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The DIS Book Club Discussion Group: Round 2 - The Help

Discussion in 'The DIS Unplugged Podcast' started by *NikkiBell*, Apr 4, 2010.

  1. *NikkiBell*

    *NikkiBell* The WDW Merchandise Walking Bible Moderator

    Jun 27, 2005
    These are all great thoughts and I am so glad that everyone is enjoying themselves thus far.

    I love Wanda Sykes, and I could just imagine her doing that in Babies R Us, Kevin. :rotfl:

    For me, I've dealt with discrimination based not on skin color, but weight. I grew up as a heavy child and became a heavy adult. It really limited my experiences as a child living in a community like mine. Once I lost the weight, it was interesting to see how people who shunned me when I was heavy reacted so differently once I was lighter.

    I really like Aibileen as a character. She is strong, smart, and caring. I admire how she was able to keep it together in the scene with her employer. I don't know if I'd be able to keep my cool as well as she did. That really says something about her as an individual.
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  3. Mary Jo

    Mary Jo Techarita Moderator

    Dec 15, 1998
    Thank you for putting these discussion points together, Nikki. I've never participated in a book discussion before, and so wasn't too sure how to participate.

    I'm an avid book reader, and usually once I get started, I don't stop, and so finished the book this morning. For this discussion, though, I'll keep with the timeline here.

    When I read the scene where the two women are discussing creating a separate bathroom I felt a sense of shock due to the personal level that this situation affected Aibileen. I was born in 1960, and raised in Los Angeles, which has a more diverse culture. Of course, I have heard and read about discrimination, and seen it first-hand, but to see this one detail really struck me.

    Then I felt angry on Aibileen's behalf. I started to imagine how trapped she must have felt to be working for someone who obviously thought so little of her. It wasn't just that she was considered to be less equal, but that she was devalued as a human. In their eyes she was stripped of her dignity, and no matter how she felt she couldn't stand up for herself.

    As I imagined how it must have felt to be Aibileen, I came to the realization that I may empathize with her, but I can't really imagine myself in her place because no matter how much I may think about it, I have never had to feel the shame that years in that culture would bring forth. I understand the difference.

    Here are a couple of personal experiences with discrimination:

    I'm of Mexican/Spanish descent. My father was a little darker skinned, and spoke with a slight accent because he learned Spanish before English. He was an educated man and graduated high school in three years (graduated from the university with a degree). In his senior year he was editor of his high school newspaper in El Paso. He won a trip to Austin. He was excited. He had never been out of El Paso before (his family did not have much money). He was shocked when he went to Austin and had to sit at the back of the bus and drink from a different water fountain than the "white" people. (Isn't it ironic that on the census we are Caucasion but in Austin he wasn't white enough to use the same fountain.) That experience tainted my father's view towards anglo's for the rest of his life. I remember when I was young in the 60's and an anglo would come to the house. My dad would tense up. He just couldn't help it.

    When I've been in Europe I have been looked at as a "dirty Yankee." One time in Spain my girlfriend & I said we were Canadian because of the anti-American sentiment in one particular place. We didn't want to deal with it.

    I remember these incidences that we experienced, and yet, it isn't nearly as extreme as Aibileen's situation. She was dependent on these women for her livelihood, and there was no escaping their prejudism against her. How does a person's spirit survive that? How can a person overcome the shame caused because others think her to be dirty merely by her outward appearance.

    I don't think I have ever been in a situation where I silently communicated with someone due to a tense situation. I tend to try to resolve things verbally, and if that is not possible I either remove myself from the situation, or learn to live with the situation.

    Having said that, I have been in situations where I had a very difficult manager who was unreasonable, and I did not have the freedom to say what I really thought. I was able to keep my calm knowing that I was in the right, and the thought "this, too, shall pass."

