Eric_W's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Sep 17, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction, current-affairs
Read in September, 2011

This book has a kazillion ratings and reviews so I doubt there is little I can add. I found the story and dialog to be quite believable. As someone who came of age during the sixties I well remember the battles, both physical and verbal, between the “separate-but-equal” crowd and those pushing hard for civil rights. We lived in a suburb of Philadelphia and my mother had a lady come in once a week to do the cleaning. I happened to be home from school one day - it must have been a holiday or something - and at lunch I took my bowl of soup and crackers into the dining room with my book (reading, not TV, is the foundation of anti-social behavior) while my mother and the cleaning lady (it still is irksome to use that term) ate in the kitchen. My mother later told me the lady said it was the first time she had ever sat at the same table to eat something with a white woman. (My mother had issues of her own, but they had more to do with educational elitism than race per se, witness her early antipathy to our adoption of several mixed-race children whom she perceived to be a less than stellar intellect. This was in the early seventies when cross-racial adoption was still a rarity.)

Much as I despise religion, I have to give it credit for providing the impetus (at least in the north, but also in some churches in the south) for the civil rights movement. It was distinctly a religious crusade, fostered by the National of Islam under Elijah Mohammed (the so-called Black Muslims,) some Catholic priests like the Berrigans (much to the dismay of their bishops) and many Protestant ministers. Bombings of churches could only lend more credibility to the marchers.

I was attending a Quaker school and remember hearing stories about one family in the Meeting that adamantly refused to permit letting blacks into the Meeting. This was in the fifties. Since Quakers have to do everything by consensus, they could essential block black membership. The issue remained unresolved until the family saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall and moved away.

I read many of the reviews and comments on Amazon and was struck by a couple who thought the book demeaned black maids. I found just the contrary, that if any group was degraded, it was the clique of white girls who, with only a few exceptions, didn’t do anything of worth and cared mostly for clothes, boyfriends, and whether a black ass had sat on their white toilet seat. Some African American readers felt the black maids were demeaned by the book. I find many of these comments quite interesting because I don't think the book is about black maids at all. I think it's about a vapid white culture that is concerned with appearances and boys, and make-up and whether their precious behinds will be soiled by sitting on a toilet that might have been used by a black person. For me, the book ridiculed that white culture and showed how one person made an attempt to cross over and understand the other culture's point of view, but it remains the perception of the white culture at the time so by necessity, the view of black dialect and actions must be a flawed one.

I loved the scene where Abilene is trying to potty-train Mae Mobley and is in a quandary because the child needs to see how adults do it, yet Abilene is terrified to use the bathroom in the white house rather than the colored one built for her in the garage. So she shows her the colored one which Mae Mobley Leefolt then wants to use all the time, to her white mother’s horror.

Yes, there are some anachronistic events, yes, the dialect seems forced sometimes. So what. Outstanding book that reveals the tensions of being black and a decadent and dying white culture in the United States during a period of cultural upheaval.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen I find many of these comments quite interesting because I don't think the book is about black maids at all.

This review pretty much covers the way I feel about the book except for the above line, because I saw the black maids as central to the story, at least, theirs was the only story I wanted to get to...Skeeter for me was the least interesting character. It is fascinating to gauge the reactions on goodreads-people who hated or loved the book and saw the maids as central, people who hated or loved the books and saw the white women as central, people who hated or loved the book with Skeeter as central...

So...whose story told through whose lens...and then the reader has their own personal lens to look at the lenses of the book through...


message 2: by Jen (last edited Sep 09, 2011 10:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen And my personal lens includes a grandfather who worked for this company and happily sold different policies based on race until he retired.

http://articles.philly.com/1988-02-15...

This same man thought of joining the KKK and then decided not to (I don't know why-he was I'm sure a fit)and because of that decision, had a cross burned in his "white" yard. The man's child saw it- how could he not- it was Christmas Day and he wanted to see if family were arriving yet- and that child was my father.

I have no idea what my lenses looks like because I can't take them off. But I'm a little afraid of what my eye exam results would be because I'm sure a different prescription is needed for my kind of myopia.


Eric_W Jen wrote: "And my personal lens includes a grandfather who worked for this company and happily sold different policies based on race until he retired.

http://articles.philly.com/1988-02-15......"


I think that's what makes this book (perhaps all good books) so interesting, i.e. they create a prism through which we can see different things based on our own experience. I should have qualified my statement a little. It's certainly about the maid experience as well. I was responding to the viewpoint of some reviewers that the author could not authentically replicate the maids' experience. Others talk about her growing up in the sixties, an impossibility because she wasn't born until 1969, so she's writing historical fiction, but doing it very well, I think.

I listened to the book; my wife read it in print. She found the way the dialect was written somewhat hard to get used to. The audio is read by two black actresses (for the maids) so it seemed quite natural to me.

Another thing I found quite interesting was the inherent conflict between love and disdain.


message 4: by Jah (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jah I like this review a lot! It must have been cool to read since you experienced wars yourself.


Cecily As a white Brit, born slightly after the time of the book, I can't comment on the accuracy, but I certainly didn't interpret the portrayal of the maids as demeaning - although the book certainly portrayed the many demeaning ways they were treated then.

I found your comments on the role of religious groups in the civil rights movement interesting, too. Thanks.


Eric_W Cecily wrote: "As a white Brit, born slightly after the time of the book, I can't comment on the accuracy, but I certainly didn't interpret the portrayal of the maids as demeaning - although the book certainly po..."

Yes, absolutely. The maids are definitely the heroines and the white mistresses the demeaned ones. That's why the comments in the of the other reviews startled me.


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