Sparrow's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Oct 21, 12

bookshelves: abandoned, reviewed, disturbing, punching-tour
Recommended to Sparrow by: Linda Harrison, Gibney
Recommended for: read Coming of Age in Mississippi instead, please
Read from July 20 to 25, 2010

I have this terrible, dreary feeling in my diaphragm area this morning, and I’m not positive what it’s about, but I blame some of it on this book, which I am not going to finish. I have a friend who is mad at me right now for liking stupid stuff, but the thing is that I do like stupid stuff sometimes, and I think it would be really boring to only like smart things. What I don’t like is when smart (or even middle-brained) writers take an important topic and make it petty through guessing about what they don’t know. I can list you any number of these writers who would be fine if they weren't reaching into topics about which they have no personal experience (incidentally, all writers I'm pretty sure my angry friend loves. For example, The Lovely Bones, The Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, Memoirs of a Geisha, etc.). These are the books for which I have no patience, topics that maybe someone with more imagination or self-awareness could have written about compassionately, without exploiting the victimization of the characters. They’re books that hide lazy writing behind a topic you can’t criticize. The Help is one of these.

You’ve got this narrative telephone game in this book. The telephone game is pretty fun sometimes, and it is really beautiful in monster stories like Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights because what they are telling me is not intended as trustworthy or earnest. All of the seriousness in monster stories is an impression or an emotion reflected back through the layers of narrative. I don’t feel that way about the topic of The Help, though. In this book, a white woman writes from the point of view of a black woman during the Civil Rights movement, who overhears the conversations of white women. It's an important topic, and I don't want to hear it through untrustworthy narrators.

So, I can basically get on board with the dialect of the black maids, but what throws me off as a reader is when the black maid is quoting the white women and they’re all speaking perfect English without a trace of an accent. It becomes particularly weird when one of the black maids starts to comment on the extreme accent of one of the white women, Celia Foote, whose written dialogue continues to be impeccable. Who is this narrator? Why does she choose not to speak proper English if she can speak it? Why does she choose to give proper English to someone else who she has told me doesn't speak it? Also, usually the layers of narration in a telephone-game book are only within the book. In this case, it’s the author’s voice stabbing through the story. I am convinced it is her whose brain hears the white woman speaking TV English, and the black women speaking in dialect. It gives away the game.

Even the quotes from the movie have an example of this. A conversation between her and Minnie goes like this:

Celia Foote: They don't like me because of what they think I did.
Minny Jackson: They don't like you 'cause they think you white trash.

Celia speaks in a proper sentence, but Minny misses the "are" in the second part of the sentence. Celia says "because," but Minny says "'cause." If the reader were supposed to understand that Celia does not speak in dialect, that would make sense, but since it specifically states that she does, it doesn't make sense.

To attempt to be clear, I didn't have a problem that the book was in dialect. I had a problem that the book said, "This white woman speaks in an extreme dialect," and then wrote the woman's dialog not in dialect. Aerin points out in message 111 that I am talking about eye dialect, which is about spelling, not pronunciation, as in the example above. Everyone, in real life, speaks in some form of non-standard English. Though I have seen some really beautiful uses of eye dialect, as Aerin points out, writers typically use it to show subservience of characters or that they are uneducated, which often has racist overtones. If it troubles you that I'm saying this, and you would like to comment on this thread, you may want to read other comments because it is likely someone has already said what you are going to say.

I’m not finishing this one, and it’s not because I think people shouldn’t like it, but rather because I’m almost 100 pages in and I can see the end, and it’s failed to engage me. When a few IRL friends have asked what I thought of the book and I said I didn't care for it, they have told me that I am taking it too seriously, that it is just a silly, fluff book, not a serious study of Civil Rights. Again, I don’t have a problem with stupid books, but when it’s a stupid book disguised as an Important Work of Cultural History, all I want to do the whole time is tear its mask off. And a book about Civil Rights is always important cultural history to me. Anyway, the book becomes unpleasant; I become unpleasant; it’s bad news. If you loved this book, though, (or, really, even if you hated it) I would recommend Coming of Age in Mississippi. I think that book is one of the more important records of American history. Plus, it’s beautifully written, inspirational, and shocking. It's been years since I read it, so I might be giving it an undeserved halo, but I can’t say enough good things about it.


