Guilt-Free Book Club: Time to discuss "The Help"

Mid-July is here, and I'm starting the Guilt-Free discussion today about "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.

Guilt-free means, answer the questions you want to in the comments. If you have other questions, include those, too. If you didn't read the book, no worries - you can still chime in. (And whether you read it or not, you're invited to our Guilt-Free Book Club Readers' Night Out to go see the movie next month.)

These questions came from Stockett's website and about.com, and a couple are original. Happy discussion!
 

  1. 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?
     
  2. 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?
     
  3. And related to this, Aibileen talks about how she worries that Mae Mobley will turn out like her mother. But Skeeter seems to be nothing like her mother. Skeeter's mother is critical and, as revealed late in the story, heartless when it came to Constatine. Does this insinuate that perhaps Mae Mobley has a chance? Can we escape becoming our parents?
     
  4. How much of a person's character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?
     
  5. 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?
     
  6. In Sunday's Parade Magazine, “The Help” author Kathryn Stockett said she was reading “Gone with the Wind” this summer, after many people asked her what she thought of the book. How would you compare Stockett's book with that classic?
     
  7. What did you think about Minny's revenge?
     
  8. In your opinion, how did Miss Celia's role change how you felt about the other characters in the book?

 

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Meg Dickinson wrote on July 14, 2011 at 9:07 am
Profile Picture

My answers:

1. It seems like Hilly was moved by some sort of righteous indignation (and racism), as well as the need to boss other people around and set the standard for what's right in a home. She tried to bully others into raising money for the “starving children in Africa,” too, and as Skeeter points out, she's willing to help those who live half a world away but not those across town. Somehow, though, she comes across as a much better mother than her friend, Elizabeth. And yes, absolutely, you can be a good mother and be deeply flawed – we hear about people like this in the news every day.

2. I think Skeeter's mother is totally unsympathetic, despite the fact that she's ailing. I believe she loves her daughter, but she obviously had no sympathy for her maid who'd practically raised her children. She's just another example of a cruel woman in this book.

3. Skeeter is a prime example of escaping a parent's prejudices. Mae Mobley has a good chance, especially if she remembers the stories that Aibileen told her. However, she has a long childhood ahead of her in an intolerant home, so it's hard to say how she'll turn out.

4. I think, obviously, the general views of society can be pretty influential. In fact, the reason Skeeter's book reach such fever-pitch success was because it was published during the Civil Rights Movement. However, I don't think the times are everything – look at the women Skeeter wrote about, who were treated like family by the women who employed them. Those relationships seemed to defy the times.

5. Simply enough, I believe racism is taught. But even if Aibileen had been able to stay with Mae Mobley longer, there's a good chance that the girl's mother would have a greater influence than the maid.

6. I read “Gone with the Wind” in junior high, so I don't have a good comparison. I do believe that “The Help” takes a much more realistic look at race relations (in another era, though). I do remember that “Gone with the Wind” was riveting, just like “The Help.”

7. Minnie's revenge made me not want to eat chocolate pie for a while, that's for sure. I don't think it was excusable, but it definitely made a good insurance policy for the authors of the book.

8. I think Miss Celia showed that the cruel characters in “The Help” weren't just awful to their help and their children, but also to other white women. It shows that perhaps the problem wasn't racism but maybe just an all-around deficient personality. It also illustrated that for someone who'd never learned the social implications of what to expect from a maid, it wasn't hard to treat your help like a human being. I found Miss Celia totally likable, despite all of her secret-keeping.

kaw wrote on July 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I think Skeeter escapes becoming like her mother, but only because times have changed. Her mother is a product of decades of upbringing...certain Southern mothers didn't raise their children, the help raised their children. When her mother grew up, there was no suggestion of change, no hint of it in the air. Skeeter had gone away to college, had been exposed to other ideals, and had the opportunity to judge for herself what was right and wrong. Her mother didn't have those opportunities and grew up in a time that was static and inflexible. I didn't dislike her as much as I felt sorry for her. As for the comparison of "The Help" and "Gone with the Wind," I don't really think there's a comparison, other than both are magnificent novels about the South. I don't know how Stockett went about writing her book, but Margaret Mitchell had family lore and research to help her build her work. I would hope, to some degree, Stockett didn't have family lore too...especially the chocolate pie!

Meg Dickinson wrote on July 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm
Profile Picture

I read in an interview with Glamour magazine that Stockett's brother's maid is suing the author, alleging that the Aibileen character is based on her. I was surprised (although perhaps I shouldn't be) that people still have maids.

algon wrote on July 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I'm so glad this is a guilt free book club, because I will go ahead and admit I couldn't make it through the whole book. I can't put my finger on why, but usually when I don't finish books it's because I cannot identify with nor am I drawn to any of the characters.

In general, it's hard for me to fathom the type of cruelty that was evident at the very beginning of the book. It's just hard to read.

I'm still on the fence about seeing the movie; although, since I didn't read the book I guess I can't be disappointed in the movie!

AliceV wrote on July 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I just finished reading 'The Help' for the second time. The first was a couple of years ago when the book was first published, and I was surprised at how many details I'd forgotten. No matter, I enjoyed both reads.

I've read 'Gone With The Wind' a few times also, though not recently. Both are great books about the culture of the South, but that is their only likeness.

I read an article on Salon.com about the maid of Kathryn Stockett's brother suing the author because she believes the character Aibileen was based on her - the evidence seems skimpy. What did strike me was that the author of the Salon article described Stockett's description of characters such as Hilly and Elizabeth Leefolt as 'cartoonish.' Maybe, but I'm not sure. Women such as Hilly exist, and given the culture of the late 50's, early 60's and the importance of lineage, membership in institutions such as Junior League, the existence of the KKK and the acceptance of rampant racism, they could wield a lot of power. It was unacceptable to question the status quo - fortunately now it is very commonplace.