    In The Help, Aibileen does not have that luxury. In her world, at the time that the bathroom was built and she was banished to the outside room there was no "this, too, shall pass."
  4. Mary Jo

    Mary Jo Techarita Moderator

    Dec 15, 1998
    I don't remember segregated schools, but I do remember the first time that children were bussed to our school. In those days, our neighborhood was primarily white and asian, and when we moved in (1965) we were referred to as the "dirty mexicans." I think anyone who knows me would probably be surprised that I was referred to as a dirty Mexican (I forgot to mention that in my earlier post). Well, when I was in 5th grade we had our first African American students. George was in our class. Many years later (early 1990's) he found me & emailed me and told me that I was the first white person who welcomed him to the school and made him feel comfortable. I'm proud of my parents for not teaching me to discriminate against others, regardless of their own feelings. So, I'm very grateful that in those times I grew up in a world where we kids could go to school and be less tainted than other societies here in the US.

    So I don't know if I would have had the courage to march, but I appreciate and am grateful for those who did, and who still continue to work to diminish the feelings of prejudism.

    I agree about the 60's decade being critical to change in our culture.

    I'm so glad that we are not in that environment.

    I don't think she had much of a choice, and had to keep it together. She had too much at stake regardless of her feelings. She knew what could and probably would happen if she spoke her peace. I think what speaks for her character is how she was able to separate how she acted in her employer's house and among her own people. You would think that having to deal with that treatment day after day would make someone downtrodden, but she deals with it (though she doesn't like it), and can still maintain an inward dignity that is not crushed by this treatment.
  5. Royster83

    Royster83 Mouseketeer

    Sep 1, 2007
    Firstly I’d like to say this is not a book I might usually choose, so thank you Nikki because I can’t put it down, restraining myself so as I don’t finish it is really hard. Like Mary Jo I’ve never participated in this kind of discussion, but the more that I think about it I do feel like I have a lot to say about the book. Which I suppose helps. :)

    Again like you Nikki I don’t think I’m that ignorant to the issues of racial segregation, I too find myself angry and shocked by the comments.

    I do know how it feels to feel excluded and made to feel inferior, I came out at school at a really early age and only had a small group of friends. I was stared at and alienated, with comments made about me all the time.

    (Page 8) “Real quiet, I open the napkin drawer, more concerned about Miss Leefolt seeing me than what they saying. This talk ain’t new to me. Everwhere in town they got a colored bathroom, and most the houses do too.”

    I think this shows that Aibileen has just taken things for how they are, thinking that she can’t change it so there’s no point in trying. This was the coping mechanism I adopted, finding it easier to just accept things the way they are.

    I do find it interesting the way that the author includes things for each of the ‘white’ characters so they could empathise and understand the ‘coloureds’ position. Although these things aren’t as deep or serious they should still make them know what it feels like to be different.

    In Miss Leefolt’s case (Page 1) “Even her hair is thin, brown, see-through. She try to tease it up, but it only make it look thinner. (Page 76) Elizabeth generally has rollers in all day, can never get her thin hair fill enough. Skeeter struggles with her looks, and Miss Celia doesn’t seem to be able to integrate into the ‘bridge club circle’ perhaps because of her lower class background, but it seems that she may have some other problem.

    I feel my favorite character up to now has to be Minny I like the way that she will stand up for herself (sometimes with not the greatest of consequences.) The struggles that these women go through everyday must have been really difficult to have to look after your own children and house. Then to have to look after somebody else’s children and house, and to be so important in their life but made to feel like you’re not even human (because I really feel that in some cases it is that bad) must be really hard to deal with, everyday without saying anything.

    Of course there are glimmers of hope with Skeeter, Miss Celia and possibly Mr Leefolt treating the ‘coloureds’ as equals.

    (Page 62) Skeeter’s mother says to her “Be nice to the little colored girls when you’re down there,” … I remember looking at her funny, saying, “Why wouldn’t I be?” But Mother never explained.” This shows I feel that racism is obviously something that is learned not in built. As through Skeeter’s eyes as a child they are just other girls.

