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veer_gw

'The Help' Some Thoughts and Queries

veer
14 years ago

Have just finished this book and many of the social issues have raised many question in my mind.

Reading it from an English point of view I hope I don't offend anyone if I am not PC enough with any comments.

So . . . and in no particular order:

I was surprised at the whole 'way-of-life' of these young and mostly College educated women.

The seem to have achieved their one aim of marrying 'well' but then do nothing all day except loll about the pool, play bridge and do whatever they do at the 'Junior League' (someone please enlighten me about this organisation).

I would have been somewhat younger during the time the book was set but I cannot imagine anyone I knew then ever spending such a useless life . . . even when waited on hand and foot.

I found the total lack of basic concern towards their maids to be breathtakingly rude. I know they said "Please" and "Thank you" but . . .

Something I need to ask.

The 'white trash' (am I allowed to say that?) Celia seems to be one of the few women who tried to treat her 'help' as a friend and equal.

In my limited understanding of these issues I thought that the lower down the social scale, the more the white person would resent the black. I know it would have been the case in the UK, when West Indians first arrived here they were looked down on by the 'working classes' neighbours, partly because their jobs were threatened.

And as for Skeeter's former best friend Hilly, she is one Evil *****. The South's answer to Lady Macbeth?

Any thoughts/comments please?

Comments (79)

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, I would say it was quite common for "respectable" white men to treat black women in that way, not only as late as the 50's, but afterward. (I seem to recall a prominent southern politician who had secretly embroiled himself in a quite similar situation, only to be revealed decades later).

    I must agree about the hippie/beatnik dichotomy. I should know, as it was my generation. Yes, the hippies came later on, in the very late 60's and early 70's, as opposed to the beatnik culture (Kerouac, et al.) which began in the 50's and continued on into the early 60's).

    I guess this thread is a personal one for me, as my home city was that of MLK and I grew up in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement. One of the points I was trying to make in the defense of the author is that it took enormous courage to go against the societal norms of that day and time. This is why many southerners left the south at that time. I would not go so far to say that all were heroic, yet there were southerners who worked quietly under cover for the Civil Rights of Blacks. Some were slain, for their efforts. Some backs were broken upon the wheel of this violent, yet sweet culture.

    Frieda, I am well aware, as a transplanted southerner that race was an issue in other parts of the U.S. After all, I relocated to Boston when Louise Day Hicks was fighting integration in the schools there. I've lived in New England and Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and have encountered prejudice and bigotry in those states, even in France.

    Here's another book recommendation that I found rang true to the culture I was raised in: "Fatal Flowerers" by Rosemary Daniell.

    Frieda, I would never put down Harper Lee. It's just that she told only a part of the story. Likewise Margaret Mitchell. I see all these "stories" as interconnecting pieces of a mosaic.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Woodnymph, I like your mosaic metaphor. Yes, the books of Lee, Mitchell, and Caldwell, O'Connor, Faulkner, and now Stockett (and even that Ya-Ya Sisterhood writer, I suppose), etc., can be seen as pieces of a bigger picture -- or collection of pictures, as they depict different times. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of the mosaic pieces have not yet been filled in and others are too often duplicated. For instance, I don't quite comprehend why the "Southern belle," as a character, gets so overworked or why she exercises the glee and fascination of so many readers (and by readers I mean just as many, maybe more, non-southerners).Given the author's writing style, if Constantine and Skeeter's father had had any kind of relationship, I suspect that much would have been made of it.kkay, I agree. Stockett's writing style was something else that put grit in my teeth, as she tended to get soap opera-ish, in my opinion.

    Woodnymph, I've run across people who equate racism to the American South. I will give an example using England, because Vee brought it up earlier: When I discussed racism in America with English friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, several times I had to ream out my ears because someone actually said that "racism doesn't happen in England." What?!! Not only was I aware of the resentment toward West Indian (Jamaican and other) immigrants in an earlier time, I also knew that there was a more contemporary resentment toward Pakistani immigrants. Americans are liable to forget (if they ever knew, and many don't because it's not given the time and paper equal to that of Southern racism) that the American West and Hawai'i, for examples, have had their own insidious, endemic forms of racism. But pointing out the myopia or forgetfulness is seldom successful with people who think they know that the American South is the seat of racism. I'm not denying the culture of racism in the South, but when people have such a lopsided view of a region, I wonder who or what started it. In this case, I think part of the reason lies with the southern writers who have concentrated on certain things to the exclusion of others (this was my late S-I-L's thesis, which I am purloining but which always made a lot of sense to me). Of course the same follow-the-leader and "write what is successful" tendency lies with many writers of every region and nationality.

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  • Kath
    14 years ago

    I should start out by saying I haven't read this book, so can't contribute the specific discussion.
    But Frieda, I wonder if the fascination with the 'Southern Belle' has something to do with a kind of dress up syndrome. When I think of this type of character, I think of someone dressed in delightful dresses, changed a couple of times a day (I do manage to forget the corsets, the wasp waists and the weight of the cage and all that material LOL) sitting around sipping iced tea, having delightful conversations with friends, being courted by handsome beaux, while someone else does all the work (and let's forget who that someone is).
    Now, I know this isn't true, but it is rather beguiling as it is so alien to our existance.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Kath, "dress up syndrome" -- it could be that! The latter-day southern belle was/is also known for her clothes...and makeup, hairdos, etc. My older Alabama girl cousin was a baton-twirling majorette and I coveted her tasseled boots, short fringed skirt, and shiny taffeta panties -- that she made sure were exposed frequently with her high-stepping. My hometown's majorettes during the 1950s and '60s had to wear frumpy ribbed tights because it was too damned cold in Iowa during football season for skimpy outfits and exposed legs.

    Yeah, the "alien" thing is a likely explanation. Rather similar to the American fascination with indolent European aristocrats, I imagine.

    I do want to say some good things about The Help. I didn't find it unreadable, just disappointing and much overhyped. The gushing, shallow reactions of some readers I find off-putting, but that's their and my problems and not necessarily the fault of the book or the author.