"You should finish the book before you talk about it": comment 150 (second paragraph); comments 198 and 199.

“Stockett did experience the Civil Rights Era”: comment 154; comment 343.

“The author of The Lovely Bones was raped”: comment 190.

“The author of The Kite Runner is from Afghanistan”: comment 560.

"Memoirs of a Geisha is accurate and not comparable to The Help": comment 574.

“Don’t be so critical!”: comment 475.

“Have you written a bestseller?”: comment 515.

“Fiction doesn’t have to be a history lesson”: comments 157 through 162.

“Having grown up in the South during this era and having had a maid, I could relate to the emotional nuances of this book”: comments 222 and 223.

"Minny and Aibileen are relatable": comment 626

“You are trying to silence authors”: comment 317 and comments 306 through 316.

“Why do you want to read a Civil Rights book about racism and hatred? I would prefer one about friendship and working together”: comment 464.

“Why are there so many votes for such a half-assed review?”: comment 534.

“Authors can write outside of their personal experiences”: comments 569 through 587.
435 likes · Likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Help.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

07/24/2010 page 63
14.0% "This feels really Ya Ya Sisterhood to me. I don't know if I should give up or not."
07/25/2010 page 85
19.0% "Not for me." 2 comments

Comments (showing 451-500 of 773) (773 new)

message 451: by Aziza (new) - rated it 5 stars

Aziza I loved the novel though i loved your opinion. I think my problem is i am not a native speaker of English :p. i didn't put things in my mind as you did.
i just would like to thank you that you light something inside me and let me learn something new :))

message 452: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thank you!

message 453: by [deleted user] (new)

Wait, did you just compare how a pulp fiction writer characterized the language of apes to how Stockett wrote her black charcters' speech? Because, damn. Talk about damning in the defense.

message 454: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Dana wrote: "I think you disliked this book for all the wrong reasons, besides your concerns about untrustworthy narrators.

About the way Minny and Aibeleen talk, for example: when I was little I used to get so confused as to why Tarzan acted like he couldn't speak english when he first met Jane, when during the entire first half of the film he'd been speaking it with the gorillas. It's only now I know that he'd been speaking gorilla in reality. It's the same here: the dialogue of the white women were rendered into proper english for clarity, so we know the difference between their speeches (the white women and the black), not because the colored narrators said it that way themselves and choose to speak improper english.
and about Miss Celia; here's one piece of her dialogue: "Lemme just get my check writ out. I'm lucky I have this big ole thing with me today."
'Lemme' instead of 'let me', 'writ' instead of 'written', and 'ole' instead of 'old'. Also, she uses 'set' when it should be 'sit' throughout the book, just like Minny and Aibeleen."

hahahahah!! Most racist comment EVER!

message 455: by [deleted user] (new)

Right? I mean, wow.

message 456: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I am giggling so hard right now.

touche. tou-fucking-che.

message 457: by Cory (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Nice to know we still used Colored to describe black people in the 21st century. You get the weirdest commentators, Sparrow.

message 458: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow And I love them all. My only complaint is that there aren't more of them.

message 459: by Jason (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Wow, that was awesome. That just made my day. Thanks, Dana!

message 460: by [deleted user] (new)

I think my favorite part is how Dana explains how eye dialect works through elision and non-standard spelling. Let + me = lemme! No way! I suddenly understand how the use of eye dialect along racial lines isn't a problem!

