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Initially, I wasn't very interested in The Help. It seemed like a typical book club/Oprah book to me. But then I saw the movie trailer, and I thought it actually looked quite worthwhile. I had recently read the very excellent South African book Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, so the life of abused domestic workers was a the top of my mind. But then the movie came out, and I read these reviews, and they gave me pause (I posted these back in our August thread):
1. New Film 'The Help' Whitewashes the Civil Rights Struggle into a Heartstring-tugging Hallmark Card: http://www.alternet.org/culture/152002/new_film_%27the_help%27_whitewashes_the_c...
2. The Terrible Awful Sweetness of The Help: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/08/11/the-terrible-awful-sweetness-of-the-h...
It's my book club's selection for October, and while I was no longer in the mood for it, I thought I'd give it a chance. Well, I'm on p 182 out of 530 p, and enjoying it much more than I expected to. I can certainly see why it's earned so many 4 and 5 star reviews here at LT.
Preparing for my book club discussion, I went back and reread these articles, and one of them led me to a statement to The Help fans, written by the Association of Black Women Historians: http://www.abwh.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2%3Aope...
I will be back with specific questions, but does anyone have any comments on these criticisms?
Thanks for posting the links... interesting reading. I am going to take what may be a different tactic here, but only because you have opened the floor for discussion. ;-)
While I enjoyed The Help, I am willing to accept it for what it is - fiction. I don't expect my fiction to accurately portray circumstances and events - if I want that I will go to non-fiction, although eve that needs to be taken with a grain of salt as all history is revisionist in some form in the eyes of the author. I can appreciate that some reviewers felt that the story did not present all the facts and sugar coated the experience of the civil rights movement, but I thought the book still manage to present an interesting sociological perspective of the time period - portraying examples of some stereotypical viewpoints of the world that could very well be representative of some Caucasian members of society at the time.
With that said, I think Stockett did a good job presenting an interesting story that has and will probably continue to capture the attention of a large number of readers and movie goers. So it's not perfect. So it doesn't hit on some of the details that some reviewers felt should have been mentioned in the book, or lacks the punch they wanted a story on this topic to have. As I said, it's fiction.
The door is always open for any author to write their own book on the topic and tell the story they want told, in the manner they want it told. Curious to see if more books set in the time period hit the shelves in the next couple of years.
I was a little put off by the amount of employer/help relationships that came off as being positive. I think it would be more accurate if the book was a bit darker, but it also wouldn't have been a best seller!
All in all, I'm glad I read it, but it certainly wasn't one of my favorites of the year. I also have zero desire to see the movie. As I was reading, I was envisioning scenes made even more annoying by seeing them watered down on a screen.
I am not naive enough to think that after reading the book I understand what it was like to live in Mississippi in the 1960s. It was an entertaining read and I'll leave it at that!
I have mixed feelings about this book. When I started it, I wasn't opposed to reading it, but I didn't expect much beyond a typical book club book: stereotypical, topical, and saccharine-with-a-splash-of-vinegar.
I was pleasantly surprised when, right from the beginning, I enjoyed it as much as I did. It's a compelling, page-turning read. I cared about the characters, and what happened. I cheered when things went well, and certainly got very angry at the nasty Miss Hilly. Sure, the characters were pretty stereotypical--the black maids were all kind and wise, or spunky and Mammy-like, and the white women were all easily recognized types of one sort or another. Still, it was a great reading experience.
As a literary work, however, it falls short for me. On one hand, it's great to see a book this entertaining that deals with racism; however, there was something shallow and artificial feeling about it. I've never been to Mississippi, and the Jacksonville of 1963 she describes sounds like a foreign country to me. I'm not one to say whether or not it's accurate, but it felt packaged--sort of like the town in the movie Pleasantville--I found it almost dystopian feeling (the haves lording over the have-nots; social critique, capricious rules), except of course dystopians are dark and hopeless and this novel is bright and hopeful. It felt to me like a neat little time capsule that readers can look at and tisk, "my goodness, wasn't that culture unenlightened and ignorant, I'm so glad we're not like that. I certainly feel good now." Hmmmm, really?
For a more "real" feeling look at domestic workers, and one that isn't quite to rosy, I recommend the critically acclaimed Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, by South African writer and activist Sindiwe Magona.
I'm also annoyed that Stockett jammed out on telling the whole story about Constantine. Her story is in there, but the author wasn't brave enough to tell it, and I think it's pretty clear that Skeeter never figured it out. That was a major disappointment.
So in the end, The Help was pretty much what I expected: a potato chip read. Lots of fun at the time, but in the end, not very satisfying.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Despite its faults, I was going to give it 4 stars, but I think the author should have wrapped it up around page 350--it went on too long with too much repetition.
Recommended for: like I said, this is a compelling read. If you're stuck with nothing but best sellers to choose from, this would probably one of your better bets. It's a good story, and one that deserves telling.
This was a R/L B/C read for me and most of the women in my group had their arguments in regards to the fact that it didn't fly true to what is was like 'there' and 'then'. To me, it didn't matter. I didn't and don't care. It is a work of fiction and as such it is the author's story to tell. If you want the same story to be non-fiction then do the research and write it yourself or look elsewhere for your read. Non-fiction does need to be as spot on as can be.
I really liked The Help and for me it was a 5 star read. I will hang on to it. I will read it again. I will continue to love the book regardless of the naysayers and what they say.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I once discussed The Help with an African-American woman, and I will always remember what she said: That the book was excellent but had one flaw: No one paid. Back then, one of those women would have paid dearly. They all got off. Good point.
I try to keep reminding myself that if the book had been true to those experiences, then it would not have been so popular. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing though.
I haven't seen the movie yet - always worried after a 5 star read that the movie will ruin everything. Those of my friends who have read the book and seen the movie say the movie does justice to the book. So I am waiting for it to come out on DVD.
Anyway, the book was so great, and I totally recommend it!
I was completely involved with the characters -- and cheered for them the whole way through the book. I also did not like the book's ending. I wanted a happy ending for them all (but I tend to want that in my fiction anyway). Jill, the comment of your friend is chilling and true. Some - if not all of these women - in real life would have had a large retaliation. I did not think of that, but she is spot on.
I am saddened by the naysayers and hadn't had any of these thoughts on my own. But, being that I'm mostly white (with some Cuban thrown in), I guess I am just naive.
Still, to me it was one of my favorites from 2011. A 5 star read and a 5 star movie for this fantasy loving, happy end-wishing, progressively liberalish white/Hispanic girl from the South.
The women historians wrote "During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women's employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for (the time)."
My MIL was a maid and then a "nurse" in the south in the 20's & 30s, & in the north from the 40's to the 70's, she had to behave very much as these women did. She was "compelled", she was "loyal", but she was not "contented" & i don't see the women in this book as contented AT ALL? Why should we have a story of their sex lives? Just because we don't, they are asexual? I don't think it's popularity has anything to do w/ nostalgia, i think it is a stirring, easily read account of these particular women and the reader has compassion for some and disgust for others. Well-done Stockett.
I was first told of the book by an African-American woman who said "you have to read this, it's tough to get thru in parts, but it's a great story." i read it w/ an integrated book group who largely enjoyed it. One white woman who grow up in NC in the 50's & 60's told us she knew nothing abt the activities of the civil rts movement at the time, her tv and newspapers weren't reporting it, so i think the little attention it got from the characters in the book is probably an accurate picture, even in Birmingham, AL.
If we want to educate people about the time, then we need to see that those stories are told and support them, not attack others who are attempting to do something else.
It's the best book i read in 2011.