    First, I laughed out loud several times, either because Stockett was intentionally funny or she brought a nostalgic bit to my mind that I thought was humorous. One such instance was when she described Skeeter's father bringing home the color television set for the "relaxing room." Skeeter's mother was glued to it: "oohing and aahing at the vibrant reds and blues of the team [Ole Miss Rebels]." What makes this so funny to me is the early color televisions had anything but vibrant colors. My family also got a new color TV in 1962, but the colors were pukey -- most everything in the background was chartreuse and people were purple. Every other family's color television (that I knew) was just as bad. Miss Stockett missed out on that bit of research! :-)

    Woodnymph describes how this book is personal for her because she lived it. It's also rather personal for me because I lived part of it and because Skeeter's first job out of college was with the Jackson Journal and she aspired to be a writer. I can relate to that because my first job in college (I worked in a drug store in high school) was as a cub reporter (journalism major) for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

    Oh, and Woodnymph, I wanted to tell you that Fatal Flowers very much impressed my S-I-L. I, on the other hand, thought it was humorous, in a way, but also thoroughly poignant...even depressing. Can you imagine how I might think of it that way? It's been several years since I read it so I'm remembering my impression, not so much the actual book.

  • kkay_md
    14 years ago

    Like you, frieda, I didn't find the book unreadable, but its style seemed to me florid and overwrought. As I've already stated, the construction of the novel really bothered me. I think the book is overrated (from a literary standpoint) but there's no questioning its accessibility and popularity.

    But I do find it utterly fascinating that many who have read it seem quite defensive about any criticism of the book. I don't think I've encountered that before with other book discussions, and wonder why that might be?

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    kkay, emotion seems to be driving the defensiveness that I've witnessed. Some readers seem to need for this story to be perfect.

    A reviewer in another forum made an interesting statement: "The Help is a fairy tale." She seemed to mean it as a compliment. At first I thought: Fairy tale? But the more I think about it...she could be onto something, although I'm not so sure it's complimentary.

    Backing up to the subject of Celia's miscarriages, I'm still fuzzy about those. Was she slurping Lydia E. Pinkham, or somesuch in the mail order bottles, purely as an alcoholic fix? I was expecting an abortifacient, but that doesn't fit with her pleasing her Johnny.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    kkay, emotion seems to be driving the defensiveness that I've witnessed. Some readers seem to need for this story to be perfect.

    A reviewer in another forum made an interesting statement: "The Help is a fairy tale." She seemed to mean it as a compliment. At first I thought: Fairy tale? But the more I think about it...she could be onto something, although I'm not so sure it's complimentary.

    Backing up to the subject of Celia's miscarriages, I'm still fuzzy about those. Was she slurping Lydia E. Pinkham, or somesuch in the mail order bottles, purely as an alcoholic fix? I was expecting an abortifacient, but that doesn't fit with her pleasing her Johnny.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Good grief! I don't know why the double dose. Sorry about that!!

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Frieda, I thought the brown bottles were full of some home-brewed substance that would help Celia to 'go full-term' with the babies.
    I don't know if anyone else picked up on the irony of Minnie finding the bottles and giving Celia what-for on the dangers of buying anything from the Indians. They were obviously held to be at the bottom of the collective heap; despised by both black and white.
    Also on Celia. If she was from the wrong side of the tracks and presumably from a home where no 'help' was kept, how come she was unable to do the simplest bit of cooking or cleaning?

    Interestingly I didn't realise 'The Help' was being heralded as a 'must read'. I only knew about it because it was serialised on the BBC and then had to order it from the library as they had no copies in stock.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Ah-ha, Vee, I'd already lost the detail of what the home-brewed stuff was supposed to do. I think what confused me was Minnie's reaction because she associated any secretive drinking to that of Leroy and others.

    Yes! I did notice when Minnie gave Celia the lowdown about Indians. Rich, wasn't it? The thing, though, is I'm not sure it was an intentional irony!

    The character of Celia -- well, I'm not sure what her purpose was in the story except as a hierarchical filler. She was the biggest caricature of the lot. As you say, Vee, it's curious that if she really came from a poor family up in "The Delta" that she couldn't boil water.

    I've meant to ask you, Vee, if The Help reminds you of Andrea Levy's Small Island in some ways? I see parallels.

    Oh yes, The Help is quite the darling of book discussion groups -- with all that that implies.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    re Small Island and The Help to me the only connections between the books is that the black population is portrayed as down-trodden/badly treated when/where they comes into contact with 'whites'. And in both cases they are where they are because of slavery.
    The Jamaicans, freed earlier from slavery, have been taught to respect the 'Mother Country' and look up to its traditions and institutions and many have received a good education, only to find on reaching the shores of England and moving into largely poor working class areas they are regarded with suspicion and hostility.
    In the case of the American 'blacks' they have always been treated as third class citizens even after receiving
    their freedom. Their education has been minimal, they have almost no rights and seem to both hate and fear their white employers.
    All the above just refers to the two books. I am not making assumptions about modern day mores.

    Another point I picked up on. The whole 'plot' of the book, stems from help/maids/housework/chores etc.
    So question one is, would a Jackson newspaper need to run a column on 'How . . . to polish the silver (if the maid hasn't stolen it) . . . remove beer stains from Great Uncle Joe's shirt-front' and so on. Presumably the paper was read by 'white' women who didn't need to know and it wasn't read by 'blacks' who knew any way.

    Still on the help thing. Do you notice throughout the book Skeeter, although polite to the family maid always expects her to 'fix' breakfast or a sandwich or answer the phone? She never once say "Oh, you carry on with the ironing, dusting, baking those cakes, I'll struggle to make my own sandwich, if you could just remind me where the bread is kept and do you think I'll cut myself on this big sharp knife?"
    That young woman must have had serious trouble looking after herself when she moved up to New York.

  • sheriz6
    14 years ago

    "... would a Jackson newspaper need to run a column on 'How . . . to polish the silver (if the maid hasn't stolen it) . . . remove beer stains from Great Uncle Joe's shirt-front' and so on. Presumably the paper was read by 'white' women who didn't need to know and it wasn't read by 'blacks' who knew anyway."