Hahahaha. OMG.

message 461: by Jessica (last edited Sep 23, 2012 02:53PM) (new)

Jessica she's 19 and lives in U. A. Emirates. There's hope still. In that she's young. (I know, I know, you and I did not think like that at 19, but still).

message 462: by [deleted user] (new)

I noticed that too - and I do understand that non-Americans often don't hear the racist dog whistles the same way as we do. Comparing the speech of pulp fictional talking apes with the speech of American black women is a little much though, no matter where you're from. Or maybe comparing it in a complementary way is the problem. Anyway, yeah, here's hoping she grows out of thinking that's a good idea.

message 463: by Mary (new) - rated it 1 star

Mary Timbes I think she's giving Stockett way too much credit. That dialect is shorthand servant-talk, really a lazy way to telegraph that we are dealing with ignorant people who are expressive in a cute way. I'm from the South and know very well the tendency to mimic "Ebonics" and look down upon it. In this case it gets in the way of the story, such as it is.

message 464: by Sparrow (last edited Sep 23, 2012 04:09PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Haha. I still can't see comparing the dialect to Tarzan as giving stockett much credit.

message 465: by Mary (new) - rated it 1 star

Mary Timbes She was saying (I think) that the writer intended to show the characters spoke in their own language to each other and it sounded another way to those outside their group. Like Tarzan spoke easily to the animals and awkwardly to those who spoke English. He was fluent in the language of his neighbors in the trees but illiterate in drawing-room English. Novel, but I don't think Stockett was doing that. Others may disagree.

message 466: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, but that seems even more racist to me because it is the black women hearing the white women as speaking English well, and then the black women hearing themselves speak it with an accent. So, I do agree, and that was my original point: it's racist.

message 467: by Mary (new) - rated it 1 star

Mary Timbes I think it's a stretch to say it's a different language in anybody's head. Everything about this book is just wrong.

message 468: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow hahaha, fact.

message 469: by Dana (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dana Salman Mary Lois wrote: "She was saying (I think) that the writer intended to show the characters spoke in their own language to each other and it sounded another way to those outside their group. Like Tarzan spoke easily ..."

Yes, that is what I meant. And I'm sorry, I was not trying to be racist at all. In retrospect that was pretty stupid of me to use the example I did; I should've known everyone would jump to conclusions.

message 470: by Jason (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason But Dana, I think you're still confirming that this book is racist if you're saying that white speech is rendered as proper English while black speech isn't. Unless you are saying that the target readership of this book is strictly black? Which I don't believe for a second, by the way. And even so, it's hard to make this argument when we're not even talking about different languages here. Also, if what you're saying is true, then the white speech would be in 'proper English' only when white people are speaking to each other but not when they are speaking to their black maids. But this is not the case.

Look, I actually liked this book and didn't even pick up on those dialogue differences. But that is because I'm an ignorant fuck. But I think you're actually confirming Sparrow's point while simultaneously defending it, which is what people are saying is racist.

By the way, I wish you hadn't removed your original post. But thankfully, Sparrow had the foresight to re-post it in its entirety. It's hard to have a conversation when pieces of it are missing.

message 471: by Dana (last edited Sep 24, 2012 10:24AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dana Salman Jason wrote: "But Dana, I think you're still confirming that this book is racist if you're saying that white speech is rendered as proper English while black speech isn't. Unless you are saying that the target r..."

Well it got people so riled I was kind of embarrased to have it on there. I'm not really sure if people are angry at me or just laughing at me. Either way I'm not getting the feeling that it's positive feedback I'm getting here.

But I just realized, after rereading Sparrow's review, that I misunderstood what she was trying to say. Now I wish I'd given it more thought before I opened my mouth (or keyboard... comment... whatever).
When Sparrow talked about the 'narrator' I thought she'd meant Aibeleen or Minny, not Kathryn Stockett. Ergo, that Aibeleen and Minny could speak proper English (by speaking in the voices of the white women: "Miss Skeeter look at me and say 'switch to white woman dialect'") but choose not to. So I was trying to explain that when they talk about what a white woman was saying that's not the way they said it themselves.
Am I making any sense?
Well, now I can see what a fucking dumb mistake I made. I'm really sorry if I offended anyone.
P.s, I liked the book too. And I didn't pick up on the dialogue differences much either.

message 472: by Cory (new) - added it

Cory bout to cry when read

message 473: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Haha. I mostly thought making a comparison to anyone talking to apes when race is the issue triggers a lot of automatic red flags in terms of racism. And, yes, I try to copy all of the amazing posts as quickly as possible. This is not my first rodeo.

