Feb 15, 2020 in Literature

The Ethical Issues in The Help

Many Hollywood films recently propose different ethical solutions in the context of racial discrimination, exploring the questions of truth, dignity, respect, and humanity. The Help by Tate Taylor is an example of those films that tries to illustrate someone can behave morally in the situation of discrimination and humiliation. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a young white woman, who turns home after her graduating from the University of Mississippi and dreams of becoming a journalist. She faces with racial discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement. She spends some time with Aibileen, a black maid who raises the children of Elizabeth Leefolt and understands that the poor treatment of her white socialite friends towards their “help” is not right. The current essay proposes the idea that the film proves how important to achieve justice in society because it can gradually equalize the ethical rights of different people to a dignified life, regardless of social status, skin color or gender. 

The Consequences of Ethical Choice

The main character is trying to write a book based on Elizabeth Leefolt’ life that would uncover the truth about the attitude towards black workers. Thus, Skeeter’s book can change the situation as well as protests. However, her white relatives and friends do not understand why they should change their attitudes to blacks.


The Stakeholders. Two black maids are the most interested persons in publishing the book because they suffer from the injustice of white people. They cannot openly advocate for their rights, fearing to lose their jobs. For example, they are often isolated from white people because the majority thinks that the maids can infect their children. There is one significant episode when Minny, one of the maids, cannot go to the toilet in the house, and thus her employer built a separate one at the yard. However, once she rejects to go out because of the tornado, and thus provokes aggressive actions of Miss Hilly. Then, she decides to join other maids in their rebellion against social injustice. For all of them, it is important to achieve justice not only for himself or herself but for all people who are suffering from the humiliation, so they secretly involved in the movement for the rights. 

The Six Pillars of Character. Each of the major characters the reproduces the ethical principles in different ways, depending on the specific situation and goals. Skeeter is an outsider in this sense because most white people do not recognize their guilt to the black population. However, she believes that her actions are ethically correct because Skeeter follows the principles of respect, fairness, and caring. More to say, the idea of fairness is the core of the film, and most of the characters unite around this moral code. The ethical decision is to publish a book of the maids’ memories that collects different stories of unfairness. It is the right choice because other people can read about injustice and change their attitude in the future. Skeeter and her friends just wanted to tell the world about the unfairness, since most could not change anything.

Aibileen and Minny are also the protagonists, who are trying to implement the idea of moral justice/fairness and respect. However, Hilly Holbrook violates all moral rules, especially respect. She is not tolerant on her maid, so using bad language and humiliates every time. If Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny did not follow the six pillars of character, the situation would be worse, and the white population would humiliate the blacks further. Therefore, the book became the impetus for the public discussion of the rights of blacks, which resulted in a series of revolutionary laws at that time.

The Ethical Growth

Skeeter wants to fix the problem of social and racial inequality, using his journalistic skills. The character finds herself in a moral dilemma when she must choose whether to support white people in relation to their dishonorable attitudes to blacks or, on the contrary, to justify the oppressed people in the context of equality rights. Finally, Skeeter chooses the second way, and thus illustrates her ethical growth, overcoming her naivety and prejudice. Perhaps, it was easy to make that choice, because she educated outside the city, and thus Skeeter already had an ethical understanding what is right and wrong.

The Golden Rule and Universality. Skeeter follows two principles of ethics and proves that it must be at the foundation of democratic society. First, Skeeter treats others in the same way that she would be treated in the same situation. Hence, the character never shows her contempt or disgrace for the black maids as other whites do, and thus the girl helps them in their protest. Moreover, Skeeter suggests that other whites would have to treat in the same way, and thus she follows the golden rule in the light of self-correction. It is an example of moral responsibility for her actions, overcoming own fears and prejudices. Second, Skeeter’s behavior can be the universal ethical principle that should lead to justice in the society. She reduces the principle of relativism, offering different views of the situation because the behavior of white people is the illustration of prejudice and injustice. Through her book, she argues that justice should be the universal rule because the blacks are no different from the whites since they found themselves in different cultural situations that should be changed. Thus, Skeeter demonstrates her moral growth instead of her young age and small life experience. 

The Deterioration of Moral standards. Miss Hilly represents the worsening of moral standards. She believes that blacks are carriers of the disease, so her mission is to save whites from dangerous viruses. During the film, she does not change the position, and even more she convinces in her rightness. Miss Hilly states that it is her moral duty to protect all the citizens, and thus she proposes the separated toilets for blacks. Moreover, she also tries to get her health legislation approved by the Governor, the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. Minny is suffering from her moral standards, but she is dumb and cannot do anything. In fact, Minny is a symbolic figure that embodies the entire nation that suffered from discrimination during the American history.

Conclusion and Recommendation

The film represents different ethical issues during the Civil Rights era in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi. The problems of justice and truth are the main moral challenges that Skeeter and her friends try to overcome. The publication of her book is important step towards this goal, but some of her actions are not always correct in the context of deontological ethics. In fact, the book about Aibileen and Minny is also revenge for the negative attitude to blacks that is contrary to the golden rule. In other words, for many characters, justice means to do the same actions as whites did for them. Perhaps, it was better for Skeeter to choose a neutral ethical position as a journalist, but did not accept the ideological view of her friends. On the other hand, there were no alternative ways in achieving equality between races; otherwise, the oppression and humiliation would not be stopped. Therefore, the actions by Skeeter and her friends are ethically justified, since they postulate such important moral virtues as honesty, justice, liberty, and equality of rights.



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