    I think the white ladies in the book might have been long on theory and short on practice. I do think the lady of the house would need to know how a certain thing should be done in order to determine whether or not the "help" was doing it correctly. As Frieda and others have pointed out, in the real world many other white ladies were working side by side with their maids and cooks, and I'm sure there were more lower class whites doing their own housework than there were upper-class club ladies leaving everything to their maids, so the existence of that type of newspaper column isn't so far-fetched.

    "Given the author's writing style, if Constantine and Skeeter's father had had any kind of relationship, I suspect that much would have been made of it."

    Kkay, even though I initially thought it possible that Skeeter's father was also Lula's (as did half my other book group), I would now have to completely agree with your assessment based on Stockett's writing style. Excellent point.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Vee, re the housekeeping advice column: Sheri has covered precisely the reasons a feature like this in a southern newspaper is not far-fetched. In fact, ones like it -- such as the long-running syndication of "Hints from Heloise" -- have a long history of appearing in southern papers, as well as those of the rest of the nation.

    As for Skeeter's expecting the maid to fix her sandwiches, answer the phone, etc: it's my experience that the "help" sometimes could/can be quite proprietary of duties and what they consider their domain. If Skeeter waltzed into, say, the kitchen and started helping herself and making a mess, the cook would politely ask: What can I do for you, Miss Skeeter? or politely but firmly take over the task. After a few times of this, Miss Skeeter would absorb the fact that the help prefers it that way in her domain, and a perceptive Miss Skeeter would quit "horning in on the help's territory." Remember how Minny was quite exasperated when Celia bothered her in the kitchen. The "rules", some invisible, often came from both sides.

    Vee, not all blacks in the American South of this story's time setting were "minimally educated." If I remember correctly, the character of Yule May had gone to college, as did others in real-life -- albeit to all-black colleges in the South (and some went up north to be educated and then returned...yes, some did actually return).

    As for fearing and hating their white employers: in this book that is true, as of course it was sometimes (perhaps often) in real life, but -- and this is where I think Stockett's book is simplistic -- the relations between the races in the South were often more complex than this. There was a mutual understanding that is perhaps too subtle for the average writer to describe, and I'm afraid that Stockett was probably not up to it. She might be later, though.

    There's another side of Southern culture that many are not aware of: that of the well-to-do, well-educated blacks of the time who had their own versions of the League, debutantes, cotillions, and clubs. They could be every bit as exclusive as the white versions.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Sheri and Frieda, thanks you both for your help in making things clearer.
    Frieda, in what way did you see a connection between The Help and Small Island?

    You are probably getting bored with all these questions, but is it just a Southern thing that women are addressed using the prefix 'Miss' followed by their first name? My daughter after visiting an elderly Aunt in VA remarked that all the local children referred to the Aunt as Miss H. rather than Mrs S. Does it happen in the rest of the US? I know you are generally more laid back about using first names than we are over here.
    Also I found it strange that Stockett used 'Mister' 'Missus' instead of Mr, Mrs. Was there a reason for that?

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, about the "Miss" thing: What I found was that the southern accent often would slur the pronunciation into "Miz" instead of "Mrs." (missus). I hope I understood your query correctly.

    Many often forget that the South is not a monolithic society. There are many distinct cultures within the southern culture itself. e.g. the Cajun culture of Louisiana would be very different from the Appalachian culture of the NC mountains, as distinct from the Quakers of the Piedmont on their modest farms, as from the rice plantations in South Carolina.

    When I was a girl, I visited cousins in Mississippi in the small town of Koziusko one hot summer. There was not much for the White women to do, to be blunt. Most would have considered it beneath them to "work" out in the world, even if there had been jobs to be had. The exceptions would have been school teachers and librarians, but those were usually relegated to "spinsters" or "old maids" (in the vernacular of the day). I can recall seemingly endless rounds of bridge and canasta card games, relieved by dinner dances at the local country club (by invitation only). Stockett's depiction of the small town in her Mississippi lines up almost perfectly with the reality I experienced. As I stated previously, I think the author was writing of what was familiar to her, a small tesserae in the larger mosaic of what was southern culture of those times....

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Vee, the parallels I recall between Small Island and The Help are the ones you mentioned and also how both novels are constructed, the multiple narrators, the use of dialogue and dialect.

    The courtesy titles of Mr, Mrs, Miss until fairly recently -- and still used in pockets of Southern society even today -- were force of habit, learned as a show of respect or politeness. A female born a "Miss" whatever-her-given-name, in familiar terms, would stay a Miss if she lived to be ninety-nine and had buried three husbands. Of course she was also a "Missus" if she was married or a widow but that title was associated with her husband's name, e.g. Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, the venerable terror of Jem & Scott Finch in TKAM. In the same book Miss Maudie Atkinson, Miss Rachel (Dill's aunt), and Miss Stephanie Crawford were all widows. Mister (Mr) was extended the same way, again using TKAM: Mr. Heck Tate (the sheriff), Mr. Nathan Radley (and Mr. Arthur Radley, better known as "Boo" to the kids).

    I don't think the use of "Miss" as a lifelong courtesy title (whether unmarried, married, widowed) was as common outside the South, but I know it existed (still exists) in some places.

    Other courtesy titles were also used in the South, some honorary more than fact: Colonel Harlan Sanders is perhaps one of the most well-known (he of fried-chicken fame). If a man ever held a judgeship or political position, he was usually known thereafter as Judge So-and-So or Senator Such-and-Such, but I think this is more common nationwide.

    In the South, at one time, if you heard an unappended given name with a surname -- such as Anne Taylor or Tim Johnson -- there was a probability that these entities might be family pets! (Anne Taylor was the fat dog of Judge and Mrs. Taylor in TKAM and Tim Johnson was the mad dog Atticus shot.)

    The use of "uncle" and "aunt" could/can be confusing to non-southerners. Of course these were the usual family titles, but uncle was also used to mean an elderly, unthreatening black man (e.g., Uncle Tom and Uncle Remus); essentially he was emasculated. "Aunt", such as Aunt Jemima, meant an older black woman, usually one who had had a long history of interaction with and was well-respected by whites. Both could/can be terms of affection, but many Black Americans view them as condescending. "Boy" is generally always considered as such, but it depends on the intonation. "Girl", curiously, has not been as controversial.

