Stephanie W's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Feb 13, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: book-club, chick-lit

My bookclub is perhaps the last bookclub in the country to read The Help. They even said so when they decided on this book. I didn't mind, because as much as I make fun of chick lit, I had wanted to read this for some time and just never got around to it.

The book was engaging, but I felt ashamed at times for reading it. There were a few things I enjoyed as I was reading (the characters of Celia and Minny, how Hilly only had bad things coming to her, the touching scene in the church, etc). Despite these enjoyable moments in terms of the plot, there were other moments I disliked in terms of the characters, mechanics, and theme of the story.

1. The Dialect. I hate books with dialect. Instead of making a book feel "authentic" by including the way people speak in different time periods in different areas, it usually comes across as a caricature of what the author is trying to portray. The African American women speak in pidgin English in a voice that plays off so many stereotypes of African Americans. With readings of great African American authors (Langston Hughes, WEB DuBois, Richard Wright, etc) it is completely unnecessary to use an uneducated dialect to make a story feel authentic. The same message could come across using standard English, provided the emotion and real story were there.

The dialect could be forgivable if the white women in the story spoke in southern accents as well, but they don't. They speak standard, unaccented English. It feels like a terrible double standard and makes me hate the dialect in the Aibeline and Minny sections all the more.

2. Useless Characters. I really loved the character of Miss Celia but she was completely useless in moving the plot of the story. She helped add depth to Minny's character, but that was all. She didn't do anything for the other characters in the story and it was odd that she had the most complex character out of any of the white women despite her being an auxiliary figure.

3. Unnecessary Romance. This is not a love story. Why do you need the character of Stuart, who is undesirable anyway? Why do we need to have Skeeter and Stuart's relationship even though it does very little to enhance the plot?

4. The Simple Good/Bad Dichotomy. The black women are saints and the white women are devils (except Skeeter, who is at best naive and childish). It's not that simple. People are complex. Stockett tries to show this through the portrayal of Miss Celia, Lou Ann and Minny; however, the primary characters of Elizabeth and Hilly are still one dimensional shells. And Minny's sass seems justified and part of her persona as a good person.

5. Simplification of a Complex Theme. The subject of race relatons cannot be condensed into a beach read. It is a fast read, but it's almost too fast. Something purposeful should not be easy. It should be difficult to stomach at times, and it should need time for reflection after. This book seems to give you purposeful information and immediately pull back. It's an anger that things are not right being pulled back by a desire not to rock the boat. It's saying things are bad and immediately saying that there is some good in the world and things are not TOO bad. It leaves you with a warm mushy feeling at the end, when a book about race relations in 1960s Mississippi should not make you feel that way.

In all, it was an enjoyable book from a surface perspective, but this is not a subject that should be viewed from the surface. If you read a book like this, read some Ralph Ellison or Richard Wright in conjunction
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