Salome’s review of The Help > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Fantastic review. I couldn't express very well what was bothering me about this book, but your review says it all.


message 2: by Salome (new)

Salome G Michelle wrote: "Fantastic review. I couldn't express very well what was bothering me about this book, but your review says it all."

Thanks!


message 3: by Leena (new)

Leena "This is not her story to tell." That sums it up.


message 4: by Beth (new)

Beth I love this review! Thank you for writing it. I couldn't agree more.


message 5: by Nita (new)

Nita One thing that struck me was Aibileen's language. She is the one who loves to read and write, and did pretty well at school. Minny speaks better English than she does. Should Aibileen have spoken in Minny's language, and Minny in hers? What do you think?


message 6: by Nick (new)

Nick "But should she? I lean toward no. This is not her story to tell."

I don't understand your discussion of whether a person "should" or "should not" write a novel. What is inappropriate about her writing this novel? What makes it so inappropriate that stockett "should not" have written it at all? As far as I can tell, what's come of this novel is a reminder of racism that existed in the 60s (and persists to this day), an exploration of white and black perspectives, an exploration of how individuals can have very different interpretations of identical events, how mindsets are passed on through family and institutions (schools), how change in possible even against overwhelming adversity, how societies inevitably change even if some individuals reluctantly cling to the past, etc., etc. etc.

As far as I can tell, more good has come than harm -- discussion of these themes are currently happening all across the United States as a result of this book. Consequently, it seems particularly harsh that you feel it "shouldn't" be written at all. The world will always benefit from the expression of ideas, particularly when the ideas expressed make us reflect on our own lives...and our histories.

Moreover, it seems to me by "its not her story to tell" you seem to be implying that she should not have written it at all because of the color of her skin. She's white therefore she should not write about racism that affected black people. You state this matter-of-factly, but its not a clear cut debate. The role of a story-teller isn't necessarily to relate only those experiences that he or she has faced in his/her own life --- but to tell the stories of others (if they are stories worth sharing). Story-telling is an art and a talent, and I feel that a talented story-teller should be able to relate the lessons and harsh-realities of racism even if she never suffered them herself. It's silly to think that her skin color precludes her from using her talent this way. Moreover, Vernon Jordon, an African American man and leading figure in the civil rights movement, has fully endorsed this book because he felt it reflected his history. Your review naively completely discounts his opinion.

In short, I disagree with your review on many, many levels.


message 7: by Beth (new)

Beth Ditto, Nick. :)


message 8: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh It's not her story to tell because she doesn't know the truth about the time and place and people about whom she writes. The black characters are stereotypes whose main difficulty in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, appears to be their being denied use of the family toilet. I was in Jackson at that time and, believe me, Minny would have been dead before sunset. But that isn't the story Stockett could sell. The story she sells is all about how clever black maids could have gained the upper hand and nice white women can be close friends with racist fiends without ever questioning their fiendishness or their racism. Furthermore, the idea that black maids would trust any friend of such women, let alone expose themselves to the possible horrors frequently visited on "uppity" you-know-whats, is laughable. And, by the way, those white men she leaves out? They were all either at a Klan Klavern or a gathering of the White Citizens Council. This story is so unbelievable in so many ways, it defies any shred of logic in a knowledgeable reader. Sad that so many citizens are ignorant of the real history of American apartheid.


message 9: by Nick (new)

Nick "It's not her story to tell because she doesn't know the truth about the time and place and people about whom she writes. The black characters are stereotypes...."

Interesting that you would say that. It makes me wonder what makes you qualified to know the one and only truth that black women experienced during that time and place.

Meanwhile, Roslyn Brock, chairwoman of the NAACP, said this about The Help after viewing the film: "I felt so proud. My grandmother was a domestic in Florida, and when she passed, almost two generations of families whom she had taken care of sent condolences saying what an important part she was to their family. And it never really connected with me until I saw this movie."

I suppose you're saying that Roslyn Brock doesn't know what she's talking about either.