  • carolyn_ky
    14 years ago

    The title Miss is alive and well in rural Kentucky. My mother, married lady, mother of four, and first-grade teacher of hundreds, was "Miss Lorena" until the day she died at 93-11/12. One little six-year-old boy told his dad he only had three more things to learn: to whistle, to ride a bicycle, and something else I've forgotten, because Miss Lorena had already taught him to read.

    I patiently taught my grandson to call my friends Miss Whoever because it sounds so rude to me to hear children call adults by their first names.

    I haven't read this book and probably won't since I've read all the discussion and feel I have a thorough grounding of the story.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Thanks for all the 'Miss' input. Carolyn, you summed it up just right. And I agree about children not calling adults by their first name (we are still 'allowed' to say Christian names over here although for how much longer . . .).
    We still tend to be more formal in the UK and most people will call a new acquaintance 'Mr' 'Mrs' until asked to use a first name "Please call me Bill/ Violet" I do notice that a local US friend calls everyone by their first name; even the doctor is referred to as 'Peter' and she only knows him in a 'professional' capacity. Her son a friend of our youngest boy always addresses me as "Hi Chris' Mom".
    Re service personnel. The rank 'Major' 'Captain' etc are only used by regular or retired officers. Apparently after WWII there was a 'habit' among some men who had been conscripted to hold onto these monikas although after 'demob' they should have reverted to 'Mr'.
    Of course some MP's gather knighthoods and are known as 'Sir John So-and-so' and all judges are given titles and are addressed as 'My Lord'. And there are plenty of men knighted 'for services' to . . . industry, the theatre etc. I understand that it often the wives who enjoy the cachet of being called 'Lady Whatever'. It is probably handy for getting a good table in a restaurant or tickets to Wimbledon. And hereditary titles are a mine-field.
    In English school the teachers (or Masters and Mistresses as they are called in private schools) are always called Mr/Mrs/Miss Whatever, but in practice often shortened to just Sir and Miss.
    In my long-ago day all the nuns at school spoke to us using our full names, "Arabella Fontworthy, were you running in the corridor?" or "Come here Child, I saw you talking on the way to Chapel."
    Frieda, interesting that you mentioned 'girl' as not being used . It is the same here these days (although in Victorian times 'boy' and 'girl' seem to have been used as a 'lower' form of address) The Scots still will say to a girl "Come here lassie" if they don't know her name.

  • lydia_katznflowers
    14 years ago

    This discussion is more interesting than the book.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    lydia, I noticed on the 'February' thread The Help hasn't done much for you. Is it just that it has been so over-hyped in the US, or do you think it is just a badly written, fanciful story? Do people in American object to the social issues raised and are those in the South up in arms about it?
    Over here we are not into the subtle nuances of the questions raised by the book . . . or maybe Stockett is just going at it like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

  • kkay_md
    14 years ago

    Lydia--too true!

    My book group met last night to discuss The Help (and the hosting member served Maya Angelou's grandmother's caramel cake--divine!). We all agreed that the book was way overhyped, deeply flawed, and puzzled over the reasons for its popularity. (The cake, however, was perfection, and we had no such questions.)

    We finally agreed that much of the book's popularity is because it is so accessible. We also thought perhaps readers feel virtuous for championing the black characters, and gleeful about the comeuppance of the white ones (while of course identifying with the heroic fictional white author in the story, Skeeter), and confound fiction with fact, a re-writing of that era of Civil Rights in a kind of romanticized formula. Civil Rights Lite as it were.

    So the bull in a china shop is pretty accurate, at least in my small sampling.

  • lydia_katznflowers
    14 years ago

    veer

    "Stockett is just going at it like the proverbial bull in a china shop."

    That is exactly what I think! You can insert your own subtleties and nuances but the author was either incapable of them or she was writing to the lowest common denominator.

    "The Help" is certainly over-hyped. I am tired of books claimed by reviewers to be the second coming, especially when they are mediocre at best. Why is every "timely" or "sensitive" issue treated this way?

    I think there are bones of a good story in "The Help," but instead of writing something profound the author turned it into chick-lit. Others in this discussion have said how overwrought and made-for-television it seems.

    I do not think Americans object to the social issues. The collective "we" likes to wallow in them too much. The Southerners are not "up in arms" - that I can tell. Some embrace the story as an example of assuaging guilty feelings. Some of the jaded dismiss it as derivative. Some relish the idealization; some consider it hokem. Some enjoy it in spite of the corn dished out. Southerners are not so easy to pin down. The rest of Americans are just as diverse but I think they are more likely to imbue a story like this with more depth than it deserves. That is mainstream for you.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, I've only met one southerner who was "up in arms" about "The Help" and she is a reactionary from South Carolina, who thinks the South should have seceded from the Union long ago. She also romanticizes "The Birth of a Nation."

    The book resonated with me because of many of my own personal experiences, coming of age in the pre-Civil Rights Era, and later, working in that Movement in Virginia. A friend from Mississippi of my generation and I are having on-going discussions about what we recollect from our girlhoods, growing up in the deep South. We are telling each other our stories, delving into memory. Thus, a novel of this sort based on real events can be a kind of Epiphany for many. It also took me back in memory to reading my grandfather's diary in south Georgia, where he wrote of unpleasant incidents involving the two races, which he strove to correct. That was at the turn of the last century. And even in the time Stockett was depicting, lynching was still occurring in parts of the South.

    The novel may well be flawed. The author admitted to as much. But I still think it is about a serious issue that has long needed to be addressed. And still timely.

    As an aside, I could write more of my own experiences, but do not wish to be a bore.

    As a postscript: has anyone read Alan Paton's "Too Late the Phalarope"? In it the author addresses the Apartheid issues in South Africa, from the POV of Dutch White settlers. I think it is a far better written work than Stockett's.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    kkay, I think you hit the nail square with the accessibility factor creating the popularity and with everything else you and your group determined:We also thought perhaps readers feel virtuous for championing the black characters, and gleeful about the comeuppance of the white ones (while of course identifying with the heroic fictional white author in the story, Skeeter), and confound fiction with fact, a re-writing of that era of Civil Rights in a kind of romanticized formula. Civil Rights Lite as it were.I couldn't have stated it so well; but I've noticed those very things, including a rather smug, after-the-fact righteousness from some reviewers (most not having been born until later than the time setting) who don't want any criticism of the story.