    In the case of Miss Celia she shows by wanting to shake Minny’s hand, touch her arm and hug her that she views her as an equal. I do find it very interesting that she can’t find it in herself to trust the situation and be an equal.

    With Mr Leefolt I’m not sure where his views are, I do find the way he speaks on page 15 interesting “You’re not going to college so your mama’s friends don’t have to use the same bathroom as the maid” he doesn’t use words like nigra or coloured could this be showing his acceptance? What does everyone else think?

    I can’t wait to start getting further into the book; I’m desperate to find out what’s going to happen to Minny and Miss Celia.

  6. *NikkiBell*

    *NikkiBell* The WDW Merchandise Walking Bible Moderator

    Jun 27, 2005
    After reading these posts, I really think that Aibileen is my favorite character at this point in the novel. I just read the scene today where she started revealing information about Constantine to Skeeter. It was such a tense moment when she kept looking back at the kitchen door to see if Elizabeth would walk in on their conversation.

    As a side note, I find it absolutely ironic (and a bit comical, at times) that Skeeter took this job giving advice about cleaning when she doesn't lift a finger to do that at home. Again, Aibileen saves the day by helping her answer the column's letters just like she saves Mae Mobley from her cruel mother.
  7. floridascgirl

    floridascgirl DIS Veteran

    Sep 26, 2007
    I was so happy to see this Discussion Group posted. Is this an ongoing thread that has a different book each month? My book club read The Help last month and it provided us with a lively, thought-provoking discussion. The book The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom was recommended for those who enjoyed The Help. I haven't started it yet, but it does look as if it's going to be a good one.
  8. *NikkiBell*

    *NikkiBell* The WDW Merchandise Walking Bible Moderator

    Jun 27, 2005
    Hi floridascgirl!

    :welcome: We just started our discussion group last month by reading Pirate Latitudes. We do hope to continue with new books about every month. Even though you already read The Help, please stay with us for the discussion. I am sure you have lots of ideas to share! :)
  9. *NikkiBell*

    *NikkiBell* The WDW Merchandise Walking Bible Moderator

    Jun 27, 2005
    One of the major underlying issues focused on in The Help is that of women's role in society. As a gender studies major back in college, this is something that I look at quite often with the books I read. In this text, I'm finding that I can relate to the lives of these women more and more everyday.

    During the first few chapters or so, it is quite evident that women's roles are clearly defined in Mississippi during the early 1960s. If they did not follow the rules of Mrs. Charlotte Phelan's Guide to Husband-Hunting as mentioned on page 57, they were seen as social outcasts. Skeeter, for example, gives the impression that finding any romantic counterpart for herself was next to impossible and much more prefers settling into a writing career than settling down. She states, "What I needed to do was find an apartment in town, the kind of building where single, plain girls lived, spinsters, secretatires, teachers" (56). Being a teacher myself, I had to laugh out loud at this comment. The image of teachers as being homely and single for the rest of their lives is like an ancient relic nowadays. Instead, they too raise families while working in their classrooms. The idea that women can both work and run a household has become somewhat of a norm in America and something that Skeeter's mother would never foresee in the future.

    Despite pressure from society, Skeeter seems to rebuff the idea of settling down and raising a family. I find this refreshing especially because of the pressure she is receiving from the ladies of the town. Not surprisingly, when she chooses to focus more on a career instead of love, Skeeter's mother actually becomes concerned:

    "I need to...ask you something, Eugenia." She twists her handkerchief, grimaces. "I read the other day about how some...some girls get unbalanced, start thinking these --- well, these unnatural thoughts....Are you...do you...find men attractive? Are you having unnatural thoughts about..." She shuts her eyes tight. "Girls or --- women?" (75)

    The fact that Skeeter chose to make something more of herself than a housewife actually struck a nerve so deeply that her mother feared her daughter was a lesbian. Honestly! This scene reaffirmed the fact that these women are so rigid and stiff that they cannot see any other path for an individual than one. If a person veers off that clearly defined path, then something is utterly wrong with her.