OR we can accept that there were many different stories to tell during that time period. Yes, many were tragic, violent, shameful. But there were individual moments of hope even in dark times -- and that's what the Help is.

The book doesn't shy away from the realities of that time either. The talks about murders and has the son of one of the characters beaten viscously with a tire iron until he is blind.

In any case, I completely disagree with the whole "not her story to tell" criticism.


message 10: by Peeta M. (new)

Peeta M. I agree with you that there are some unnecessary characters and subplots (Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter's "friendship" with Hilly and Elizabeth), but still. Doesn't change the fact that personally, I loved the book. :)


message 11: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh Nick wrote: ""It's not her story to tell because she doesn't know the truth about the time and place and people about whom she writes. The black characters are stereotypes...."

Interesting that you would say t..."


Let's not resort to flaming. Or to beating each other with up with "experts," qualified by skin color and/or high office. I've never been a follower. I could cite plenty of the opposite opinion--eminent black scholars who despise the book but so what? I said what I believe and I don't feel obliged to refute an argument based on name dropping. Otherwise, we could defer to what Clarence Thomas thought of the book, or indeed to what he thought of anything.


message 12: by Ciara (new)

Ciara yes stuart was a complete waste of time and i really felt like skipping through the pages he was involved in to be honest!


message 13: by Jenna (new)

Jenna Stuart was not a waste of time. He was a flat and kind of unlikeable character, but a tool. His small part had purpose. At one point Skeeter comes to the realization that she could never be "herself" with Stuart at her side. Also, losing Stuart helped spur Skeeter to move to New York - because aside from her parents, she had nothing else left in Jackson.


message 14: by Mary (new)

Mary I vehemently disagree that Stockett should not have written this book. Racism does not just affect African-Americans, Hispanics, Arabs, etc. It also has an insidious effect on those who perpetrate it. Ms. Stockett was not writing from the Black perspective, but from the only perspective she truly knows...hers. Should Dickens not have written about so many female characters because he was male? Should we disregard Hardy's Tess and her place in literary history because it is inauthentic for a male writer to write a female character? Ms. Stockett's story is ONE voice of many from that time. No pun is intended, but everything is never just black and white. Life is full of gray and the flawed characters Ms. Stockett has created resonate more true than ones filled with treacly altruism. I think Ms. Stockett has provided us with a mirror to look at ourselves and see if we could survive having our private lives displayed for public consumption. Would we be proud of what we read about ourselves or in denial.


message 15: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh The complaint is not inauthenticity, it is stereotype.

I know Hardy's Tess and nobody in The Help should be mentioned in the same breath with her. It's rather like comparing Iowa City to Paris.


message 16: by Mary (new)

Mary @Candida: What is a stereotype? It is using a cliche or a hackneyed view of a certain group of people. Would that not be considered "inauthentic" then? Hardy makes use of stereotypes in Tess as well. Alec is described as "swarthy with full lips" and "barbaric." These descriptions were typical during the Victorian era when describing lusty men as those born in warmer non-British climates were thought to be more sexual. Tess is a stereotype as well. That of the "fallen woman" whose lack of purity leaves her unworthy for honorable men (an honorable man who abandoned her). There is a fine line between a stereotype and an archetype. If Ms. Stockett had written each of her white and black characters the same and just slapped names on them, then we are dealing with stereotypes. Each character was different with personalities that were their own. Ms. Stockett interviewed black women about their experiences during the 60s before writing the book. The character of Minny was based on one of her friends. While Paris may be the more glamorous city, Iowa City still has a right to have its story told .


message 17: by Beth (new)

Beth And if you want to argue that it's not her story to tell, because she didn't live it, or that it shouldn't have been written because of the stereotypes, that really narrows the books that you can read and approve of. Margaret Mitchell, and Gone With the Wind would really on your "don't" list. Sad, because it's a wonderful book, with a lot to say, in spite of, and because of, the stereotypes.


message 18: by Salome (new)

Salome G I don't and cannot regularly attend to this discussion, but I did want to say thanks, Jenna, that's a great point.

Also, I've said all I intend to about the book in my review, but I did want to clarify one part. I never intended to imply that one cannot write outside one's sphere. I was speaking solely of this book. I know this story can be told and not necessarily by someone who lived it, but in my opinion, this case was unsuccessful. Your mileage, obviously, may vary.


message 19: by KJ (new)

KJ Salome, I fully understood your point. Stockett wasn't unqualified because she was white, she was unqualified because she was ignorant. I detailed out some of the horribly ridiculous anachronisms and plot problems in my own review that make it clear Stockett simply didn't know the time period. She could have been born in 1990s UK and still written a better account of it had she bothered to research the subject.


message 20: by Mary (new)

Mary @KJ: Do you know the period? I do. I lived it. I was born in 1958 in Alabama. We had a Black maid named Mattie Smith. I lived through the Civil Rights movement up close and personal. Stockett's account resonated with me and my sisters, my mother, my aunt and several other friends who also have first hand knowledge of this era. Stockett was born in Jackson, Mississippi, had a Black maid herself and interviewed many people who also lived through it. There may be criticisms of this book, but ignorance is not one of them.


message 21: by KJ (new)

KJ KJ wrote: "Salome, I fully understood your point. Stockett wasn't unqualified because she was white, she was unqualified because she was ignorant. I detailed out some of the horribly ridiculous anachronisms a..."

Mary, I am sure you were privy to lots of things as a child of the 60s but Stockett however was not. She was born in 1969. Her ignorance of the time period and historical events is pretty clear from the way she presented it in the novel. I didn't live the time period either, which is also why I didn't sit down and choose to write a novel about it. You can read my review of it if you want to see specifically what she missed and screwed up. Ignorance was a massive down-fall of this book. It's almost embarrassing how historically inaccurate this book was. The fact checkers should all be fired.


message 22: by Mary (new)

Mary KJ - I read your review and the four little girls who were killed were killed in Birmingham at the 16th Street Baptist Church, not in Montgomery. Shake and Bake came out 2 years after the book setting and since this is fiction, some license can be granted. This book is FICTION written from the very narrow point of view of a few people in one town. She got the time period right in my opinion and I DID live through it. Many, many authors have written about the past and not lived through that past. I do not think being alive during the time one is writing is a prerequisite for authorship. There are a whole lot of wonderful books that would not have been written if that were the case. Toni Morrison's "Jazz" was set in the 1920s, yet she was not born until the 1930s. Margaret Atwood's "Alias Grace" was set in the 19th century. I am sorry you did not like the book, but she got the atmosphere of that time pretty much dead on.


message 23: by KJ (new)

KJ Thanks Mary for the city correction for Alabama. I clearly dropped the ball there. However, I didn't criticize her for shake-n-bake since she mentioned that herself in the epilogue. I'm a bit disappointed you have no other comments on any of the other MANY items I mentioned though. As someone who lived through the period, I was kind of looking forward to your opinion on why those items were completely incorrect or glossed over. As for other authors, they came into their projects with respect for the time period and a commitment to research their subjects. A natural bit of curiosity can replace experience.


message 24: by Mary (new)

Mary KJ...I actually have a History degree, so history is important to me. But, as a prolific reader I also understand that getting a few historical events wrong does not totally ruin a fictional story. I remember when JKF and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. I was very young when JFK died, but old enough to remember more when King died. What we remember and what actually happened are not always the same things. Back in the 60s, there was no internet, not everyone had TVs and many, many people could not even read. The fact that she got the year incorrect when the Univ. of Miss. was integrated was not enough to take me out of the story. How many CURRENT events take place and we STILL get them wrong? I read fiction for entertainment, not history. If I want accurate history, then I will read a historical document. In fact, many historical fictions books often lead me to go and do independent research on my own. After I read Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian," it led me to do research on Vlad the Impaler. I am not sure I have ever read a fictionalized account of a historical era where they got EVERYTHING right. That is why I do not get my history from fiction. I guess it is more about expectations. Stockett got the "feel" of the time right even if she had some historical inaccuracies. The story is paramount to me and she told a good story. I am sure that Kathryn Stockett is very much aware of any historical inaccuracies in her book by now and will probably take greater pains in the future to make sure everything is tied up nice and neat.