    I wondered about Minny's caramel cake. What sort of cake is Maya Angelou's grandmother's version? Does it have drizzled icing or full frosting or filling? I imagined Minny's as a marbled cake for some reason.

    Lydia, I don't know if you've resumed reading yet, but in case you haven't, I'll answer here your question in the February thread. I don't remember the sequence, but there are a couple more doozies in the way of melodrama after the dinner party flop. And then there's the revelation of the "Terrible Awful" which I had already guessed and was something of a letdown. Though the way Stockett wrote the Hilly character, she deserved every bit of the "Terrible Awful."

    Well, after dissing Stockett's story so much, I'm feeling a little sorry for it! True, it's a dumbed-down version of complex people and events, but I imagine Stockett was sincere in intending to write something entertaining. If nothing else, she succeeded in that for "mainstream" readers. And I don't doubt that she wanted to give tribute to her own family's maid -- Demetrie. As for the readers who think it's on par with To Kill a Mockingbird (or Too Late the Phalarope, woodnymph)...well, I have to think they aren't very discerning.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Woodnymph/Mary I don't find you a bore with your comments on living in the pre Civil Rights Movt. South. I find it most interesting and insightful.
    I would be interested to know what your New England friend made of living and attending school in your area. There must have been so many contrasts.

    Stockett's and/or Skeeter's parents, friends etc spend much of their leisure time at various clubs swimming, tennis, bridge etc.
    Is this a common experience for ALL Americans . . .men and women, not just those in the South?
    I ask because here in the UK although we have sports clubs, usually frequented by men . . . football, rugby, cricket etc. and men join societies such as the Masons there are less 'activities' available for females. Besides 'Ladies Nights' these places are largely male preserves (although some women play golf). I don't know anyone who plays bridge or anyone who even belongs to a book/reading club.
    At the other end of the Social Scale there are Working Men's Clubs, especially in the North of England, where men could escape from the wife and kids to play darts, drink etc.
    None of these places are really 'family orientated' as seems to be the case in the US.
    Kath, is it the same in Aus?

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, my friend from New England, who moved to Atlanta, GA in 1958, was appalled at the separate drinking fountains, separate bathrooms, and separate partitions in theatres. (In the South, Blacks were seated up in the balcony, if they were let into theatres at all. Often, they had their own movie theatres, of necessity). Blacks have testified how difficult it could be to travel by car any distance in the south, due to no entrace to motels and restaurants. There were sit-ins staged throughout the south at lunch counters, as a means of "peaceful protest." And most of all, my friend was shocked that our large urban church did not allow entrance of Blacks or Orientals. I recall, ca. 1960, a few Orientals would trickle in, but they were inevitably seated at the rear of the church.

    On the other hand, in Boston and in other parts of New England, it was the Irish immigrants who were the servants in the upper crust households.

    Since we are discussing a novel about life in a small town of Mississippi, I would like to recommend 2 other books, one a memoir, the other a fine piece of research. Both reveal what life was like in the Jim Crow, segregated days in Mississippi and are well-written. "Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Southern Planter's Son" by William Alexander Percy. (written at the turn of the century and very interesting in the way he treated his Black servants). The second: "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America by John Barry. This non-fiction work gives a good idea of how Blacks were viewed and treated by Whites in a crisis situation at that time.

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Woodnymph, I want to second Vee's observation that your comments are not boring. I think every individual's experiences are "tesserae in the mosaic," as you so aptly put it upthread.

    I was a child and adolescent when I first encountered the "colored" drinking fountains, bathrooms, changing rooms in department stores, and segregated movie theatres (I personally thought the balcony had the best seats and always wanted to sit there). Some small-town cafes had separate dining areas for black patrons, usually in the rear of the buildings, entered by alleyways out where the rubbish bins were. What struck me about this arrangement was the kitchen usually being between the "colored" and "white" dining areas and many of the kitchen workers, including the cooks, were black.

    I also recall passing the local "colored" schoolhouse, a ramshackle, paint-peeling clapboard edifice. I wondered what it was like inside and wanted to go peek in the windows, but was discouraged from doing so by my cousins. Truth be told, the white's state-maintained school looked little better, to my eyes. Only the private "academy" looked well-kept.

    Vee, I think the exclusive country club and private clubs were more "the thing" in the US when not as many women had jobs outside their homes. Like in England, men had many more options: the Masons and civic organizations such as Lion's Club, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc., though there were distaff auxiliaries. My first mother-in-law was a past Grand Worthy Matron of the Eastern Star. The first time I met her, she asked me if I had been a Rainbow Girl. A what? I had to query. Her son (my first husband) had been in DeMolay. I thought it all sounded medieval, and DH said he only went along with it because it was family tradition.

    Vee, don't you reckon the treatment of servants and working classes by the British upper class was similar? A place for everyone, and everyone in his place...that sort of thing.

    Woodnymph, Lanterns on the Levee and Rising Tide are classics and absolutely fascinating. The Mississippi flood of 1927 not only shows how blacks were treated but also how poor whites, the sharecroppers, were viewed and since forgotten. "Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline..." It's no wonder that Huey Long gained his foothold.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Frieda, there are some similarities between the lives of the Southern black 'help' and English servants . . . in that they were both employed to carry out domestic work.
    I think the 'Upper Classes' would have kept a much larger staff and not expected one woman to cook/clean/mind the baby & small children. Of course by the time of 'The Help' very few people over here would have had any cleaners/char's/maids. Realistic wages post WWII and the new more socialistic idea of Jack's as good as his master put paid to much of that. I get the impression that the employers we meet in Jackson are not quite out of the 'top draw' (and Celia is way down with the fluff under the furniture). Surely if they were better off they would have employed more help and had better manners? But maybe that is the difference between old and new money.
    About the 'bathroom question' which is where The Help story begins.
    In the UK when a 'staff' was kept (several servants) they would have had their own accommodation, even if they lived-out. Even in the modest house where I grew up, built in the 1930's, off the kitchen was what was known as 'the back lav'; the WC built for any staff. Nothing to do with germs etc just a matter of convenience (no pun intended). Of course everyone used it as it saved going upstairs.

