By November 14, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

Discussing “The Help”

Recently, my library book group met to discuss The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and as you might expect, there was no lack of participation.  Here (especially for those of you who have already read the book) are some of the comments made by the group members.

“I loved the character of Miss Celia.  I wondered if the author used Dolly Parton as her inspiration.”

“Which character most reflected the author?  I thought, perhaps Miss Skeeter.  And maybe Mae Mobley a little, as well.”

“I wasn’t sure  if Minny actually did the Terrible Awful, or if she just thought about doing it.”  (Most of the group felt pretty certain she did do it.)

“The bridge group reminded me of the television show Designing Women.

We also talked about how present day Southern matrons might be reacting to this book.  Are they reading it in the same numbers as women in other parts of the country?  And we wondered what a book group of African Americans would have to say about the novel.

Several people in the group said they hadn’t previously known about the practice of building separate restrooms for “the help.”  The question was raised — do some Southern homes still have these facilities, and what are they used for today?

I told the group that a movie version of the book is in the works and will be released sometime next summer.  Most of the group members were not familiar with Viola Davis, who will play Aibileen, and Emma Stone, who will portray Miss Skeeter.  More of them did know Allison Janney (Charlotte Phelan, Miss Skeeter’s mother) and Cicely Tyson (Constantine).

Everyone agreed that Kathryn Stockett, a Caucasian, took a big risk, writing in the voices of two black characters, Aibileen and Minny — but she pulled it off beautifully, making each of them sound real and at the same time, distinctive from each other.

The Adult Reading Round Table, an organization I often mention, defines historical fiction as “a work by an author writing about a time period that isn’t their own.”  Even though The Help is set in the recent past (1962), it could qualify as historical fiction under this definition, since Kathryn Stockett was born in 1969.  How much of this story springs from her own personal experience when she was a child, and how much of it comes out of her imagination and research?  We wished we could have asked her to tell us.  Regardless, we were impressed by her achievement.  We became totally immersed in the lives of her characters, and we learned some disturbing new things about race relations in America.

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

2 Comments on "Discussing “The Help”"

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  1. dana.huff@gmail.com' Dana Huff says:

    That separate restroom evolved in the 1/2 bath that so many homes, not just in the South, have today. The audio version of this book was excellent, by the way.

  2. bjkeppel@gmail.com' B. Keppel says:

    Katie Couric interviewed her and it is on the internet as well as a book store reading that is on youtube. It was very interesting to see and hear her describe her inspiration.

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