message 25: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh As someone who was in Jackson MS in 1961, I disagree that Stockett got the "feel" right. But we're advancing opinions here and not dealing with anything that can be measured or weighed. There's no way my opinion can "unmake" your pleasant reading experience, and vice versa.


message 26: by Mary (new)

Mary Candida wrote: "As someone who was in Jackson MS in 1961, I disagree that Stockett got the "feel" right. But we're advancing opinions here and not dealing with anything that can be measured or weighed. There's no ..."

You are right. I just think the issue with this book goes quite a bit deeper than the reasons most people do not like the book. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Not everyone will like the same books. This one just struck a nerve that is a little more raw than some and I think it is telling that in this day and time we are still walking around on egg shells when dealing with certain issues.


message 27: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh Mary wrote: "Candida wrote: "As someone who was in Jackson MS in 1961, I disagree that Stockett got the "feel" right. But we're advancing opinions here and not dealing with anything that can be measured or weig..."
As a student of history, you do know history is written by the victors. As a reader, you know the significance of POV. The POV in this book may seem accurate to many of the whites who lived through the era of the Civil Rights Movement, but not to many African Americans. Those who feel their history is too often slighted or mangled may well be sensitive about yet one more celebrated instance of such abuse. Gone With the Wind, Stepinfetchit, Amos 'n Andy were all celebrated as realistic representations. Now most, but not all, whites accept that this was a racist fallacy. I suspect time will reveal that Stockett's story is a soothing fairytale for those who have not yet accepted how bone-chilling those days were for America's black population.


message 28: by Mary (new)

Mary Candida wrote: "As a student of history, you do know history is written by the victors. As a reader, you know the significance of POV. The POV in this book may seem accurate to many of the whites who lived through the era of the Civil Rights Movement, but not to many African Americans. Those who feel their history is too often slighted or mangled may well be sensitive about yet one more celebrated instance of such abuse. Gone With the Wind, Stepinfetchit, Amos 'n Andy were all celebrated as realistic representations. Now most, but not all, whites accept that this was a racist fallacy. I suspect time will reveal that Stockett's story is a soothing fairytale for those who have not yet accepted how bone-chilling those days were for America's black population.
"


In an age when it is now possible for history to be written from all perspectives, the old adage of history being written by the victors no longer holds true in my opinion. Especially when there are people still alive to give their narrative. There are enough books out there, both fiction and non-fiction to get a well rounded account of many viewpoints. Who gets to decide which narrative is allowed? This entire issue seems to smack just a bit of censorship to me. Many great books written make us feel uncomfortable (not saying this book will go down in history as one of the greats, but...). William Styron wrote a book called "Sophie's Choice." It was about a man's love affair with a survivor of the Holocaust. It was a very poignant and moving (and at times disturbing) book and is now considered a classic. However Styron never even left the USA during WWII and the account of his love affair is entirely fictitious. Were some Holocaust survivors upset at his book because it did not mirror their lives after they were freed from the concentration camps? Perhaps. However not every concentration camp survivor would have had the exact same experience. So some may have felt his portrayal was genuine and some may not have. Stockett wrote a story that she wanted to tell. That is what writers do. You do not have to like her story, but I do not believe anyone can state she does not have the right to tell her story. Books such as Gone With the Wind and Huckleberry Finn, even though they represent a very skewed viewpoint of race relations in the 19th century, they are still important works. We cannot erase history just because it is distasteful. There are class distinctions in Jane Austen's works that we do not subscribe to today. However, they did reflect the times in which they were written, just as GWTW and Huckleberry Finn reflected their author's era. "The Help" is not the definitive book on race relations in the 50s and 60s. We have other authors such as Richard Wright, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker who provide us with a different perspective. But "The Help" is one more perspective that helps us to try and get a complete picture. We do not live in a vacuum. Everyone who lives in turbulent times is affected in one way or another.


