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Discussion of "The Help"

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Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » 31 Dec 2011, 21:58

Happy New Year! Please use this topic to discuss the January 2012 book of the month, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Please wait until you finish the book to read this topic because this topic will contain spoilers.

How do you like the book? Would you recommend it to others? What do you like most about it? Is there anything you did not like? Any favorite characters? Are there any passages from the book you found especially noteworthy? If so, please quote them here. Do you have any questions about the book for the rest of the group?

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I always like to watch the movie adaptation of a book after having read the book. Has anyone seen the movie yet? If so, how did you like the movie? How did the movie compare to the book? How much did the movie stay true to the book?

***

My thoughts:

I liked reading this book very much. I think the author, Kathryn Stockett, does a great job at keeping the story interesting and suspenseful without being melodramatic or using cheap suspense tricks.

One thing I noticed several times that kept my interest was the way her characters would repeatedly reference something making you wonder what it is but without letting you know for a while. The biggest examples of course is the "Terrible. Awful." which Minny teases us by mentioning so many time before we find out what the terrible, awful thing she did was. Another time was when Skeeter would reference what she was told about what her mother did to Constantine.

I think Hilly made for a nice villain. She wasn't too one-dimensional and did have some redeeming qualities to make her that much scarier of a villain. (IMO, the more a villain can seem like a good guy, the better for the drama and just to have a well-developed, interesting and frighteningly realistic villain.)

Going back to the "Terrible. Awful." what did you think of that? I was figuring Minny threw the pie at Hilly or something more like that. It is remarkable but I think it was a little to much for me, and made me appreciate the character of Minny a little less. I am surprised so many of the characters took it so well, particularly Celia.

Overall I like that the book is sort of emotionally challenging. It is almost hard to read because although fiction it is so true-to-life. It brings up a true, real part of American and in a way global life. Although the book describes a past that many might like to think of as far removed from our modern day sensibilities, the book is set in the 1960s. These people would almost all still be alive today. Most of our grandparents were probably born before Miss Leefolt, Miss Hilly and all. This all actually very recent and affecting us directly now not from some distant past. And that's scary. As much as we might consciously be aware of racism and our racist history as a country and a world, I think we just emotionally forget about it and this book throws it back in our faces and really makes us feel how terribly present these issues really are. The book is more effective at that, I think, then just listing off some facts or statistics about the time then or even racism now because just objective, bare facts are just telling us what we already know. But this book delivers a well-written, interesting, emotive story in its own right that happens to make us feel the reality of recent and current racism.

I didn't know what to think when I learned the author was a white woman. I think she did a good job without going overboard. I am not surprised to find that some people are offending by her writing as a black woman in the 1960s as she did, though, even though I think she did a good job. I am conflicted about this. Sure she could have used a more reasonable vernacular for many of her black characters, provided more focus to the horrors of racism namely the sexual victimization of black maids by the white families; but on the other hand too much of that would turn the book into a boring political expose about already well-documented history, which goes against what I believe makes the book being powerfully progressive: that it is a heartfelt, well-written, plot-filled story that caused the reader to feel about racism rather than just know about some of the facts of racism. But who would I be to say her portrayal of blacks is not offensive or is acceptable? I can see where those who feel that way are coming from. What do you all think?

Anyway, here are some things I highlighted while reading:

Earlier in the book, a little after Aibleen witnesses Mae Mobley being spanked for trying to use the "colored bathroom," Aibleen narrates, "I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can here me that dirty ain't a color, disease ain't the Negro side a town. I want to stop that moment from coming--and it come in ever white child's life--when they start to think that colored folks ain't as good as whites." I think that very well sums a up a major motif in the book when Aibleen is narrating.

Later on, again with Aibleen, she is thinking about the ways white women might get back at her if they find out about the book. Aibleen narrates:

[Miss Skeeter] don't know about them sharp, shiny utensils a white lady use. About that knock on the door, late at night. That [b]there are white men out there hungry to hear about a colored person crossing whites.


I really think that shines a very interesting, albeit frightening, light on racism at least at the time. It's not so much that white supremacists are angry because they think a non-white person 'stepped out of line' that motivates all the white supremacists terrible actions; rather it's that the white supremacist is angry, wants to lash out (at black people) and is just waiting for an excuse.

It isn't very significant to the story but I laughed like when Skeeter narrates:

Stuart needs "space" and "time," as if this were physics and not a human relationship.


I found another exchange quite remarkable--if you know the characters--when Miss Hilly and Miss Leefolt talk about racists:

Miss Hilly nods. "[Skeeter] needs to learn that she can't carry on this way. I mean, around us it's one thing, but around some other people, she's going to get in big trouble."