    Another thing on domestic service over here. Something I had never considered until I read a review of a novel (can't remember the title) with a story line about a child being taken to visit the home of her nursery-maid. It is a poor, fetid country cottage. The family make the child welcome and she becomes fascinated by a snail the brother keeps as a pet crawling all over the kitchen table. The critic pointed out that no servant would come from such a bottom-of-the-heap family. They would have been from the respectable upper working class, the sort of folk trying to pull themselves up by their boot-straps.
    In the village where we live, there are still a few of the older generation of women who were 'in service' and they are quick to tell you if it was Gentry Service or Professional service (Dr's, lawyers etc). When these girls left school at about 14 years old they were taken to be registered with an agency and matched up with a suitable employer. They weren't paid much but their jobs were 'all found' with uniforms, all meals and beds etc if they lived-in.
    One more point before your eyes glaze over. In England, someone from a lower class could always dress-up smartly in their 'Sunday go to Meeting' suit or a big hat and, if they could afford it, sit in the best box in the theatre, or stay in the poshest hotels; they would not be thrown out or made to sit in some segregated area.

    Should I look up DeMolay?

  • lydia_katznflowers
    14 years ago

    friedag, I laid it aside at p. 300 and have not got back to it. I will finish before the first book group meeting as I have less than 200 pages left. So thank you for warning me about the upcoming episodes. I already know about the Terrible Awful because someone at another site revealed it, but I am at the point that I do not much care.

    You mentioned above that somebody called "The Help" a fairy tale. It does have many of the elements. There's a wicked witch (Hilly), the obtuse step-sisters (Elizabeth and her kind), a shiny heroine (Skeeter) and a chorus of underdogs (the maids). All the cast for a moral lesson it seems. That is what most fairy tales are, aren't they? Whether the epithet is a compliment or not depends upon the degree of your affinity for fairy tales.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    About Demolay and the Eastern Star, et al. these organizations were very popular in the South right on through the Seventies. They were the equivalent of the male Freemasonry societies, which had "secret" handshakes and secret rituals. I know that there is a mist of controversy surrounding the Freemasons, but some American founding fathers were Freemasons, and many in my own family were, despite the presumed clash with church organizations. The groups such as Kiwanis, Lions, and Shriners were means for men to network via their businesses as well as do charity work.

    I can only write of what I know, from my own experience, and my family was not in any way unusual, when I was growing up in the 1940's and '50's. "Help" was relatively "cheap" in those postwar days, up until the mid-Seventies. It was not that ususual for a family to employ a Black caterer/cook for very special dinners, a live in nurse for the child/children, and a "dayworker" to do the cleaning, dusting, laundry.

    In my own case, my parents employed a Black "nanny" to care for me as an infant, for a few years. Our house was built in Atlanta, in 1925, with full basement. This lower level had a separate gas stove, huge sink, bathroom, and small room with a cot. This is where Stella lived. On her days off (Sundays) she rode the bus across the city to visit her sister.

    There was a woman called Mary who made the rounds of several families in our neighborhood, doing laundry, dusting, and ironing. Janie was a light skinned Black who was a superb cook. She was sought-after by many families and later started her own catering business. When it was time to shine and clean floors, a Black male named "JC" made the rounds of several houses on our street, singing beautifully as he worked. We shared a "Gullah" yard man (Henry) who came from the islands of S.C. speaking a heavy dialect. He came weekly to mow the grass, clear brush, and clean out garages.

    When I went to University, I became involved with helping Black migrant workers who were picking apples in the Roanoke Valley of VA. These were seasonal workers who went down to Florida in the winter to pick citrus. Their living conditions were beyond appalling--the crowded, dirty shelters were shocking. The children rarely managed to get any schooling. All the overseers were white. They paid workers only a pittance, the least they could get away with.

    Another chapter: In the Sixties, the Prince Edward County, VA schools closed, rather than integrate. There was a need for Black children to continue their schooling. A group of us managed to find a small, abandoned wooden church which we renovated, painting the interior and cleaning it up to be used as a school. We worked with Black students our own age, which was a revelation. I still recall seeing the old textbooks Blacks had to use, which were second and third hand-me down, battered and torn. Everything seemed so much more shabby that what we were used to (brand new books,...

  • friedag
    14 years ago

    Vee, as late as the 'seventies in England, I gathered there was a certain nostalgia for the times when servants and the working class "knew their place." Maybe not so much since, though. My own landlady spent a lot of time wringing her hands and moaning about the quality of the domestics she could hire. She was obsessed with the suspicion that one particular scullery maid was stealing the crockery and cutlery. I don't know if it was true, and I'm not sure why she unburdened herself to me except, possibly, that I was an outsider and didn't know anything, anyhow. She grumbled about "that girl" and her "Taffy fella," an odd-job hire. It was the first time I had heard the pejorative Taffy and I had to ask for a definition. I got an earful.

    Of course my landlady was not upper class. She was somewhere around the middle of the working class, I'd guess; and her anxieties perhaps were caused by her fear of a slippage in status. As you mentioned earlier, Vee, there was quite a lot of resentment toward the immigrants about taking jobs. Recently, though, I heard another complaint: the immigrants who have been in the UK for a while no longer want the jobs they "took away" when they first arrived. Who's going to do these jobs now?

    You're right: the white Jackson women of Stockett's book were not top drawer (American spelling). They weren't so well off -- particularly Elizabeth and her husband -- that they could afford more "help." They needed a "maid of all work" in their household. As for the manners: some Americans can pull off the English style, but most do not. The English UC are masters of irony, in my opinion, of the superficial and insincere.
    In England, someone from a lower class could always dress-up smartly in their 'Sunday go to Meeting' suit or a big hat and, if they could afford it, sit in the best box in the theatre, or stay in the poshest hotels; they would not be thrown out or made to sit in some segregated area.How many actually felt comfortable doing that? Classism (though not necessarily as overt as racism) had other ways of discouraging it. I witnessed a great deal of nervousness over this very thing in England and in the various erstwhile British colonies where I've spent time.