message 29: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh I would never place Huckleberry Finn in the same category as Gone With the Wind, but c'est la vie. It isn't censorship to make an observation about who controls the narrative--that is a distinction with quite a difference--but what should be clear to both of us is that we are not discussing this with a shared language, let alone any overlap in our POVs. This isn't a dialogue, just parallel monologues (much like Congress) and as such can lead nowhere fruitful for either of us. I respectfully withdraw (although I feel confident you will need to have the last word).


message 30: by Mary (new)

Mary Candida wrote: "I would never place Huckleberry Finn in the same category as Gone With the Wind, but c'est la vie. It isn't censorship to make an observation about who controls the narrative--that is a distinction..."

When one throws down a gauntlet, it is difficult not to respond as you were certainly aware when you threw it. Passive-aggressive is not my style, nor is taking my toys and going home. My point, which you completely ignored or chose not to deal with, was...that even books that may not smack of genuineness to everyone who reads them are still important even if it is for the negative reaction they incur. The need to dismiss this as an act of an attempt to assuage white guilt over the civil rights movement is short sighted in my opinion. The very fact that someone might feel the need to assuage that guilt is in fact an admission of guilt in the first place and there is certainly more than enough guilt to go around. Until we bring all of these intense emotions out into the light of day, the pain of the civil rights movement and the legacy of over 200 years of oppression will continue to fester under the skin as an unhealed wound. Racism is still very alive and unfortunately well in this day and age. So many people were reared on this unholy legacy that they do not even question their engrained prejudices. Dialogue can be akin to the lancing of a wound, but dialogue has to go two ways. You do not even want to talk to me. How is dialogue ever to take place if people feel the need to quash it before it ever begins?


message 31: by Gwen (new)

Gwen Haaland Totally agree with Nick's comments here, though it was interesting to hear everyone's differing viewpoint. Thanks Mary Skelton for weighing in with your wisdom.
I am so glad this book was written. For me, each point of view was convincing for all three main characters.
To address one side issue mentioned here: I too wondered at first how Skeeter could ever have been friends with Hilly and Elizabeth, but then realized that this friendship was started when she was too young to know any better. As childhood friends of a similar backgrounds, the friendship was encouraged by family and classmates, before Skeeter could fully comprehend the injustices that were happening around her. After completing her college education, the gap between "Skeeter" and her former "best friends" widened, and this was shown through her deteriorating relationship with these white women. So I do not think they were unnecessary characters.


message 32: by SmarterLilac (new)

SmarterLilac Can Stockett write this story? Well, of course she can. But should she? I lean toward no.

This was my reaction when I first (tried to) read it last summer and it's still my opinion after a reread. It's hard for authors to write authentically when they are so far outside of their depth, and I just don't think K.S. pulled it off at all.


message 33: by Margie (new)

Margie Thessin KS wrote the book that mirrored my experience growing up in the South with a maid in the 60s. It brought back very uncomfortable,sad memories. She nailed it. Did she nail it for the maid? Hell I don't know. I wasn't the maid.


message 34: by Pat (new)

Pat Maxwell I perfer books by talented black women writers about doing something other than cleaning white people's messes.


message 35: by Josie (new)

Josie Stoker I just noticed that a majority of you are not black so it's more than a bit frusturating to see so many of you saying she didn't have a good enough point of view on African American life when you don't either...