"It's true. There are some racists in this town," Miss Leefolt say.

Miss Hilly nod her head, "Oh, they're out there."

It's sort of funny, but I also think it reflects a lot on racism even nowadays in that many are probably racists in denial.

Anyway, I want to here what you all think?
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#2  Postby beatrix222 » 01 Jan 2012, 22:07

I agree that this book was great. It breathed life back into my inner book nerd. I laughed, I cried, and I at times i slammed it shut in anger. It has been a long time since a book has done that for me. I think the author did a wonderful job carrying you threw the story on the backs of these amazing characters, showing all sides of a past that most of us try to forget. I am curious to know how some of the older readers who might have lived it feel about it.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#3  Postby dcmerkle » 01 Jan 2012, 22:33

Hi Scott,
First, I have to say that I would recommend The Help to others. In fact I lent the book to my sister just the other day and forgot that I would need it to refer back to for this discussion....lol

I have to agree with you when you said, "Although the book describes a past that many might like to think of as far removed from our modern day sensibilities,....". It's still such a part of our history as well as our everyday make-up in the way that some of us still think. About 20 years ago, I worked for Olan Mills Portrait Studios. My company transferred me down to Charleston, South Carolina to help out in training for a new program. I had no car so, I had to take the bus. Just like everyone else did. I was from up North, white, and seeing all the people that were standing on the transfer point, that I had to stand on to wait for the bus I needed, it never crossed my mind that the group of people that I was standing with were "the help".

One morning the bus arrived. Being I was taught to let the elderly on the bus first, I had stepped back to do just that for an elderly man and women. Every time I stepped away from the door, they would step back and nod their head for me to get on the bus first. This went on for a couple of minutes before the bus driver, a black women, said, "Ma'am, you're going to have to get on the bus first." I did and sat up front. Everyone else got on and moved to the back of the bus. The bus driver was looking at me as we were moving along and said, "You must be from up North." I felt just a little self-conscience and nodded that she was right. She told me that things were done just a little differently down here. A lot of the elderly still put the white person first. It was part of their up bringing and if I was to get along with everyone I should just go with the flow.

I was shocked, but understood. I looked back to the elderly man and women and whispered that I was sorry. When I got off the bus I wished them all a good day. It was something that I will never forget and the book "The Help" just reminded me of what it is still like to live down South for most of the population even today.

I liked the character Aibleen. I felt sorry for her when she talked about how her son was going to be the writer in the family and the feeling of loss when he died. If you took away the color aspect in it, it would be what every mother would have gone through that had lost a child to such a tragic ending. Aibleen showed the strength and character of just who she was when she pulled it back together with the support of Minny.

Hilly, well Hilly was a product of her Southern upbringing. She did the only thing she knew how to do just like the help did. (And after my personal experience, still do.) Hilly was every bit afraid to stray from the norm. It almost sounds like Elizabeth, but Elizabeth was the type that was trying to keep up with the Jones's.

The one thing that I was disappointed in was the difference in the way that Constitine's daughter was portrayed in the book from the movie. (I got the movie as a gift from my sister for Christmas.) I guess that Hollywood had to draw the line somewhere, because even today that issue is still tender. I won't go into it anymore other than to say that I think that it was intregral part as to why her daughter returned. The director just gave into the majority it seems.

The whole time I was reading the book I kept thinking of "To KIll A Mocking Bird" and "The Color Purple". Stockert did an excellent job with the book. It's one of those books that I think we will see being added to a high school reading list because of the subject matter.

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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#4  Postby Schmunzelmonster » 02 Jan 2012, 15:31

I fully agree with Scott. Usually I try to stay away from books with this subject as most of them depress me. My gran was from the Caribean but spent most of her adult life in the US. She never was "the help" but she very easily could have been and when I read about how they were treated I get really upset. Ms. Stockett managed to draw us a realistic picture of the time and situation without being dramatic but still not missing emotions. This is so important! It´s a very delicate topic as there are always people to be offended but I think the book helps to understand certain aspects of the time rationally without being boring.

Aibleen, to me, is a very well crafted character. Where Minny is to much of everything, Aibleen is a great counteract to her. She balances Minny´s drama without ever beiing overshadowed by it. She has her own story to tell and tells it in a touching but not never extreme way. She reminds me of a steady river that - in the end - is stronger than a thunder storm like Minny. When she recounts storys of how she raised all those children and felt like a mother to them, she never gets cheesy.

I too agree with DCMerkle about Hilly being a product of her upbringing. Selfreflection is a gift not every person posseses it is a skill that must be learned and refined. In addition a lot of people lack the intelligence to utilize their ability to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Please, don´t misunderstand me, I don´t want to make excuses for racism, I just want to remind that it´s good to understand where it comes from. Though Hillys mother never seemed as bad as Hilly so I guess she probably was being mean all by herself.

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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#5  Postby brttn89 » 03 Jan 2012, 13:12

I loved the book, and I thought they casted everybody in the movie just right. In every book that has been turned into a movie there is one character I didn't think really fit the part; but they nailed every character in this one.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#6  Postby cbcorysgirl » 04 Jan 2012, 14:33

"The Help" was an excellent book, I'm re-reading it now actually. I just wanted to comment on what scott said about the hilly pie thing. That part was disgusting, yes, but so funny as well. I just don't understand how that could make you lose respect for the character of Minnie. That part played a big role in why I liked Minnie so much. She wasn't going to let some ignorant hick with a chip on her shoulder treat her like a dog and get away with it. Two wrongs don't make a right, but don't you just love some good revenge? Minnie did feel ashamed of what she did too, she was a character with a conscience.
Did anyone else find this amusing like I did, or is everybody offended? Just curious.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#7  Postby Christine80 » 05 Jan 2012, 07:01

I thought this book was good. I like how the author wrote from everyones point of view. I do have some things I didn't like though.

What happened between Constantine and Skeeter's mom was disappointing to me. I thought that the problem was going to be much bigger than that. I thought that Skeeter was going to be Constantine's daughter as much as they referred to her hair being so thick and frizzy.

Also I didn't like the fact that Minnie let her husband beat on her when she was the one working and bringing home most of the money and what is her answer to this....let me get pregnant because he doesn't beat me up then. It's not like she was financially or emotionally dependent on Leroy so why stay?

I really liked Aibleen. I liked the way she cared for Mae Mo when her own mother didn't even want to look at her. She taught her that she is worth something. Her worst fear was that she would get fired and not be able to see that little girl and it came true. I read an article the other day that said something about how parents are jealous of how much their kids love their nannies. Well my answer to that is to raise your own kids.

In the end, I liked this book and would recommend it.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#8  Postby RosarioPozzi » 05 Jan 2012, 07:07

'The help' was a great choice to be the Janurary book of the month.

It really got under my skin and made me want to do something about SOMETHING!? This may not make sense to anyone, but sometimes there is that one book that makes you feel all empowered and stuff. haha. Or maybe it is just me.
Inspiring, wonderfully written and some of the best, well-rounded characters I have read of in a while.

I think the storyline was a great one and the ending was just lovely!

Aibileen and Skeeter were amazing, Hilly, Minny and Celia. To be honest i think they were all just great characters.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#9  Postby henriet » 05 Jan 2012, 21:16

I enjoyed the book and the movie, but I did have some reservations about it. I can understand why many have been offended by it; the author grew up in the area she writes about, and applies all the stereotypes without any real exceptions. It strikes me is that we'd like to think this kind of situation only happened in the past or in certain parts of the country or world, but certainly does not anymore. Wrong. This type of situation - with people being treated like second class citizens, or less - is still very much a part of most cultures, including mine.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#10  Postby Fran » 06 Jan 2012, 06:45

henriet wrote:I enjoyed the book and the movie, but I did have some reservations about it. I can understand why many have been offended by it; the author grew up in the area she writes about, and applies all the stereotypes without any real exceptions. It strikes me is that we'd like to think this kind of situation only happened in the past or in certain parts of the country or world, but certainly does not anymore. Wrong. This type of situation - with people being treated like second class citizens, or less - is still very much a part of most cultures, including mine.


Agree with you totally .... unfortunately discrimination is not the preserve of any culture, society or time period. I recently heard a well educated Irish person talking in what I can only describe as disgraceful terms about the 'domestic staff' they had when they lived in the Middle East ... and as we would say in Ireland 'tis far from domestic staff she was reared'. I was shaking with anger & I pointed out to her none to politely that she had a very short memory and only a generation ago her ancestors (and mine) were probably the 'domestic help' in the US!
Is'nt it amazing that she wouldn't dream of speaking in similar terms about people she worked with in the hospital but felt totally as ease speaking like that about the staff she employed in her home!
I fully accept that it is not comparable with the institutionalised discrimination at the heart of The Help but the thinking behind it is the same.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#11  Postby brttn89 » 06 Jan 2012, 13:11

