gets in one jam and that is The League party where she goes omniscient or third person. She could not afford to be stuck in any ones head there because it moved around too much . But this chapter is by far the weakest and yet it is a center point of the novel. The third person is just too removed and we don't feel the pain or joy of the characters. She must have agonized over this decision and found it is the only thing that works. In a sense it is a violation of the POV, but I too cheated in Tobacco Sticks and went to third person for a brief chapter.

The novel dictates the point of view and so the only rule is that which works for the book,. Multiple narration clearly works for the bulk of The Help. Ultimately it is the authors call and demonstrates the basic maxim of all fiction. There are no rules.

Books by William Hazelgrove