I did mean the narrators in terms of the maids because they were the narrators. I think writing the black women as hearing themselves speak in dialect and the white women speak in no dialect creates the false impression that a maid in that position would see the white women as better than herself. I think that seriously misunderstands how a person tends to feel in the maid's position, and to the extent it was an editing or writing accident shows some assumed racism.

message 474: by Mary (new) - rated it 1 star

Mary Timbes For a book that purports to herald the beginning of civil rights and Southern white enlightenment, it still offers a racist view of the difference in the races. I know that was not the author's intention, but it's the way the book reads to me. And, as I've said, I thought it was not a true picture as both sides were caricatured. The only half-way normal person was Skeeter, clearly a surrogate for Ms. Stockett.

message 475: by Peter (new) - rated it 3 stars

Peter Boody I tried reading "The Help," which my wife enjoyed, and put it down halfway thru. Another dialogue-driven book populated by thin cartoonish characters. Found the film very similar in its silly flimsiness. I also resented "The Help": I wrote a book that I thought was better and more compelling. It also is, in certain elemental ways but peripherally (in terms of its fairy tale story line) about American racism -- but it doesn't attempt to take on that immense subject head on. It asks questions. Let Taylor Branch answer them.

Have sold about 700 copies to The Help's 8 billion.

I wonder what Sparrow would think of my book, even though the idea of her reading it makes me break out in a cold sweat. Aside from many other issues, I too use eye dialect. Would send her a copy if interested.

message 476: by Mary (new) - rated it 1 star

Mary Timbes Wench is an interesting book about the race question in the U.S. It takes place in slavery days and deals with the relationship of slave women who were "kept" by their masters. Well-written, sad book.

message 477: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh, I'm sorry, Peter. I'm kind of overwhelmed with the stack of books I already have to read. I do care about the issue, but race isn't really my focus or expertise in general, anyway. But, there are probably a lot of other people on this thread who might be more interested. Good luck!

I am not opposed to eye dialect as a rule. I just think authors have to be very careful with it, and it's easy to get racist with use of eye dialect. I love Zora Neale Hurston, though, and Dickens.

message 478: by Peter (new) - rated it 3 stars

Peter Boody It's remarkable how most people have no idea that masters having sex with slaves was very common and an open secret. Annette Gordon-Reed explores this I believe in her 1997 pre-DNA test book on TJ and Sally.

message 479: by Peter (new) - rated it 3 stars

Peter Boody Thanks Sparrow for the reply. No problem and best wishes.

message 480: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh, huh. I had not idea that people do not know that. I always thought it was common knowledge.

Yep, best wishes back!

Shannon I wonder, have any of you written a bestseller?

message 482: by Sparrow (last edited Oct 21, 2012 11:35AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow In looking at most bestsellers (other than The Glass Castle), I am thankful to say that no, I have not. When bestsellers stop being books that pander to the lowest common denominator, maybe I'll get all tore up about my writer's block. That is a bitchy thing to say, but it is true.

message 483: by Jason (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Shannon wrote: "I wonder, have any of you written a bestseller?"

Hahaha, what a stupid question! Because only those who have ever 'written a bestseller' have the capacity to read and express opinion on that which has been read. Or is it that only bestselling authors can have negative opinions? Hilarious, these people with their stupid questions. And then Sparrow apologizes for being bitchy? Hahah, I love it!

message 484: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Well, maybe she wanted to read my bestseller if I had written one. In that case it would just be free marketing for me, not at all a stupid question.

I did not actually apologize for being bitchy, nor would I. I just described what I said. And I do think it's bitchy to say bestsellers pander to the lowest common denominator. I would describe this comment as contrary, though that description is not intended as an apology either.

message 485: by Jason (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Yeah, right. Like you believe for a second that she posted that because she was interested in reading whatever bestseller you wrote.

message 486: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Well, I was kidding about that. I assume she meant to express the opinion that criticism can only happen from a person in a superior social position to a person in a lower social position. I think that's a pretty common attitude to have, and I disagree, but I wouldn't say it's stupid.

