The movie The Help set in Mississippi in the 60s depicts the relationship between the prominent white families and their black help. Skeeter an aspiring writer recently home from college decides to interview the black women to learn their perspective. At first, only Aibileen, the housekeeper of Skeeter’s best friend will talk. In time, more and more of the maids begin to share their stories—some of the shame, sadness, pain, and some of the kindness, friendship, and grace. As the narrative unfolds and knowledge of Skeeter’s undertaking becomes public, Hilly, another friend of Skeeter’s expresses her disdain and her contempt. Hilly emerges as the antagonist to Skeeter’s campaign and will do everything in her power to thwart this venture to get her way.
Though the movie does not use the term bully, Hilly is one. She would not call herself a bully. In fact, she sees herself as a hero to save the town and its culture by keeping the help in their place. She exhibits characteristics of a bully. Her agenda is self-serving. She wants to maintain the relationship between the whites and the black like it always has been. To accomplish her plan, she employs her strong personality to convince weaker members of her group to go her way. And, they succumb to her, forming an unhealthy alliance. She is highly opinionated, challenging anyone who disagrees with her. She murmurs and gossips, always negative. She accomplishes most of her toxic work behind the scenes, often using other people to carry out her desires, making them the fall person.
Most of the town’s other white women feel entitled to this way of life where the black maids clean their homes, prepare their meals, and raise their children. Their needs and preferences fulfilled. Why would they trouble themselves to confront and deal with Hilly’s bullying? And, why would they upset the apple cart of class and convenience that has existed for generations? As long as the black help remembers and stays in their place the white women feel they have a good thing going.
Skeeter writes about this system based on racial prejudice with one class ruling over another. As she interviews the various black women, she realizes that the only thing different is the color of their skin. They all have hopes and dreams, disappointments and heartaches, joys and celebrations. Furthermore, Skeeter acknowledges that her family’s maid, Constantine, did the greatest thing for her—she taught Skeeter to love herself and not to buy into racial prejudices.
Skeeter’s book is published and quickly becomes the talk of the town, even though she changed the names of the people and the city. But it will take more than Skeeter’s book to confront Hilly’s bullying—even though it’s quite apparent that Hilly is in the book.
Bullies thrive where the majority remains silent in fear. It will take the courage of a strong, gracious, and resolute person. Not someone who loves a good fight, but that rare individual, though often silent and reserved, who exposes the bully for who they are.
That exposure came when Hilly accused Aibileen of stealing Hilly and Skeeter’s friend, Elizabeth’s silverware. Aibileen garners the resolve and bravery finally to confront Hilly, an action that is out of character for Aibileen and outside the social protocol of the time. Inching close to Hilly, Aibileen whispers to Hilly, “All you do is scare and lie to try to get what you want. You’re a godless woman. Ain’t you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain’t you tired?”
In the first sentence, Aibileen reveals Hilly’s motives. She uses scare tactics and lies to get her way. In the second sentence, Aibileen shows Hilly’s character, though she claims to be a Christian there is nothing Christlike about her behavior. She is indeed godless, doing her cunning work behind the scenes in a way that does not honor God or God’s creation. The godless operate in the cloak of secrecy and the shadows. They don’t want to be exposed for who they are. The godly, on the other hand, have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Exposure carries no threat to them. Lastly, in one question, Aibileen challenges Hilly to stop her escapades. A bully has to keep up their lies and their deceptions. Their constant chatter and conniving and coverup are taxiing. It’s tiresome and laboring. The pointed question fitly spoken will often accomplish the delicate work of exposing the bully.
As Aibileen leaves Elizabeth’s home, walking away from the only life she has known—as the help—she says: “God says we need to love our enemies. It’s hard to do, but it can start by tellin’ the truth.” Indeed, it can.
I suppose we will always have bullies. But, fewer would wreak their havoc if godly and courageous people stood up to them, exposing their true colors, and their disruptive actions. Therefore, we must never drop our guard, always question the actions of bullies, always tell the truth, and forever take the moral high ground.