The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help

Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disapp...

Title:The Help
Author:
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Edition Language:English

The Help Reviews

  • Annalisa

    Here is an illustrative tale of what it was like to be a black maid during the civil rights movement of the 1960s in racially conflicted Mississippi. There is such deep history in the black/white relationship and this story beautifully shows the complex spectrum, not only the hate, abuse, mistrust, but the love, attachment, dependence.

    Stockett includes this quote by Howell Raines in her personal except at the end of the novel:

    Here is an illustrative tale of what it was like to be a black maid during the civil rights movement of the 1960s in racially conflicted Mississippi. There is such deep history in the black/white relationship and this story beautifully shows the complex spectrum, not only the hate, abuse, mistrust, but the love, attachment, dependence.

    Stockett includes this quote by Howell Raines in her personal except at the end of the novel:

    An eloquent way to describe Stockett's intentions for this novel. I know most reviews will probably focus on the racial relationships in the book, but to me the most haunting statement was that when you are paying someone to care for you and their livelihood depends on making you happy, you can't expect an honest relationship.

    I did not expect this book to hit so close to home. After all, I did not grow up in the South and completely missed the racial mind shift in the country. But the book isn't just about racism and civil rights. It's about the employer relationship too. And I did grow up in South America with a maid trying to keep herself out of poverty by making our crazy family happy. As much as we loved her, I can see so many of the pitfalls from these complex relationships in my own history. I know our maid was stuck between pleasing my mother and raising us the way she believed appropriate. I know it was physically hard to work from sunup to late everyday and emotionally hard to never relax because she wasn't the decision maker of our home and at any moment she could be reprimanded for making the wrong decision. She had absolutely no power, and yet she was all powerful to shape and mold us.

    I needed her, felt bad for how much I imposed upon her, but I never voiced how much I appreciated or loved her. I took her for granted. Even though she was paid to love us, I know she did. We were her children, especially my youngest brothers. And yet when she moved back home, we lost contact. Was it out of laziness of our own narcissistic lives or was the complexity of our relationship so draining she cut the tie? It is my fear that she thinks we did not return her affection and only thought of her as the maid. I often think about her, we all reminisce about her wondering where she is, and more than anything, I just want to know that she is happy and tell her thank you. It is so strange that someone who is such a vital part of your childhood can just vanish out of your life. "They say its like true love, good help. You only get one in a lifetime." I know. Believe me, I know.

    The story is strong and real and touched something deep inside me. I could so relate to the motherly love from Constantine to Skeeter, see that pain in the triangle between Aibileen and Mae Mobley and Elizabeth, feel the exasperation of Minny toward Celia, and understand the complexity of the good and bad, the love and hate, the fear and security. Stockett captured all these emotions.

    I also loved the writing style. When style compliments plot, I get giddy. I don't always love grammatically incorrect prose or books about an author trying to be published, but here it works because it's honest. The novel is about a white woman secretly compiling true accounts of black maids--and the novel is in essence a white author trying to understand black maids. The styles parallel each other as do the messages. The point of Skeeter's novel is to make people see that people are just people no matter the color of their skin and Stockett's novel beautifully portrays that with both good and bad on both sides. The fictional novel cover is decorated with the white dove of love and understanding. To get us there, Stockett gives us three ordinary birds, a picture of ordinary life asking to be accepted for its honest simplicity.

    This book is Stockett's masterpiece, that story in her that was just itching to get out. From the first page, the voice of the characters took vivid form and became real, breathing people. I loved Aibileen, but think I loved Minny's voice more because she is such a strong character. Besides the maids, I loved Hilly as a portrayal of the white Southern belle with the ingrained belief that black people are not as good as whites, verbalized as "separate but equal" so it doesn't sound racist. My favorite scene was when Hilly says they have to be careful of racists because they are out there. She's a bit over the top, but if you've been to the South, not that far of a stretch. I just would have liked to find some redeeming qualities in her from Skeeter's perspective.