But, even if it were stupid, it doesn't make me, like, mad, or something, for people to be stupid. And someone being stupid to me doesn't change whether I'm being a bitch or not.

message 487: by Sparrow (last edited Oct 21, 2012 12:39PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow I think Paul Ryan is stupid. Thom Hartman is stupid. Rush Limbaugh is stupid. Rigid social hierarchy based on popular opinion? I don't really get it, but I don't know that I would say it's stupid.

message 488: by Jason (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Well, it's an opinion I've seen before, that you can't criticize a popular work of fiction unless you yourself have written an equally popular work of fiction, and to me it is an opinion that comes only from defensiveness of a book you like being criticized. I think it's an extremely stupid remark, especially considering this is an amateur book reviewing site.

message 489: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I assume she meant to express the opinion that criticism can only happen from a person in a superior social position to a person in a lower social position.

Very Victorian, when you put it that way.

message 490: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Jason wrote: "Well, it's an opinion I've seen before, that you can't criticize a popular work of fiction unless you yourself have written an equally popular work of fiction, and to me it is an opinion that comes..."

Yep, It's the standby hater comment. That's probably true about it being defensive. But, wait. Do you think it's stupid? Because I don't know if you've said that yet.

Sarcasm! It's funny!

I validate your sentiment and re-incorporate my previous comments.

Very Victorian, when you put it that way."

I think so. Or Medieval.

message 491: by Paquita Maria (last edited Oct 21, 2012 03:41PM) (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Shannon wrote: "I wonder, have any of you written a bestseller?"

Seriously? This is what you have chosen as your first and only comment on goodreads? Man, you must really feel like you zinged her good with that very original critique, because no one has ever made that ridiculous comment a million times around here, always to zero avail considering most thinking individuals understand that the purpose of this site is to discuss literature rather than stomp your foot, pout, and disregard all opinions that aren't your own even though the very thought that a person's opinion is undeserved/uninformed is, in and of itself, an opinion. In a word: shuuudupp.

message 492: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow hahaha. Disproportionate anger, you guys! It is seriously not a sensitive topic to me that I haven't published a bestseller. I'm pretty reconciled to it so far. Talk to me again when I'm 50, though.

message 493: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Yeah, sorry dear. I've been lashing out at comments like that lately because it's getting soooo old. Or, well, perhaps the reasons go deeper than that...not that I care what you think of my anger issues or anything psychological considering that last I checked, you're not Sigmund Freud.

message 494: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Oh, snap! Boom! Zing! Bam! Uhh, boom again!

message 495: by Paquita Maria (last edited Oct 21, 2012 03:51PM) (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez On an unrelated note, I'm currently trying to decide if I could maybe fit in this. I think you know why...

message 496: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow hahaha. Maybe I actually AM Sigmund Freud. No, if only. Especially if it meant I got a rid in Bill and Ted's phone booth.

Feel free to lash out, though. I shouldn't shut you down.

message 497: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Paquita Maria wrote: "On an unrelated note, I'm currently trying to decide if I could maybe fit in this. I think you know why..."

!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHCCCCKKKKK!!!! I bet you would fit, too!! You gotta do something about the screw part of the head, though.

message 498: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I have been known to shop in the chidren's section from time to time. Here's hoping! Adult animal costumes are obscenely priced, by the way.

message 499: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Paquita Maria wrote: "Adult animal costumes are obscenely priced, by the way."

Fact: adult costumes are obscenely priced.

I still haven't reviewed Winged Leviathan! I don't know what to say about it! I am out of words lately.

message 500: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Man, I just noticed the vote count on this review. Dang, Sparrow! Them numbers be all big-like!

You should write a review of W.L. from the perspective of one of the minotaurs or something. Or as the female lead's pelvis, maybe.

back to top