Sweet Iced Tea Book Club: The Help

12 07 2010

As promised, we proudly present the First Sweet Iced Tea Book Club.

We took the chance to read this captivating book, taking place in the 1960’s in Jackson, MS and discuss some of the issues. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was highly entertaining, as well as deeply touching. We recommend it, and whether you had the chance to read along with us this time, or pick it up later, let us know what you thought of The Help and what other Southern classics – new or old – we should read and discuss next!

Rumor has it, filming has begun last week for the movie version of “The Help” in Jackson and will continue through parts of Mississippi throughout the summer. So read it now. That way, you can brag about your thoughts of the novel versus the film when it comes out!

If you haven’t finished yet, we kept our spoilers to a minimum in our discussion, but if you have more to add, feel free to chime in in the comments!

Who was your favorite character? Why?

Becky: I absolutely fell in love with Aibileen. She is the type of character that no matter the time period or conflict resonates with so many who are deprived of basic human rights, and even niceties. However, I think that her character is specifically important to this time period as she stands up to make known the issues, faces her own fears, and still manages to love and forgive.  Forgiveness is matter of heart and one that cannot be superficial. Aibileen speaks to me specifically in that way, as we are all called for forgive.

What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?

Ginger: Hilly was motivated by the desire to be perceived as perfect –- proper and in control. Her desire turned into fear, and fear often manifests itself by wanting to control every circumstance and every person around. But she was a wonderful mother. Each of us are flawed, and have the capability for great care, as well as much selfishness. What a thought-provoking cautionary tale to remember to cultivate the care, and keep a watchful eye out against the desire for our own control.

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?

Becky: Not until midway through the book did I even begin to see the good and sympathetic side of Skeeter’s mother.  Her desire to protect her daughter is a natural desire, even if it was a deeply flawed and narrow minded.  With that in mind, it is hard to fault someone with such desire to protect and who only hopes for the best.  Many, even in this day and age believe that a rich, well know husband is the only ticket to happiness in life, but I think Skeeter recognized her loved despite her problems and moved forward on that connection.

How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?

Ginger: I would say we’re certainly influenced by our times! Think about today – how many of us even gave a thought to the “green energy” 15 years ago? There are often issues we are blind to until they are brought to light. But while we can be influenced by our times, we should recognize there are issues that are right and wrong, no matter what time we live in. Something might be popular, or even accepted, as in the instance of treating the “help” with little respect, but that doesn’t make it right.

Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and that it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?

Becky: Throughout most of the book Skeeter walked the line between her two lives.  As a result, she was torn between what she thought she wanted and what was actually best for her. She was brought up to think that only a certain type of man, and a certain kind of life would suffice.  Without discounting that there were and are men who could love, provide and still stand for what’s right in the world, but in Jackson, Mississippi, they were few and far between.

Do you believe that Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?

Ginger: I do find it ironic. While I will never justify how some treated Minny, as a representation of how “help” might have been treated during this time, their motives were often from fear, and from learned behaviors. Minny let hate creep into her heart, and in this way, she was no different than the distrust that white people had. Neither were right, but both thought they had their reasons.

As a side note, I thought it was ironic that Minny held racism against Native American Indians. She used the expression “drunk as an Injun on payday.” I doubt she would have had tolerance had someone used the same expression against her people group.

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?

Becky: Racism is most assuredly taught.  People are however inherently curious about people different from themselves and may not understand certain cultural practices or behaviors, but that does not equate to hate.  Hate because of God-given color is taught and sadly, most often taught by parents.

Living in their hometown, and growing up with a mother like Ms. Elizabeth, Mae Mobley would still probably struggled with racism. Her desire to please her mother even at such a young age, showed her desire to be loved, recognized and adored. As a result, she might have tried to please her mother in regards to racism as well.  One would like to think that with Aibileen’s influence she could have stayed away from such behavior and it might have been a reality, however, I think at some point there would have been a test of wills between Mae Mobley and her mother.

From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac 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?

Ginger: I immediately think of the summers as a teenager, sitting by the pool all day every day to get that perfect tan. I shudder now at the thought, and reach for the wide-brimmed hat!

The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?

Becky: Aibileen draws strength from knowing that her story will not be in vain, and will procure life for those who come after her.  Most importantly, Aibileen uses her prayer time, fellowship with other church members and her relationship with the Lord to sustain her.  As the opposite character to Minny, Aibileen is practically angelic and uses her quiet nature to find rest and peace through the storm.

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 parents who put away their valuable jewelry before their nanny comes? Paradoxically, they trust the person to look after their child but not their diamond rings?

Ginger: As far as trusting someone to care for your child, I doubt we respect our child-care workers enough! You can’t be more careful than with our most valuable possession – children. I would hope that anyone who must entrust someone else besides themselves to look after their child, would give it careful consideration and the proper research! What’s a ring compared to lessons your little one might learn at the hands of another? Remember the lessons Mae Mobley learned from Miss Taylor!

I don’t think as many folks are still racist, but I do think that distrust can exist between different appearances. It’s important to struggle against the old stereotypes reinforced by the news each night – especially if you live in the South. However, it’s a natural human thought process to judge by first impressions. Deliberate or not, if I’m hiring for a position, and one gentleman walks in sharply dressed in clean and neat clothes, and the other comes in with shirt tail untucked and a cap hiding his expression, I’m going to tell you I’m gonna lean towards the one who appears more conscientious, no matter the color of his skin!

But still, while it is wise to be aware of differences, this never excuses how we might treat someone. I loved this quote from the book, when Skeeter finally realizes one of the friends who had snubbed her had problems of her own: “There is so much you don’t know about a person. I wonder if I could’ve made her days a little bit easier, if I’d tried… We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”

What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?

Becky: Ha! I find Minny’s revenge absolutely hysterical and perfectly warranted.  I am not quite sure that I would have found the willpower to execute something so daring, but I most certainly applaud her actions. That was definitely unexpected and the perfect revenge to evil Hilly.

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One response

12 07 2010
Ann

I loved this book. The author delves into the lives of each of these women. We read it for our book club and it resulted in great conversations.
Ann
Cozy In Texas

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