I did it! I finished The Help!!! (I am a very slow reader, and I usually have a book sitting around for months/years before I crack it; but once I do, I don't linger. It's like the race has started, the clock is ticking, and I can't have peace until it's done.) Now I want to discuss it with whomever I can! I found these discussion questions, and even though they seem pretty surface & light topic-wise, I thought they might bring deeper jumping off points into focus:
1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
How can you not adore Aibileen? But honestly, I may have loved Johnny Foote the most - he loved Celia no matter what, he cared about how she was really doing, he went along with the charade not only w/o getting mad but happily to make her feel good & adequate, he showed Minny respect & gratitude, and his emotions were genuine.
2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On one hand she’s so unpleasant to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes she can’t control her. But she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think you can be a good mother but at the same time a deeply flawed person?
I think Hilly is a natural overachiever & leader; we've all heard of people who don't care who they step on or have to manipulate to get to the top, and "the top" for her was League president & Senator's wife. She's a natural control freak, but perhaps that plays into why she is such a good mother - she can, and in fact is supposed to at this age, completely control her kids, so good hands-on parenting comes very easily.
3. Like Hilly, Skeeter’s mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic. She seems to care for Skeeter – and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine. Yet the ultimatum she gives to Constantine is untenable. And most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical. Do you think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Why?
Like most things in life, both. Her love is genuine, but she is an immovable product of her upbringing. For example: if you've been taught all your life that eating pork is unclean & that is the "law" for your kind of people, even if other people eat it, you will never be able to deem it acceptable. The laws she grew up with for her kind dictated life to be this way, and as a natural rule monger, they were more important to keep the order of life than individual circumstances. For her, rules = comfort, safety, & peace of mind.
4. How much of a person’s character do you think is shaped by the times in which they live?
80% - I used to give nurture 99% over nature, but I've seen a couple examples in life that show certain people are going to be nothing like the rest of the people they grow up with, no matter what! But for the most part, I still believe what you experience growing up certainly molds & manipulates who you are.
5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?
Not one bit. It was real. Who doesn't want to make it work when they're in love??? That's life! This is kind of an extreme tangent, but why do you think so many people stay in abusive relationships? When you love someone, you want to do whatever you can to make it work.
6. Do you think Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?
Absolutely! In those times and under those circumstances? How could she NOT be??? Until Skeeter, no one had given her reason to think otherwise.
7. Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?
No, not with Aibee's influence esp. bolstered by the full force of the civil rights movement coming during her elementary years. She may have still had feelings of inequality, but certainly not to the degree of her mother by those years. A generation before? Yep - just like mama. I believe it is taught and esp. through first-hand observation. (Hello, South Pacific: "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught")
8. From the perspective of a 21st century reader, the hair shellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?
Ha! I've never been into extreme beauty stuff. I dyed my hair auburn red summer b/t 11th & 12th grade, but that was just to be rebellious. (Yeah, I was so extreme! :-P) The one way I felt not beautiful was my weight in high school, but dance/stress/weird eating worked that one out beginning of senior year.
9. The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?
Magically! I loved how she showed how educated Aibileen truly was; consciously or not, it gave her thoughts more credibility. Juxtaposing her with Minny also reiterated & magnified that she was more even-keeled, older, wiser, & more experienced.
10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white? Have you heard stories of someone who put away their valuable jewelry before their nanny comes – so they trust this person to look after their child, but not their diamond rings?
Yep. 1000% yes.
11. What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?
Is it bad that I knew exactly what the Terrible Awful was the first time it was mentioned? Maybe I'm a lot more spiteful that I realize... ;-)
Please post YOUR thoughts & answers, too!!!
Quotes I loved:
Re: power of prayer - "Cause that's the way prayer do. It's like electricity, it keeps things going." Pg. 23
Re: relief from the summer heat - "...they standing under the sprinkles with they eyes closed like they being baptized." Pg. 389
Re: anxiousness in waiting - "Feel like we been waiting for some invisible pot a water to boil for the past seven months." Pg. 391
Re: being "repressed" - "If they feel something, they might not say a word. Just hold they breath and wait for it to pass, like gas." Pg. 391
Re: waiting for news - "We linger on the line like the answer's gone change if we breathe into the phone long enough." Pg. 394
Yeah, I get the hype. I really was "that" good. :-)