    While there are some instances where I felt Stockett was squeezing historical facts into the novel, forming the plot around these events instead of letting them play backdrop, and occasionally I could read the modern woman in this tale pushing her message too hard, Stockett's sincerity to understand and appreciate shines through. She lived this book to some extent and the story is a part of her. Because it's important to her it becomes important to me.

  • Caroline

    I was uncomfortable with the tone of the book; I felt that the author played to very stereotypical themes, and gave the characters (especially the African American ones) very inappropriate and obvious voices and structure in terms constructing their mental character. I understand that the author wrote much of this as a result of her experiences growing up in the south in the 1960's, and that it may seem authentic to her, and that she was even trying to be respectful of the people and the time; b

    I was uncomfortable with the tone of the book; I felt that the author played to very stereotypical themes, and gave the characters (especially the African American ones) very inappropriate and obvious voices and structure in terms constructing their mental character. I understand that the author wrote much of this as a result of her experiences growing up in the south in the 1960's, and that it may seem authentic to her, and that she was even trying to be respectful of the people and the time; but, ultimately, I thought that it was written from a very narrow, idealized, almost childish perspective of race relations without a true appreciation of the humanity and soul of the characters. And the ultimate theme & message (i.e. "why, we're all the same - there's no difference between us after all!") only reinforced my feeling that this is written from someone who has a very undeveloped or underdeveloped concept of race and race relations in the United States. The author would benefit from exploring authentic African American voices (Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou) and understanding the scope, range and (most important) the foundation of the emotions genuine African American characters express as a result of their journey as a people in the US (hope, frustration, drive, passion, anger, happiness, sadness, depression, joy).

  • Ellen

    The Kindle DX I ordered is galloping to the rescue today...

    AND, for all the book purists (which would include me), this is a

    , rather than a want. Post-several eye surgeries, I'm just plain sick of struggling to read the words on a page.

    However, despite the visual challenges, I read all 451 pages of

    yesterday. Clearly, the book held my interest. However, I spent last night pondering why the book wasn't as good as my nonstop reading would indicate.

    Most of all, I thin

    The Kindle DX I ordered is galloping to the rescue today...

    AND, for all the book purists (which would include me), this is a

    , rather than a want. Post-several eye surgeries, I'm just plain sick of struggling to read the words on a page.

    However, despite the visual challenges, I read all 451 pages of

    yesterday. Clearly, the book held my interest. However, I spent last night pondering why the book wasn't as good as my nonstop reading would indicate.

    Most of all, I think it was the book's ambivalent tone. In brief, a white woman, Miss Skeeter Phelan--one of Jackson, Mississippi's socially elite--convinces a number of the African-American maids to tell her their story. What goes on in the homes of the upper crust? How do these women really treat their maids?

    Though the book would be published anonymously and no locations would be given, the stories provide enough detail so that the premise (that the book could be received as being about Anywhere, USA) defies belief. Further, while having the book's source known might subject Skeeter to social ostracism, this is the 1960s in Missa-fuckin-sippi in the middle of the very tense civil rights' battles. For the maids, discovery would mean loss of a job (with no hope of getting another position) and retribution that could include being falsely accused of a crime (and jailed) or even being injured or killed.

    Despite the underlying tension and references to violent events that do occur, the book teeters. At times, I was furious and in tears over the effing racism and the tragedies described. But Kathryn Stockett keeps pulling back. It's as though she wants it both ways. Let's divulge the incredible cruelty and violence that black people routinely endured, but let's also show the goodness of some white people and soft-pedal the whole thing into a broader theme, i.e., how difficult it is for two women in any unequal power situation to be "friends."

    Nope. Sorry. You can't have it both ways. Though some of the women are kinder to their maids, they did not fight against the "separate but equal" indignities that included building a "nigra" toilet in their home or garage so that the maids' "nasty" germs would not infect them, the separate entrances, the substandard schools, the "justice" system that made a white accusation the same as proof, and on and on and on.