    Woodnymph, as always, I enjoyed your reminiscence. I bet you could write a better book than Stockett's.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Frieda, many of the manual type jobs previously undertaken by West Indians, was until recently being done by the latest incomers, this time from the many countries of the European Community. They are hard workers (far more so than many young 'locals' who seem too delicate to get out of bed in the morning) and though some settle over here many have returned home, due to the economic slump.
    Certainly 'classism' is an unattractive trait and we have way too much of it over here, although it is based less on money and more on a je ne sais quoi . . . that indefinable 'something', the innate understanding of 'background' that we must have taken in with our Mother's milk.
    btw, the Upper Classes, if you mean aristocrats, who tend to be over-bred and under-brained usually don't do too well on irony; not enough grey matter. As to the superficiality and insincerity you found among the English nobs, what can I say? There is no excuse for bad manners especially towards a visitor.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, whatever happened to the "au pair", used as nannies and household help in the UK? I ask, because when I stayed in England in the 1960's, I got to know some English families very well and was entertained by them. All were using Scandinavian "au pair" young girls, who did the cooking and cleaning and washing and child care. Perhaps this was a way for these girls to perfect their English language skills?

    Conversely, I have an English friend here who worked as an "au pair" in France in a family around the same time. She said it improved her French enormously.

    When I was in England, there were few Indians, Pakistanis, Jamaicans, relatively speaking. When one did see them, they were all concentrated in London neighborhoods. Thus, I think I saw a "merrie olde England" which no longer exists, except in remote, rural areas.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Mary, today the 'au pairs' usually come from Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, etc. Many years ago we had a series of German girls (daughter of friends of my parents) who spent a year with us improving their English and helping with the three very young children. We never expected them to do much housework although they knew of girls in London who were left alone all day with the baby and had to do everything in the home . .. which smacked of exploitation. The different girls were seen as quite exotic by our 'locals' who tend to regard anyone from more than 10 miles away as 'foreign', but then we have lived here for 30 years and are still not totally accepted. ;-)

    England is much less 'Merrie' than when you were here in the early '60's. My DD lives in North London and says non-white people are by far the majority, especially men and that it can be 'difficult' when walking down the road wearing a summer dress or short sleeves and having to remember NOT to make eye contact.
    Some Midland and Northern cities now have more non-whites than whites which has led to an unhealthy rise in political parties of the extreme right-wing beginning to dominate some local politics.

  • lydia_katznflowers
    14 years ago

    OK, I finally finished. After slogging through 300 pages, the last 144 pages went very fast. Almost too fast. I had to re-read parts because I thought I had missed things. Namely, Skeeter's mother's cancer stayed in remission; the snobby boyfriend just faded out of the picture; and Celia's hubby decided Celia was good for something besides having babies. Actually, I was glad that Skeeter did not marry Mister Senator's Son and her mother was OK for the time being, so that Skeeter could go off to New York without that burden.

    friedag, I am glad you warned me. The Junior League event was excruciating with Celia making a fool of herself. Poor Celia. At least Celia's Johnny turned out to be a stand-up guy, one of the few in the story. Like you, I do know what the character of Celia really represented. She never seemed real to me.

    It was nice to know that at least one other of the white women had a conscience and scruples, although Lou Anne kept them hidden. I guess she had to, but it still seems rather spineless.

    I was most disappointed that Elizabeth caved in to Hilly. But Elizabeth was witless and oblivious throughout the book so I should not have been surprised. I was sorry that Aibileen could not continue to help raise Mae Mobley and "Little Man." Aibileen would get by, I have no doubt about that, as good as she was, but those poor kids and their feckless parents just make me sad. It was not the feelgood ending that I half expected.

    I am glad that I read "The Help," although I think it was too lightweight and chick lit-ish for the subject matter. I liked some of the characters very much - and I hated others - which is probably what the author intended and succeeded in making her readers do.

    It will be interesting to hear what my book discussion groups think of "The Help." One has sophisticated readers who give well-thought-out expressive opinions. I predict varying reactions from them. The other group...reading a book is a good enough reason for a social get-together. In other words, they are not so deep. I predict that they will all LOVE "The Help." Oh, isn't that nice! Time for refreshments. (I am being too hard on the second group. Actually they are interesting to be around, but they are not the best of book critics.)

  • vickitg
    14 years ago

    Bringing this back up, as I might refer to it before my book group discusses this next week. I'm re-reading the book and may have some comments to add myself.

  • ccrdmrbks
    13 years ago

    Just finished this for book club tomorrow night, and wanted to reread the discussion.
    I find that I agree with the majority statement that it was a little "wrought." I did find it easy to zip through in a day, but it is not great literature. It reminded me in some ways of The Secret Life of Bees -which I disliked.

  • kathleen_se
    13 years ago

    I enjoyed this book in spite of its shortcomings, but I was looking for a read and not a history. I think it helps also that I was unaware of all of the hype surrounding it, so went in with no expectations. As a child in 1962 (7 years old) living in a small town in the north I can relate to the lives of the women based on my own life. Mothers in my town had no "help" but did have all the latest appliances so work went much faster. The ideal middle class woman at the time did not work outside the home. It was considered a poor reflection on her husband's ability to provide. With her free time, she visited neighbors and had more organized "coffees" both morning and afternoon sometimes. I remember running in the house to tell Mother that "Mrs. Smith" was on her way down the street so she could take off her apron and put on the coffee or kettle. There were also garden clubs, church clubs, etc.
    As to how Elizabeth gave into Hilly, until you have experienced it you cannot imagine the closed society that is a small town. Once you are out, you are finished, and Minnie's comments to Skeeter when she received the job offer and didn't want to take it were spot on. For married women, moving was not common, and certainly not easy. Finding another social group didn't happen because they were generally based on location. In those days, it also reflected on her husband and could affect his career and social position, and would affect the friends her children would make.
    Some of the threads of the story didn't seem to go anywhere, but none were major. I get bothered when major threads are not tidied up at the end, but not the minor ones.
    I also had a different take on who was the hero. To me, Aibileen in particular and the women who told their stories were the recognized heroes of the story. Skeeter was the facilitator, though appreciated by them for her role. It was not just the recognition of the women by their church, but the fact that the author started and ended the book with Aibileen's voice.