    Later on, Miss Hilly continues to pressure Skeeter into marriage by making numerous attempts to set her up with a respected man of the community. She tells Skeeter that "it is [her] time...turn" (88). How does one know when it is her time? -smirk-

    I'm finding more and more lately that the trials and tribulations of these women are directly relating to my life. Recently, my "spousal equivalent," or boyfriend, decided that he no longer wanted to grow old with me, share my hopes and dreams, and pursue our relationship. In other words, he left me high and dry like Miss Skeeter. I've always felt the pressure to get married and have a family, but unfortunately that hasn't happened yet. Now that I'm single, I so feel like Skeeter trying to fight off those feelings of inadequacy. What's wrong with me that I can't have that "happy ending" too? Am I doomed to be a spinster living in that lonely apartment building mentioned above? I'm sure deep down Skeeter has asked herself these questions. Most women do.

    I wonder why the pressure to marry and have children is always there for women whether they live in the 1960s or 2010. We've all heard of those that do it all, so to speak, and balance career and having a family, but why is the latter held in such high regard? In this day and age, why is it that people raise an eyebrow to women who are over 25 and single? Why is there this intense need to encourage them to settle down? It's obviously something routed deep in the early centuries of mankind, but one has to wonder what makes it so strong?

    What are your thoughts on the role of women in The Help and how they are portrayed thus far? Do you feel that this portrayal is accurate for the text's time period? Which woman, if any, can you identify with the most?
  10. AnneR

    AnneR DIS Veteran

    Apr 6, 2007
    I think one of the strking factors of this book is how it illustrates the roles and expectations for females - not just women in the 60's and I am not sure if these roles were limited to just the "south".

    My mother went against the grain when she not only graduated college but worked for many years. She only left the workforce when she had children and she was extremely unhappy with her options for many years. My older brother and I both have distinct memories of hearing how much my mother was dissatisfied with being a mother and housewife. She was not unhappy with here family but just did find these roles as fulfilling as when she worked. She finally found a groove after a while by finding ways to learn - chinese cooking, gardening... As we children got older she started getting back into the world of work, first by setting up her own pottery business and then working for H&R Block. She was much happier then.

    I also remember the pressure my grandmother put on my mother in similar ways to Skeeter's mother - how to keep your home, what dishes you had to have...

    As a girl growing up in the 60's, I did not own a pair of jeans until I was 12 years old. I remember being in the 4th grade before I was allowed to wear slacks to school. Yes, for all you younger women, girls wore dresses everyday.

    I started to write that I am happy that I learned much from my mother's experience but as I wrote that I started thinking about the things I mentally struggle with as a working mom. I have a lot of angst about am I spending enough time with my girls, am I a good parent because I work. I always come back to yes, I am giving the girls the best of me, teaching them that can be successful in anything they want. But I think just as my mother experienced there are always down sides to everything. At least, I was able to make the choice.

    Like Nikki - I am going through a major life change that is challenging me. After 26 years of marriage, I am now separated and have never lived alone. I am learning to rely on my own judgement in my personal life for the first time. There are many things that I have just never done for myself, that I am gaining a sense of mastery over - on the funny side - I took my car last week through a car wash for the very first time. I have huge spatial issues and my recollection of car washes was that you had to line your wheel up in order to have a guide pull your vehicle through the car wash. My girls knew better!
  11. Mississippianna

    Mississippianna Still loving Disney World like a 6-year-old

    Nov 17, 2008
    I can't say I would assume every white household was the same at that time. My own mother wasn't raised with a maid in the house. My grandmother stayed home, leaving her own career as a a teacher. But, as generalizations go, I can only assume this would be a good representation of a majority of women at the time.

