I just finished reading Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help. What a great book! For this book review, I thought it would be fun to answer some of the reading group questions, Stockett provides on her website. If you haven't read the book, Stockett includes a book synopsis here.
Reading Group Questions
1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
My favorite character was Aibileen, because she cared about the white babies she was taking care of. When she realized she had the opportunity to instill values in Mae Mobley, she took every opportunity to do so. She had the courage to help write her story.
2. 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?
I think Hilly’s actions are from a place of intense insecurity. She tries to control everyone she thinks is “lower” than her. It is possible that she could be a good mother, but at some point she may begin teaching similar controlling tendencies to her own children.
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?
I think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic character. This is due to the fact that she cares so much about Skeeter and even for Constantine. The ultimatum she gives Constantine is terribly hurtful to Constantine, but the segregation lines are something she believes can’t ever be crossed.
4. How much of a person's character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?
A person’s character is often shaped by the time period/era they live in. I believe there must be a moral code one adheres to, a plumb line to guide their actions. For me, that plumb line is the Bible and the character traits it teaches. Character traits can then be based on truth rather than living based on a cultural movement or zeitgiest, which are constantly changing and relative to each person.
5. 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?
No, it didn’t bother me that she was unwilling to overlook his faults, because he really did care about her and he gave her the freedom to be herself. When she did finally tell him about her book and her beliefs on segregation, I felt he respected her choices and walked away.
6. Do you believe that Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?
I most certainly believe she was justified in her distrust, particularly as she shares the stories of events that had happened to her during her years as a maid.
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?
I think that Mae Mobley would have been in conflict if Aibileen had continued working for Miss Elizabeth. On the one side, the person that truly cares about her is informing her that racism is wrong (Aibileen), yet on the other side, her biological mother is telling her that it must continue and that is reinforced with her treatment of Aibileen. I personally think racism is taught.
8. 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?
I don’t think the hairshellac system is that ludicrous- it is very similar to Keratin treatments and straightening methods we use today! I haven’t really tried any beauty regimen that is ridiculous…other than eyebrow waxing.
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?
Stockett said in the end of the book that Aibileen was based on her grandmother’s maid, so I think she paints her as full of wisdom because of her own experiences. Also, it seems clear that Stockett spent a significant amount of time researching the times and the book. She is able to use the wisdom she learned about to write her characters and story.
10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white?
I think that racism can still exist, if it is fueled. The importance of teaching the value of life, whether born or unborn, rich or poor, black or white, can help break down the barriers of racism that exist. Human beings are all valuable and it is crucial that we teach this to those younger than ourselves.
I really enjoyed reading this book and hope that Stockett writes others. I am hoping to see the movie that came out a few weeks ago and see how the writers interpret what they read.
Have you read, The Help? If so, what did you think about it?
I'm linked to Oh Amanda's blog carnival: