Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Help

Book: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Edition: Hardback
Read: Feb 2011
444 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

This popular book takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60's when the Civil Rights movement was bringing the need to change race relations to the front. This book tells a fictional story of a young writer, writing her first book. When challenged to find something she has a passion about, she decides that she wants to write about the untold story of the black help in her town. The Help traces the lives and stories of the maids to white families.

If the story was written 45 years earlier, it would have been an earth-shaker, like To Kill A Mockingbird. Today, it is insightful. It is written by a white author who tries to see the world through the eyes of blacks and whites in the 60's. She sees the fear which is in the culture. She tells the story of when blacks worked for whites, but were never thought of as people with their own stories. The fictional white author is more interested, at least in the beginning in getting a book published than the actual ladies themselves. But she does start to take an in interest in the lives as she writes about them.

Reread Notes:
First, I think I would upgrade the rating to 4 of 5. There is a quality of storytelling which I did not account for earlier. Also

Rules for working with white people(42):
  1. It is nobody's business. White people are not your friends
  2. Do not let a White Lady find you sitting on her toliet
  3. Taste your cooking with a different spoon than what the white people use.
  4. Use the same cup, fork and plate every day. Keep it seperate
  5. You eat in the kitchen
  6. You don't hit white children
  7. No sass-mounting

Skeeter comments upon coming home from college, who is the different person, her best friend or me? (56) Your experience changes you, or at least it allows you to see things differently.

Skeeter figures that if the State of Mississippi has banned a book, it must be good. (71)

An editor with Harper&Row gives Skeeter advice: Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else. (71)

Skeeter gets the idea about writing about black help from something which a black maid of a friend said to her. That her son had read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and wanted to write a book about what it meant to be a black man in Mississippi.(84) This is followed by Skeeter passing by the invisible Pascagoula, her own maid. (87)

Hilly hands out lies like the Presbyterians hand out guilt. (86)

Upon the anniversary of her son's death, Abileen thinks that three years is not long enough. A hundred years aint gone be long enough. (95) Some things are meant to be with your soul for a long time.

Skeeter's Mom tries to find the common ground with people, usually in terms of relations. Such as Skeeter's brother's girlfriend, she will pick until she finds some common ancester. Reminds me of Sherri's relative. (109)

Place of prayer. Blacks only seem to have any in-depth religon. Whites are superficial or a cover for their lives. But then Skeeter, as she is watching her mother going through the dying process, turns to a form of religion. She finds herself praying, when she has never been a religious person. Whispering long, never-ending sentences to God, begging for Mother to feel some relief,... Often I catch myself prayering when I didn;t even know I was doing it. (340)

Truth. Stockett describes it as It feels cool, like water washing over my sticky-hot body. Cooling a heat that's been burning me up all my life. (123). This is Minnie speaking—the hot-blooded one. It is bottled up inside of her and she wants to see how truth will work out for her good friend Abileen. Correspondingly, there is shame. Abileen describes when she was young and her first acquaintance with shame occurred. She had made a mistake and was fired. She says, I understood what shame was and the color of it too. Shame ain't black, like dirt. .. Shame be the color of a new white uniform your mother ironed all night to pay for, white without a smudge or a speck a work-dirt on it. (141)

On the other hand, Skeeter uses the church to lie. She lies to her Mom about where she is going—to church in another town; about a date; about her relationship with her friends; …

Albileen is still careful with Skeeter, even after they had been together for awhile. Abileen says, These is white rules. I don't know which ones you following and which ones you ain't. (144) Skeeter's rpely is she is tired of rules. While “a good white”, she still is a child of her culture and Abileen is wise enough to know that there are places Skeeter has not developed yet. (144)

As Skeeter's writing project goes along, she becomes sensitized to things around her. Her friend's voice is a bit higher when speaking to the help. People whom she took for granted or looked down on, she sees from a different lens than before.

A comment which Skeeter's book editor makes is they need to get her book completed before this civil-rights thing blows over. (149). Those in the middle of history never know that history is being made.

Skeeter realizes that she is writing about life, not civil-rights. (155) But that is where the action is. Everybody's small little lives, when by themselves may not seem important. But as they take on a pattern, are intertwined with others, they are important, they take on meaning.

Two people, just wondering why things are the way they are. (217) This is when Miss Celia has lost her baby. Minnie is trying to comfort her.

Second book in a row where it talks about silencing people by cutting out their tongues. (235) The first was The World According to Garp by John Irving.