  • pam53
    13 years ago

    I enjoyed The Help although I agree with those who say it certainly isn't great literature. I could relate to the story a bit having grown up in the 50's and 60's, but having grown up in the north, in a lower middle class family with a mom who worked I found I really couldn't relate that well.

  • sheriz6
    13 years ago

    A movie version of The Help is in the works and is due out in August. Casting includes Emma Stone as Skeeter, Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly, Viola Davis as Abilene, Octavia Spencer as Minnie, and Cicely Tyson as Constantine. Just based on the cast I know I will see the movie. Link below.

    Here is a link that might be useful: The Help on imdb

  • woodnymph2_gw
    12 years ago

    I just saw the film version of this novel and thought it very well-acted. The movie was true to the feeling and style details in the book. I think Viola Davis might win an Oscar for her role. Any one else here seen it?

  • carolyn_ky
    12 years ago

    I did and agree that it followed the book quite well. I heard that the author also did the movie script. The friend I saw it with had also read the book, and we both really liked it. Seemingly, everyone else in the theater did, too, and it was almost full.

  • J C
    12 years ago

    It's funny, I had no desire to read the book, but I saw the previews for the film and thought it looked quite good. I will probably see it when it comes to my tiny local theater, especially with the good reviews I am hearing.

  • thyrkas
    12 years ago

    This post turned out to be longer than I wanted it to be - sorry!
    I also saw the movie "The Help" after reading the book a while back. I agree that the movie stayed on track with the book, changing a few things, but did not stray from the storyline.
    I had an interesting email from my SIL, who read The Help, and experienced some disappointment because she thought, from what her friends had said, that the book was going to be another To Kill A Mockingbird.
    She also said once she realized she had misguided expectations, she was able to
    re-evaluate The Help and enjoy it in its own right.
    The Help is not To Kill A Mockingbird in many ways.
    In my opinion, here are three big
    differences between the books.
    To Kill A Mockingbird
    1: TKAM was written through the innocent eyes
    of a powerless child, albeit a precocious one.
    2: TKAM was a serious book that did
    not have a punch line or anything fantastical in it. Its light heartedness
    came from the fact that the children in the book did not truly realize how
    dangerous and dreadful things in their lives actually were, racially,
    financially, or physically; the readers know it, but the kids in the story do
    not.
    3: In TKAM we are not left with the feeling
    that life will change for the better, for anybody, any time soon.
    The Help
    1: TH was written from the viewpoint
    of a college educated woman, one who is coming to the realization that her
    world is terribly flawed, but she possesses power to affect it.
    2: TH was not a totally serious book; it had a punch line - the chocolate pie - and a sense of fantasy about it.
    The chocolate pie was pivotal to the story, and although some might wish that it were
    true in real life, it most likely wasn't; yet we as readers suspend our
    disbelief and accept the idea that this pie is real. I have one problem with
    that: I believe that we as readers and moviegoers, especially those who lived through the turbulent CRM, must be sure to acknowledge the horrible
    truth about the race situation in the south. That situation also
    is nearly beyond belief, especially to the present generation. So, if the
    'terrible awful' thing that Minnie did is a 'joke', was the situation in the
    south in the 1960's also a 'joke', or was it actual? In the movie, there is
    footage from the news coverage of the time; that is very important, I think. It
    moves the movie out of a possible fantasy tale and back into the real,
    historical world of that time.
    3: In TH we are left with the feeling of hope. Things are changing in the culture; they are changing slowly and painfully and imperfectly, but they are changing, and for the better.
    Even though it is true that The Help is
    not To Kill a Mockingbird, there are some big similarities:
    Both books are generally about the same subject: racial
    discrimination in the south. Both books personalize that subject with such
    power that we cannot help but be moved. Both books have...

  • ccrdmrbks
    12 years ago

    Although I thought the premise of The Help had real possibilities, I was underwhelmed by the writing to the point that I got annoyed-the story deserved better. When it was announced that The Help was being moviefied, and who was in the cast-I was excited, because I knew they would life the story up. But the ending still leaves me flat.

  • J C
    12 years ago

    I just saw the movie and I must say I thought it was terrific. I predict it will clean up come Oscar time. My goodness, what a lot of skinny white women! I don't believe they eat all that fried chicken and pie unless the laws of thermodynamics are different in Mississippi. Seriously, it has been a long time since I have seen a movie where the audience broke out into spontaneous applause at the end. Now I will have to read the book.

  • sheriz6
    12 years ago

    I saw the movie last night with two friends who had not read the book, and we all thought it was terrific. If Viola Davis doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I'd be shocked. Both my friends really liked the movie and now want to read the book.

    My only complaint: the hair! Aibileen, Hilly and Elizabeth looked wonderful, but Skeeter and her mother (and several other supporting cast members) had wigs that just looked completely fake. I found it distracting, but it was a minor complaint on the whole :) Otherwise, the costumes were gorgeous! Ditto the period cars in the movie. We really enjoyed it.

  • phyllis__mn
    12 years ago

    Saw the movie this week, and was very impressed with its staying with the book. As for the hair, wigs in the 60's were pretty bad! In retrospect, the ending is life....it just goes on!

  • vickitg
    12 years ago

    You know, I thought I would like the movie lots more than I did. The acting was good, it stayed fairly true to the book, which I really liked, but ... it somehow left me unsatisfied. I felt like it treated the subject matter just a little too frivolously. What many of the maids and their families endured during that time was pretty awful. I'm not sure that the movie actually captured that. One piece that was left out that might have given the story more weight, concerned one of the maids whose son was severely beaten. I can't recall now what prompted the beating, but it illustrated just how dangerous the times actually were, especially for young black men in Mississippi.

    Also, I felt the character of Hilly came across as a little buffoonish -- when in reality, she was a pretty evil person. As the maids pointed out in the book, the white women were actually more dangerous than the white men.

    I saw it with my book group (we read it last year) and almost all of them really liked it. One other friend and I felt that it just didn't live up to our expectations.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    12 years ago

    I did not get the "wigs", simply because I remember how southern women in those days "teased" their hair into huge, puffy manes.... I myself did it.