    I don't want a book to make me cry and then pull back and say, "It's all right."

    If you're going to write a book about this horrible time in our history - and in a country where racism is still alive and well - then do it all out. What these women endured deserves more. Don't put it out there and then pull back and use a Doris Day lens.

    It doesn't work.

  • karen

    enthusiasm!!!

    this book and i almost never met. and that would have been tragic. the fault is mostly mine - i mean, the book made no secret of its existence - a billion weeks on the best seller list, every third customer asking for it at work, displays and reviews and people on here praising it to the heavens. it practically spread its legs for me, but i just kept walking. i figured it was something for the ladies, like

    , which i don't have to have ever seen an episode of to know

    enthusiasm!!!

    this book and i almost never met. and that would have been tragic. the fault is mostly mine - i mean, the book made no secret of its existence - a billion weeks on the best seller list, every third customer asking for it at work, displays and reviews and people on here praising it to the heavens. it practically spread its legs for me, but i just kept walking. i figured it was something for the ladies, like

    , which i don't have to have ever seen an episode of to know that it's not something i would enjoy. i figured that this book was on the ladder one rung above chick lit. so i am to blame for my snobbish dismissiveness, but have you seen this cover?? what is with that sickroom color scheme? and i hate those stupid little birds. what is chip kidd so busy doing that he can't just pop over here and lend a hand?? it is not my fault for thinking it was a crappy book when that cover

    me to think it is a crappy book.

    but this book is good. really, really good. again, i thank you, readers' advisory class, for fixing me up with this book. it has been a long time since i have read such a frankly entertaining book. (if a book about the emotionally-charged early days of the civil rights movement can be called entertaining.) this is just an effortlessly told story, split between three different women, whose voices and perspectives never run together - the secondary characters are also completely believable and are all different brands of repellent, with some token sympathetic characters tossed in for the halibut. i don't even know what to say, i just feel all "aw, shucks, i loved this book" about it - there were several times i would catch myself grinning at a turn of phrase or a situation, and every time i would start to doubt myself, that maybe i

    like

    . or

    or all these things i have formerly judged without having read/seen/eaten. maybe i am like these white women in the book, taking their help for granted and assuming they have nothing to say to each other because of their unwillingness to talk to them and know them as human beings. maybe buffy and i have so much to learn from one another...

    then i would snap out of it and remember that my gut opinions are 99.99% foolproof.

    so for you other people, who need to be swayed by hype - i give you hype. this book's hype is merited - it would be a perfect book to read this summer when you are melting from the sun and need a good story.. this is a very tender and loving book, about hope and sisterhood and opportunity, but also about beatings and terror and shame.

    still hate those birds, though.

  • Sparrow

    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 wh

    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,

    ,

    ,

    ,

    , 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.

    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

    and

    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

    , 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

    speak it? Why does she choose to give proper English to someone else who she has told me

    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

    in dialect. Aerin points out in message 111 that I am talking about

    , 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

    . 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":

    ;

    .

    “Stockett did experience the Civil Rights Era”:

    ;

    .

    “The author of

    was raped”:

    .

    “The author of

    is from Afghanistan”:

    .

    "

    is accurate and not comparable to

    ":

    .

    “Don’t be so critical!”:

    .

    “Have

    written a bestseller?”:

    .

    “Fiction doesn’t have to be a history lesson”:

    .

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

    .

    "Minny and Aibileen are relatable":

    “You are trying to silence authors”:

    and

    .

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

    .

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

    .

    “Authors can write outside of their personal experiences”:

    .

  • Joe

    I read the first paragraph of

    , absorbing the words, but suddenly being caught off guard by the dialect. I stopped reading.

    I shifted the book in my hands, flipping to the author's biography and photograph on the back of the dust jacket.

