Miss Machia-Hilly Holbrook of the Help

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Miss “Machia-HILLY” Holbrook

In The Prince, Machiavelli states that every leader is forced to make a choice between leading with fear or with love. According to Machiavelli, in an ideal situation, one should be both loved and feared, however, this state is difficult (almost impossible) to attain. Therefore, when forced to choose, it is better and much safer to be feared than loved…because men are ungrateful and will betray you. Although easy to comprehend and pretty black and white, this idea is horribly flawed and as portrayed in the film, choosing to lead with fear and neglecting the idea of leading with love creates much opportunity for a particular leader to be tricked and overthrown.

In the movie, “The Help,” it seems as though Hilly Holbrook not only read Machiavelli’s book, “The Prince,” but also lives by his ideals and philosophies day-to-day. Miss Hilly, as portrayed in the movie, is a mean, manipulative bigot who rules the upper crust of her 1960's Southern hometown with a big smile and an iron fist, (gloved in lace of course). Hilly never settles to take ‘no’ for an answer, and insists that Jackson, Mississippi is fine the way it is and surely does not support anyone setting out to change it. Needless to say, Hilly is a villain throughout the movie. However, on the surface, Miss Hilly is definitely not the “mustache-twirling” villain type. As a matter of fact, she appears to be totally respectable and portrays the prim and proper perfection of a “southern belle” of the time. She is the president of the Jackson Junior League and active in all sorts of charities including collecting canned goods for “The Poor Starving Children of Africa” benefit. These ‘honorable’ qualities of Miss Hilly portray Machiavelli’s idea that ‘compassion, like generosity, is admired’ and are necessary for any leader to gain a pack of loyal and dedicated followers.

But as with any Machiavellian leader, there’s a feared dark side to Miss Hilly fueled by constant motive and a malicious edge. All this "charity" work is just the tip of the iceberg of Hilly's villainy. If you cross her, she can have you (framed), arrested and imprisoned for stealing, have your friends and family fired from their jobs, have you evicted, have your car repossessed, incite violence against you, and basically run you out of town, all without getting her hands dirty. Hilly is simply using The Poor Starving Children of Africa benefit to paint a picture of herself as a non-racist person, when at the same time, she is attempting to pass a bill she calls The Home Help Sanitation Initiative requiring all Mississippi families to build outdoor bathrooms for their black employees. As the president of the Junior League, she uses her power to exclude another character, Mrs. Celia Foote, from as many social events as possible, in an obvious attempt to ostracize her completely. While she claims it's because Celia is "white trash," it's pretty obvious the real reason for her exclusion is that Celia dared to marry a man that Hilly once thought she was going to marry. Using this same authority, Hilly also leverages her Junior League power to prevent her mother's former maid, Minny, from getting a job, all because Minny let Hilly have an earful (and a mouthful) on occasion. Hilly makes her Junior League minions do her dirty work by refusing Minny a job at any of their houses.

When compared to the characteristics of “beast-like” leaders, it is clear to see that Hilly is that of a lion; strong and feared, but defenseless against traps, especially the trap that Minny set for her. Minny’s “chocolate pie” with an added ‘special ingredient’ surely keeps Hilly’s mouth shut (no pun intended), when determined to keep the authors of Skeeter’s book anonymous. This tactile strategy used by Minny could easily label Minny as more of a ‘fox’ according to Machiavelli, although Minny does not have nearly as many obvious ‘followers’ in her footsteps like that of Hilly;...
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