    I don't know if I can identify directly with any of the women in the book so far. My life seem such world apart from theirs. I know neither the hardships of the maids, nor the the prejudices and leisures of the other ladies. I have a 2-year old daughter, and my husband I both work full time. I look at the way Miss Leefolt spanks and swats Mae Mobley away and ignoring her needs, and I can't imagine treating my daughter that way. How can your own child not be important to you? In this way I guess I identify with Aibileen, wanting that baby to know she's loved and special.

    I have a commonality with Skeeter, I guess. I worked after I graduated from college (and I also graduated from Ole Miss), and met my husband later.
  12. BriarRosie

    BriarRosie <font color=blue>Creator of Tag Fairy Haiku:<br>Cl

    Mar 7, 2002
    There's a 30 person hold on the multiple copies from the library. If I want to read it, it will be another month!
  13. *NikkiBell*

    *NikkiBell* The WDW Merchandise Walking Bible Moderator

    Jun 27, 2005
    Thank you, Anne, for sharing this with us. I feel that way, too. I've done quite a few things over the past two weeks that I have either never done or was uncomfortable doing before this has happened. I definitely can relate to you here.

    Just so everyone knows, I posted a few more reading deadlines. Again, work at your own pace and always come back here when you have a thought about your reading even if everyone has not finished a particular section (you can post it in white with a spoiler alert title).

    Have fun!! :)
  14. DisneyKevin

    DisneyKevin Kelvis Moderator

    Jun 20, 2005
    I know I keep saying this.....but once the ABD adventure is complete, I will have more time to join the dicussion.

    I'm fascinated by the dicussion already happening.

    I've also said this before......awesome job Nikki.

    Thanks again for doing this.
  15. eeyorelvr09

    eeyorelvr09 A rough road leads to the stars

    May 7, 2009
    I too will join in the discussion when the next book comes around. It is tough with school and having to write papers. I have school until December, but for some reason I am thinking that the summer courses will be a little easier to that I will have time to read, which I love to do.

    Great job, Nikki. You are a true teacher.
  16. Merry Mousketeer

    Merry Mousketeer <font color=blue>I've got a lot above my ears <img

    Feb 9, 2007
    Hello, I'm a bit late to the party. I read Pirate Latitudes but didn't get involved in the discussion. I was at Target yesterday and saw The Help was on sale for 30% off and bought it. I'm behind everyone else, but will try to participate in the discussion this time as soon as I catch up!

    Nikki, the discussion questions are good. I appreciate having them in advance so I can keep them in mind as I read.

  17. CBisMe

    CBisMe Earning My Ears

    Jun 20, 2008
    It made me think about the AIDS crisis in the 1990s as well. As a lesbian living in North Carolina I was volunteering at an AIDS crisis organization in the 90's. It was down-right dangerous.
    We had to have security escort us to our cars at night, we had people follow us in our cars, honking, pulling aside us, threatening to kill us. When we were at an event we were always surrounding by protesters and folks saying mean and dangerous things to us - for helping people with AIDS.

    Funny though how time changes things. I now run an volunteer AIDS meal program that delivers food every holiday to people with AIDS and their families. The make-up of the clients have changed to a lot of poor african-americans now. And although it's certainly not dangerous anymore (which is still a bit weird), the crisis it's becoming invisible again in a different way.

    I can't help but think that has to do with the people now who make up the majority of our clients. Sometimes when we are driving the meals out into the poorer neighborhoods I feel like I am traveling back in time, and in a lot of ways it reminds me of the "colored section of town" described in the book.
  18. tammyroo

    tammyroo Mouseketeer

    Sep 2, 2008
    This book really made me reflect on my own childhood experiences. I was born in the mid-sixties and my parents hired a black babysitter/housekeeper to take care of me and the house. This is important because my dad is about as racist as they come. I didn't think much about it then, but now it is so ironic that someone SO racist would allow a black woman such intimate access to raising his child. I mean, I was not allowed to be seen talking to a black kid let alone being friends with one while growing up--but yet this woman could help raise me. Go figure.
    I remember Corina fondly and she was such a good, humble, hardworking woman. I could fill a book with great stories about her. Abileen reminds me of her so much. My mom was nothing like the socialite women in The Help though. Corina remained a part of our family in many ways until her death several years ago.