message 36: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh Josie,

There can't be any monolithic "view of African American life," because there is no such thing as "AN African American life." So whether a writer's skin is light or dark, he/she may be able or not be able to create a fictional character of a different color. Or he/she may be so entrenched in their own class/race/historical orientation, they can't write credibly about anyone outside it. William Styron, like Kathryn Stockett, created a black character out of his family's generations of white privilege on a plantation where they once kept slaves. Insular, well-heeled white critics praised the book, and so did Styron's one black friend, James Baldwin, on whom Styron (ridiculously, but according to his own words) cast Nat Turner's character. Baldwin resembled the historical Nat Turner about as much as tongue-tied G. W. Bush resembles the incredibly articulate Abraham Lincoln. Worse, Styron's Turner was the Ku Klux Klan's stereotyped obsession--the black rapist, in spite of the fact that nothing in history supports this characterization of the rebel. Trashing a man who is a hero in the eyes of many people--and doing so by sinking that hero in the muck of bigotry and superstition--provoked what I regard as justified outrage. Like Stockett, Styron hid behind the facade of having written a fiction, yet like Stockett, he had taken events and conditions and grossly misrepresented them.

The central criticism, as I see it, is that Stockett, like Styron, gets the FACTS wrong and gets them wrong in a way that trivializes the terror under which black Mississippians lived in the 1960s. If you lift the clichéd infrastructure from the narrative, you'll see a money-winning formula: black sacrifices for white accomplishment/salvation/enrichment, such a comforting theme that it plays in movies and books over and over. I once taught a class on this theme, showing and analyzing five films that employ it. I could've shown fifty.

As for needing to be a member of a specific group in order to have an opinion about their representation, if that were true our literature would be greatly impoverished. Men could not include female characters and no one could write a dog story. Yet critical readers with experience may notice when a writer fails to convey truth, a responsibility novelists who aren't dealing with fantasy must respect. Truth isn't confined to facts although we should all have sufficient familiarity with and respect for black history to be disturbed when the facts are garbled or wrong--but it's also the resonance a reader senses in the creation of character, one that sustains or shatters the reader's suspension of disbelief. For too many of us, Stockett fails this test miserably.


message 37: by Donna (new)

Donna Ditto to Nick and Mary!


message 38: by Robin (new)

Robin Umbley Stuart is important because he's part of Skeeter's character development. For most of Skeeter's peers, Stuart is the ideal man--handsome, rich, and well-connected. He also thinks Skeeter is pretty, something she has never been told. He actually does wonders for her self-esteem even though they realize they are not destined for each other. Skeeter is at a turning point in her life where she is trying to figure out where she belongs. Don't forget--Skeeter and her peers are all in their early twenties in a very, very conformist culture. One theme in the book is how characters--both black and white--find their voices, their true selves inside of this culture.


message 39: by Robin (new)

Robin Umbley About the dialect: do none of you readers have a regional accent and dialect? Every one of you does, even if you think you don't. I'm from the Boston area. Plenty has been said about OUR accent and our dialect. Outsiders think we're ignorant. (This is ironic because Massachusetts has the highest education rate in the country.) Dialects are not an indication of education or intelligence. (I had a professor at Harvard who was from the Bronx. He sounded every bit of it. This did not diminish his intelligence one bit. However, Dialects ARE about communication within a group, and they DO separate us. Every group will use language in its own way with its own shorthand and jargon. In the book, language usage highlights the separation, which is important in this story. Skeeter, though occasionally uses the black dialect which indicates a fissure between her and the white culture. She is the only white character in the book to do so.


message 40: by Robin (new)

Robin Umbley Also, about "making up" the story: that's what fiction writers do. And Demetrie died when the author was 16. It was only years later that she began to wonder what life must have been like for her. She was dead so she HAD to use her imagination based on what she knew and the testimony of others.


message 41: by Candida (new)

Candida Pugh I understand why those of us who think The Help is racist are upset. We find the book offensive. What I don't understand is why people who love the book seek opportunities to argue with those who dislike it. If you love it, great. Take your love and hug it and leave those who see it as racist to our own opinions. There's a forum on Amazon started by people who see The Help as racist tripe and that forum is constantly trolled by the book's passionate advocates. What is up with that?? Methinks the book's fans protest too much.


message 42: by Robin (new)

Robin Umbley The conversation on both sides has been wonderful. It's important to have these discussions. And everyone here has been perfectly civilized about it. It's been fascinating reading everyone's different thoughts.


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