    Staring up at me was this:

    I thought. An affluent, white Manhattanite.

    And one who apparently fancies herself a master at Southern Black Vernacular.

    I rolled my eyes and returned to page one, fully prepared

    I read the first paragraph of

    , absorbing the words, but suddenly being caught off guard by the dialect. I stopped reading.

    I shifted the book in my hands, flipping to the author's biography and photograph on the back of the dust jacket.

    Staring up at me was this:

    I thought. An affluent, white Manhattanite.

    And one who apparently fancies herself a master at Southern Black Vernacular.

    I rolled my eyes and returned to page one, fully prepared to hate every word on every page, beginning with Aibileen's horrifically stereotyped "voice" written by this smug White Lady.

    Look, I really don't subscribe to the belief that one must be a part of a culture in order to write effectively (or even stirringly) about or in the voice of that culture. Wally Lamb wrote convincingly as a twin in

    (and as an identical twin, I can vouch for its authenticity). Nancy Farmer wove African culture beautifully into her science fiction novel

    . Mark Haddon's Christopher Swinton character is a remarkable sketch of a child with autism. So clearly it can be done.

    But I was not convinced about Stockett.

    When Minnie's first chapter hopped along in

    , I prepared myself for an unconvincing spin on Aibileen's narrative, a pasty twist of the vernacular that had been spewed out in the first paragraph. That is not what I got. Instead, her character was nothing like the other maid; her own voice was rendered in tough, bitter layers, providing a nice foil to Aibileen's complex struggle between resolve and resign.

    my brain screamed.

    But the pages turned, and when I next looked up at the clock, a few hours had passed and I was well on my way to the halfway point.

    Dammit.

    And this was the pattern that followed in the 2 1/2 days it took me to read

    ; I found myself loving it and hating it simultaneously, but leaning more to the

    side of the dilemma. There are countless trite episodes in

    , standard plot fillers that can be found in both heaving Harlequin romances and sucky Oprah Book Club fodder. But there are more moments of striking beauty, humanity, and humor, even if the ending is a bit of a cop-out. (No surprise that The Rich White Lady Saves The Day And Gets What She Wants.)

    Is

    Great Literature? No. Is it a fast and enjoyable read? Yes. It's also a fairly striking and genuine portrait of what life in the south was like during those tumultuous times. And for that... well, for that I quite liked it.

    So congratulations, Whitey McWhiterson, I wound up not hating your book.

    And God knows I tried.

  • Maegen

    While it was a well-written effort, I didn't find it as breathtaking as the rest of the world. It more or less rubbed me the wrong way. It reads like the musings of a white woman attempting to have an uncomfortable conversation, without really wanting to be uncomfortable. It's incredibly hard to write with integrity about race and be completely honest and vulnerable. The author failed to make me believe she was doing anything beyond a show & tell. And if her intent isn't anything greater, th

    While it was a well-written effort, I didn't find it as breathtaking as the rest of the world. It more or less rubbed me the wrong way. It reads like the musings of a white woman attempting to have an uncomfortable conversation, without really wanting to be uncomfortable. It's incredibly hard to write with integrity about race and be completely honest and vulnerable. The author failed to make me believe she was doing anything beyond a show & tell. And if her intent isn't anything greater, then it makes this book all the more pandering to the white imagination of what it must have been like to be "the help" during that era. It's passive self-reflection at best and utterly useless.

    The national fascination with this book makes me sick. It makes me think of my grandmother who was "the help" to many white families for well over 50 years. Her stories aren't too different from those told in this book, but they are hers to tell. If she were alive today, I don't believe she would praise Stockett's book. In fact, I think she we would be horrified at the thought that her years of hard work (in some cases, for some very horrible people) would be reduced to some wannabe feel good story of the past.

