I recently finished the book The Help. I definitely enjoyed it, but there’s one thing that bothered me that I can’t get out of my head. It obviously hasn’t colored my entire opinion of the book, but as it keeps coming back to me, I figured I would bring it up and see if anyone else had this issue, or can explain it to me. That being said, if you haven’t read the book and want to, I’d stop reading as the rest of this post will contain spoilers. I haven’t seen the movie, so I cannot attest as to whether this will give away a major part of the movie. I would assume so though. For all those, who have read the book or aren’t concerned about spoilers, please read on!
The big turning point in the book is the arrest of Yule Mae. If it weren’t for her arrest, chances are pretty high that Skeeter and Aibileen would not have gotten enough interviews to get their book published. So really, her arrest is what makes the rest of the book possible. It is this inciting incident that doesn’t quite sit right for me. It is in fact a legitimate arrest, as Yule Mae admits to stealing a ring from Hilly. However, her reason for stealing the ring doesn’t make sense to me. Yule Mae, has twin boys, and she and her husband have been setting aside money for years in order to send them both to college. They were $75 short. Yule Mae asked Hilly for a loan and was turned down, so Yule Mae stole the ring in the hopes that she could pawn it for the $75.
According to a 1963 Almanac, tuition for a year of college was anywhere from $100 a year at the University of Texas, up to $1520 for a year at Harvard. Tougaloo, the black college located north of Jackson, would have likely fallen at the lower end of the tuition spectrum, if not under $100 a year. For the sake of our argument, let’s say that tuition is $100. Which means that to send two boys to that college for four years each, would be a total cost of $800. In the letter that Yule Mae writes to Skeeter, she says that her legal fees of $500 ate almost all of the college money. All of this adds up to tuition being right around $100 a year. They were $75 short, which means they had $725, which would be decimated by a $500 legal fee.
Here’s my problem. I have attended two different colleges and just about everybody I know also attended college. None of us had to pay for the whole thing up front. At my first school, I paid a semester at a time. At my second school, I paid a quarter at a time. Which means, that they had at least three years to save up $75. Now I realize that in 1962 that was a lot of money, especially for a black family being paid less than minimum wage. However, to get to the full amount needed before that last year of college started, they would have to save less than fifty cents a week. That’s a quarter per parent, or less than fifteen cents each if both boys got jobs. For reference, that would be the same as saving $4 per week today. For something that you really want, that’s doable.
That means there was no logical reason for Yule Mae to steal the ring, because she didn’t need that $75 for three years. Why would an educated women take that kind of risk – especially with a woman like Hilly – when she was capable of the same reasoning that I just employed? What am I missing? It can’t be that the boys were going into their senior year of college and they were $75 short, or they wouldn’t have had the money to pay the legal fees. The only way that she would have had the money to pay her legal fees, is if the boys had yet to start school. So why steal the ring? Did you have to pay for all four years up front back then? Did I miss something in the text? Are we supposed to believe that she was really that short-sighted? Or is this just a gaping hole in the plot? Somebody help me, this is driving me nuts!