    One particular memory comes to mind, when thinking of awkward situations like the one Abilieen experiences. I was probably about 5 or so, with very little awareness, if any, of the differences of race, bigotry, etc and what it all meant. One evening my dad was driving Corina home and I wanted to ride along. I don't remember anything about the conversation, but I remember saying the "n" word (because I had heard it used all the time and didn't know any better) and there was a deafening silence. That was the first time I learned how horrible that word was even though I had never been taught that. I don't know if my dad was embarrassed, angry or what but I hope there was some shame and embarrassment on his part. I was confused but I understood it was wrong on some level. Needless to say, although no words were spoken, I got the message that that word was to not be used again.
  19. maroo

    maroo DIS Veteran

    Aug 3, 2008
    I am late to this party - but I just have to jump in. I hope you don't mind a late arrival. :rolleyes1

    I have listened to this book 4 times as an audio book.

    This book was a great read - but I have a different perspective than most.

    The first chapter takes place about 2 miles from where I am typing this. I am currently living in Jackson, MS. I was appalled to read about the ignorance portrayed in this time period of history. And when I think that this was only 50 years ago - it really saddens me.

    I really wish I could tell you that all of those "bad roots" are gone here in MS - but that would be a lie. Of course, the younger generation has been raised to treat all people with respect. But the socioeconomic status still varies (generally) between the white population here in Jackson and the black population.

    I am not proud of that fact as a resident here.

    I grew up in Little Rock, AR. Another place that has been the subject of several books and movies. When I was a senior in high school, I was cast in Disney movie shot at my high school (Little Rock Central High). There was a scene in the movie where we were filming a group of white students throwing soup on one black female student. As we were filming - we were asked to yell, throw things, etc...totally acting...at this young lady. There were grown men crying at the end of filming that scene. The horror of what that time in our history really was...not just the IDEA of it - but the reality of it. HOW in the world could someone actually have that much hate for someone that they don't even know based on the color of their skin?? It is something I really still don't understand today.

    Anyway. I am in on this discussion. Maybe I can add some perspective from someone that is still living here today.
  20. nmoore14

    nmoore14 Is there life outside of Disney? If so, I don't w

    Feb 24, 2009
    This book brings up stories that my grandmother told me about this time. I can remember her sharing stories about not being able to drink out of the "white" water fountain and not being able to use the "white" restroom. However, my grandmother was a rebel. She would sneak a drink and have a friend watch out for the police while she used the "white" restroom. I think that the characters in this book are an accurate portrayal of the way it was. I am trying to find time to read the next part (in Grad school and it is kicking my butt :headache:).
  21. *NikkiBell*

    *NikkiBell* The WDW Merchandise Walking Bible Moderator

    Jun 27, 2005

    CBisMe, thank you for sharing this with us. I can't even begin to imagine what your experiences in the 1990s must have been liked. I remember it being a heightened story, but I was only in middle and high school at the time and did not know much about the AIDS crisis. I do remember people freaking out and thinking you could catch it from sitting next to a person or using the same toilet seat.

    That is so interesting to be able to relate on this level to the book. The name of your maid brings to mind one of my favorite Whoopi Goldberg movies, Corina, Corina, in which she played a maid working for a white household around the same time period.

    :welcome: Maroo! It's great to have the perspective of someone living in the area our book is set in. I'd love it if you could post a few pictures of the area for a visual, even if things have significantly changed since the time period.

    :rotfl: This reminds me of Minny. I could definitely see her sneaking into a "white" bathroom or using a "white" water fountain. She's got a lot of spunk about her. Part of me thinks that Aibileen would do this, too, but she really has been steering clear of doing anything of the sort especially with Miss Leefolt around.

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