White men will beat, rape or kill you. But a white women might do worse. (235)

The dichotomy of love and disdain living side-by-side is what surpises me. (237) How there can be the affection back and forth, but the enforced differences.

Is being scratched by Stuart's mother intentional? (241)

Minnie who has faced very little love from whites, comes face to face with this when her white women, Miss Celia, saves her from a would-be rapist. Minnie realizes that she can no longer just retreat into her protective shell and have disdain for whites. She thinks, this is a a brand new invention we've come up with. (283)

Minnie realizes that Abileen has the ability to cut straight to the heart of a problem and put it into simple terms. This is a gift. (287)

Stockett explores two mother daughter relationships. First Sketter's with her own Mom. Her Mom fired the maid which Sketter grew up wth, whom Sketter loved. There was no closer to this satory. Her Mom, nor anybody, would tell her why. One day she was told, what was know about the reason. When Skeeter confronts her mother, she is told about the second mother-daughter situation. Her maid had given her daughter up for adoption. When the daughter returned, the daughter was told one story by her mom. But the daughter was told the truth by Skeeter's mother. Skeeter understands that a child should never know this about her own mother—that is all the badness which a parent lives with. (331)

Minnie gets beaten by her husband—not a white man. Even though Celia has saved her from being beaten by one then. Her husband says, If I didn't beat you, Minny, who knows whagt you become. (373)

Skeeter realizes why she wrote the book (378), For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.

When a person, like Minny, does something brave, like reveal her deep, dark secret, for the protection of others, we mustn't deprive them of any of the things that go along with being brave and good. (387) That is easy to do, even by making it easy for them. We all want to be herioc.

Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me, unless she is their mother too. (406) In the afterward by Stockett.

Stockett admits that she has pondered the Raines quote in connection with her own maid which she grew up with. The Help is the result of these reflections.

 There are some great writers which have come out of the deep South.--O'Connor, Faulkner, Lee, to name a few. Some are great because they can turn a phrase; others because they paused to promise the social condition of these times. Stockett tell her story well, just will not have the impact which Harper Lee's story had.

  • Crisco(12)-meaning something you can't dress up no matter how you try.
  • State Cheese (19)-A BIG, HARD MASS; A BLOCK OF ORANGE-YELLOW PROCESSED "USDA CHEESE FOOD" ISSUED BY "DA GUBMENT" United States GOVERNMENT to aid needy families by supplementing their food resources. Used for making Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Macaroni & Cheese but ALSO CAUSES severe, bowel obstructing constipation, silent but deadly stinky gas, and / or "the runs" diarrhea in those who are lactose intolerant.
  • Pawpaws(194):
  • Cracker(211)
  • Huaraches (379)

Books Referenced:
  • Ellison, Ralph: The Invisible Man
  • Lee, Harper: To Kill A Mocking Bird
  • : Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
  • DuBois, WEB: The Souls of Black Folk
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Twain, Mark: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Thoreau, Henry David: Walden
  • It seems like at some point you'd just run out of awful. (284)
  • They say it's like true love, good help. You only get one in a lifetime. (336)
  • There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism (408) Howell Raines, Grady's Gift

Publisher's Questions:

1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?
3. Like Hilly, Skeeter’s mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic. She seems to care for Skeeter— and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine. Yet the ultimatum she gives to Constantine is untenable; and most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical. Do you think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Why?
4. How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?
5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and that it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?
6. Do you believe that Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?
7. Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?
8. From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?
9. The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?
10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white?
11.What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?

Gary's Questions for Book Group:

Briefly, give a description of this story.

  • What story is the author trying to tell? Why is she trying to tell this story?
  • How does Skeeter change through out this story? Why does she change? What does it say about us?
  • What presence is there of religon amongst the white? Blacks?How does Skeeter use her religion? Does she exhibit any hallmarks of Christian religon? Abileen uses written prayers to convey her messages to God. Others really believe she has a direct line to God. How does writing her prayers help her be clearer with her prayers? Forgiveness.
  • Describe the Worthington family. What makes the Senator tick? Do you think he was willing to change how segregation worked? Or was he someone who pushed it along? Why do you think Senator Worthington could not be his own man?
  • How about Stuart? Was he tied to his father's fortunes, so could not let go? Or was the attitude towards race too much inbred in him?What does this story tell about the power of stories?
  • Do you think this is an accurate representation of the South in the early 60's?
  • Do you think this is still true?
  • How Fresno had similar race relations?
  • Is there any society or race issues within 1st Pres today?


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