  • Nancy

    One of my co-workers, a guy who isn’t much of a reader, borrowed

    from the library based on his English professor’s recommendation. The guy just couldn’t stop talking about the story, so I decided to borrow the audio book. It’s not very often I get to discuss books with people in real life and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by. Audio books are good for me. I was so engrossed in the story and characters that I drove the speed limit on the highway and

    One of my co-workers, a guy who isn’t much of a reader, borrowed

    from the library based on his English professor’s recommendation. The guy just couldn’t stop talking about the story, so I decided to borrow the audio book. It’s not very often I get to discuss books with people in real life and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by. Audio books are good for me. I was so engrossed in the story and characters that I drove the speed limit on the highway and took the scenic route while running errands. Sometimes I went out at lunch and needlessly drove in circles, or sat in the parking lot at work, waiting for a good place to stop.

    It is 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi. Twenty-two year-old Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has returned home after graduating college to find that Constantine, her family’s maid and the woman who raised her, has mysteriously disappeared. Aibileen is a black maid in her 50’s who works for the Leefolt family and cares deeply for their daughter, Mae Mobley. She is still grieving for her young son, who died in a workplace accident. Minny is Aibileen’s closest friend and a wonderful cook, but her mouth keeps getting her into trouble and no one wants to hire her, until Aibileen helps secure her a position with Celia Foote, a young woman who is new in town and unaware of Minny’s reputation.

    The story jumps back and forth between the three characters, all of them providing their version of life in the South, the dinner parties, the fund-raising events, the social and racial boundaries, family relationships, friendships, working relationships, poverty, hardship, violence, and fear. Skeeter’s mother wants her to find a nice man and get married, but she’s more interested in changing the world. Her plans to anonymously compile a candid collection of stories about the maids’ jobs and the people they work for will risk her social standing in town, her friendships, and the lives of the maids who tell their stories.

    I loved this story! The characters really came alive for me, and the author did a good job acknowledging actual historical events which lent richness and authenticity to the story. I laughed and cried, felt despair and hope. This is an important story that is a painful reminder of past cruelty and injustice. It shows how far we have progressed and how much more we still have to accomplish.

  • Kai

    My favourite book next to Harry Potter. This novel did so many things to me.

    There was lots of crying...

    ...happiness...

    ...sass...

    ...more tears...

    ...and most of all friendship.

    Read it.

  • Lola  Reviewer

    I’m not one to read many historical fictions, especially when they don’t include any fantasy elements. They read like nonfiction, and nonfiction is only good for me if I’m in need of sleep. B-but…

    is different. It doesn’t only describe the life of housemaids, in the second half of the 20th century, in M

    I’m not one to read many historical fictions, especially when they don’t include any fantasy elements. They read like nonfiction, and nonfiction is only good for me if I’m in need of sleep. B-but…

    is different. It doesn’t only describe the life of housemaids, in the second half of the 20th century, in Mississippi; it’s overflowing with raw emotion. It doesn’t put every white person in a box and every black person in another… It underlines the difference of thought between people, but also how similar we actually all are.

    I really felt it, when Aibileen and Minny talked about their work, how they wanted – needed – things to change and how hard their lives were. It made me sad, of course, because they just didn’t deserve the animosity that was directed toward them and that’s why I was so eager to turn the pages:

    Miss Skeeter is also an important part of this story. She’s not loud, she doesn’t look for trouble, but she does have a

    . She faces obstacles, so many of them, but does she ever back down? No, because when she believes in something, no one can kill her spirit.

    I can’t believe the author never made Skeeter and Celia interact: they would have connected from the start! And was Stuart’s character’s purpose only to make us see how differences in ways of thinking can drift people apart? He is the most frustrating part of the story, really. We hate him, we love him, we like him and then we hate him for the rest of the book.

    Equality. Freedom. Racism. Respect. They’re all so fascinating because they are cleverly developed and included and intertwined in a way that makes this story such a precious and worth perusing one.

    Also,

    I'll repeat it,

    so you don't forget:


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