I wonder if anybody know people that relate to the characters, or do you feel like you have similarites with one. Im not just talking about the suddle racisim, but like how Hilly is the center to everyones world in the town, then you have the other girls like Elizabeth who is a follower. Then of course Skeeter, who doesn't care to say what she thinks.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#12  Postby Sadmag » 06 Jan 2012, 15:44

I enjoyed reading "The Help" very much. While reading the book I felt I was back in the 50's again, growing up in a segregated society. Even though the book is fiction I think the book depicted a good example of racism. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially young people.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#13  Postby Mykajean » 06 Jan 2012, 21:32

I loved this book. The moment I started I could not put it down. The aspect of every detail from the various perspectives of the maids to Miss Skeeter are excellent. Just like you, I laughed, cried, and yelled at and with the characters on many occasions. The "terrible awful thing" that minny did was hysterical and terrifying all at once. You are in a constant state of awe while reading the book; it is so hard to put yourself there and yet you feel like you really are looking through a window at these ladies. Even through Miss Skeeter's attempts at friendships and lovers, even her dynamic with her mother.

In regards to the movie, we all know books are always better than the movies and "The Help" is o different there. I wIted for it to come to dvd befo I watched it and saw it after that. I did enjoy the movie as watching Miss Celia Foote and seeing some of the aspects (like the trees she is planting) really gave it a deeper meaning to parts I missed and I was glad that the biggest components of the book (especially the "Terrible Awful Thing") were kept in the movie by Hollywood. I think all then actresses did a grerat job in their portrayal of e characters, although I am still on the fence about the girl tht plays Miss Skeeter. She did a fine job, but I just didn't have her in mind when I was reading it in my mind.

Oveerall the book was phenomenal and the movie was very good. Was a very satisfying experience and I am su re this will be added to my collectioof favorites to be e-ad again some day. :)

-- Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:34 pm --
-- --

brttn89 wrote:I wonder if anybody know people that relate to the characters, or do you feel like you have similarites with one. Im not just talking about the suddle racisim, but like how Hilly is the center to everyones world in the town, then you have the other girls like Elizabeth who is a follower. Then of course Skeeter, who doesn't care to say what she thinks.


I think a great feature of any book is reluatable characters, this book is noexception. I personally feel i relate very closely to Skeeter, and i have a lot of frinds and aquaintances i have knownthrough the years that could easily fill the roles of everyone in this story. :D

-- Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:44 pm --

henriet wrote:I enjoyed the book and the movie, but I did have some reservations about it. I can understand why many have been offended by it; the author grew up in the area she writes about, and applies all the stereotypes without any real exceptions. It strikes me is that we'd like to think this kind of situation only happened in the past or in certain parts of the country or world, but certainly does not anymore. Wrong. This type of situation - with people being treated like second class citizens, or less - is still very much a part of most cultures, including mine.


I am glad tht you bring those points up, as I could not help feeling the same way. I am what you would consider your typical white, American woman. But, being the kind of person I am and the parent that raised me I am well aware of what goes on around me. Most of my family is from the south and sometimes with the older generations, such as my parents and grandparents who were growing up in similar times, I often hear comments that I would take offense to, but are just part of their system of beliefs from their generation. Our current generation with the lack of cultural acceptance is no better, if you ask me, and there are constantly reminders that we are not past times like this. Not only for African Americans, but nyone from our Western hemisphere or where I live you see it a lot with the Mexican/Dominican/Puerto Rican culturess. The "unspoken" racism still is with us, 50 years later. We still see the same hate crimes, just now we call it by a different name.
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#14  Postby Kezz22 » 06 Jan 2012, 23:15

The Help was a great book, I read it last year, it was one of those books I could just not put down.
It also reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird, in fact I went out and bought that and reread it!
I would certainly recommend it to any one. I haven't seen the movie but from what I have seen of the trailers I don't think I want to, it looks so different to the book I think I would just be frustrated!
I think we need books like this every now and then to remind us of what prejudice and racism is still around. Even though this book is set in the 60s there is still plenty of racism around.
If you haven't read it yet then DO it!!!!
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Re: Discussion of "The Help"

Post Number:#15  Postby terrisbooks » 07 Jan 2012, 08:55

I also loved the book. After reading the posts on this forum , I think everyone is missing the stereotyping of Skeeter and Celia. To me that is what really made the book awesome. The author was not only dealing with the issues of the "help", I think she was dealing with stereotyping in general. Skeeter and Celia found acceptance with the "help" that they could not find in their own social circles. I think this also speaks volumes about our society.
The movie was a little disappointing because they left so much out, most of what I mentioned above. I realize their is a time factor, I just thought they lost an important part of the book.
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