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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Miss Moppet
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Location: North London
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Postby Miss Moppet » Wed September 8th, 2010, 5:45 pm

"Michy" wrote:This was one of the things that bugged me about The Help, was Aibileen's dialect. It was an unnatural mix of Southern Black and Northern White -- for example, Aibileen ended her words with "-ing" rather than "-in'" and she said "Miss" rather than "Miz." Having grown up in Mississippi, you'd think Stockett would have got at least that part right! Even to me, who has never lived in the South, it was obviously discordant. If you're going to use dialect then go all the way and do it right, or don't do it at all. A mongrel half-way mix is highly distracting, especially when it involves one of the major narrators.


That's interesting. Personally I didn't know whether the dialect was accurate or not but it distanced me from Minny and Aibileen to have their narratives spelt phonetically. They were presented not as they themselves would have written them, but as a white person, listening, would transcribe them. I felt manipulated to identify with Skeeter because her speech was presented as accentless. Also I felt it gave the book a sense of hierarchy, rather than sisterhood. It was patronising. Can you imagine the outrage if an historian transcribed oral histories of Southerners and had the black contributors speaking in thick dialect and the white ones speaking the Queen's English? He or she would be laughed out of town. I think KS would have done better to render the grammar as the characters would have but leave phonetics alone.

TKAM definitely does much better in this regard; of course, it helps that I'm listening to an audio version narrated in a slow, Southern drawl. :)


That brings back memories of my teacher reading the book to us in her version of a Southern drawl until she complained that people were laughing at her, so she made us read it out instead (accent-free).

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed September 8th, 2010, 5:56 pm

"Miss Moppet" wrote:That's interesting. Personally I didn't know whether the dialect was accurate or not but it distanced me from Minny and Aibileen to have their narratives spelt phonetically. They were presented not as they themselves would have written them, but as a white person, listening, would transcribe them. I felt manipulated to identify with Skeeter because her speech was presented as accentless. Also I felt it gave the book a sense of hierarchy, rather than sisterhood. It was patronising. Can you imagine the outrage if an historian transcribed oral histories of Southerners and had the black contributors speaking in thick dialect and the white ones speaking the Queen's English? He or she would be laughed out of town. I think KS would have done better to render the grammar as the characters would have but leave phonetics alone.


It's been several months since I read the book, but I do recall being "annoyed" by the phonetic spelling. (My copy has long since been donated to the local library, so I can't go back and look for examples....) You bring out excellent points.


That brings back memories of my teacher reading the book to us in her version of a Southern drawl until she complained that people were laughing at her, so she made us read it out instead (accent-free).


Now that's something I would LOVE to hear -- a Brit doing a Southern US accent!! :D Actually, I love to hear British actors doing American accents (because we don't have accents, you guys are the ones with accents! JUST KIDDING!!!) A while back I heard one on the radio -- can't remember who -- and he a-l-m-o-s-t got it perfect. I was very impressed!

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Miss Moppet
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Postby Miss Moppet » Wed September 8th, 2010, 6:11 pm

"Michy" wrote:It's been several months since I read the book, but I do recall being "annoyed" by the phonetic spelling. (My copy has long since been donated to the local library, so I can't go back and look for examples....) You bring out excellent points.


Thanks, there'll be more in the review. I'll do a compare and contrast to show how other authors have tackled it. As EC says there often has to be compromise.

Now that's something I would LOVE to hear -- a Brit doing a Southern US accent!! :D


She insisted 'Hey' was pronounced 'Hi'. The class was sceptical.

Actually, I love to hear British actors doing American accents (because we don't have accents, you guys are the ones with accents! JUST KIDDING!!!) A while back I heard one on the radio -- can't remember who -- and he a-l-m-o-s-t got it perfect. I was very impressed!


Gwyneth Paltrow can do a faultless English accent, albeit somewhat nasal. Someone I know went to see her in Emma and thought she was English until they were told otherwise. Renee Zellweger also got it right in Bridget Jones, although some thought her accent was too posh for the character, but it was 100% English. The other way round, I can never be sure.

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed September 8th, 2010, 6:24 pm

"Miss Moppet" wrote:Thanks, there'll be more in the review. I'll do a compare and contrast to show how other authors have tackled it. As EC says there often has to be compromise.

Will you be posting your review here? Or an Amazon? I would love to read it, you bring out excellent points.


She insisted 'Hey' was pronounced 'Hi'. The class was sceptical.
In this case, the class was right. ;) 'Hey' is pronounced 'hay.' And in some Southern accents, it might even be spoken with a diphthong and become almost two syllables.

Gwyneth Paltrow can do a faultless English accent, albeit somewhat nasal. Someone I know went to see her in Emma and thought she was English until they were told otherwise. Renee Zellweger also got it right in Bridget Jones, although some thought her accent was too posh for the character, but it was 100% English. The other way round, I can never be sure.


I've always wondered if Americans can get English accents right (because I can't tell) or if we just make you all cringe or laugh!

Edited to add: I used to work with an English lady originally from Norwich. Even after 30+ years here, she would still say things like "Linder" for the name "Linda." It used to make me chuckle (on the inside, of course, I would never have laughed out loud at her!!!)
Last edited by Michy on Wed September 8th, 2010, 6:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Miss Moppet
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Postby Miss Moppet » Wed September 8th, 2010, 9:19 pm

"Michy" wrote:Will you be posting your review here? Or an Amazon? I would love to read it, you bring out excellent points.


I will post it on my blog and do a short version for Goodreads and Amazon, although the Amazon one will be difficult without spoilers. But not for a bit because I will have to spend some time on it and I won't have any time till the end of the week.

In this case, the class was right. ;) 'Hey' is pronounced 'hay.' And in some Southern accents, it might even be spoken with a diphthong and become almost two syllables.


I thought so! Thanks. I've been wondering about it for years.

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Thu September 9th, 2010, 12:02 am

There are few authors who use dialects well; Mark Twain is one, there are a couple of others who are readable. But usually they are deal breakers for me, and another reason why I found the book for the most part unreadble. And yeah, why would the two groups talk differently, they both have Southern accents! Putting the conversation of the servants in phonetics really was offensive

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Michy
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The Help vs. To Kill a Mockingbird

Postby Michy » Sat September 11th, 2010, 5:59 pm

"Miss Moppet" wrote:I re-read TKAM before I read The Help. It was a set book for me at school and I loved it. Re-reading as an adult, I saw flaws but they were nearly all writing issues, not historical issues. Reading it and The Help together was very enlightening. For me, Harper Lee made all the right choices and Kathryn Stockett made all the wrong ones (although she references Mockingbird several times and at least one scene, the fundraising scene, is derivative of it). Lee represents the white characters as speaking in dialect, as well as the black ones, and she differentiates between the language Calpurnia uses at work and at home, which Stockett doesn't. The relationship between Calpurnia and the children is close but not sentimentalised - Scout wants Atticus to sack Calpurnia at one point. Her book is about coming of age. Stockett's book is about not coming of age - Skeeter finishes the book slightly less ignorant but just as self-centred and immature as when she starts it. Mockingbird is about childhood, The Help is childish. I thought it was like comparing an Old Master to the identical oil paintings of sunsets you see in stacks of 20 or 30 piled up on the pavement by a Piccadilly street stall.

Anyway, you might not agree, but either way I'd love to hear what you think when you're done.


I finished TKAM last night and really enjoyed it. I couldn't agree more with everything you said above, and I think those who are comparing The Help to TKAM are missing the mark entirely; they are two completely different kinds of books. As I've said before, just because a book tackles race relations doesn't automatically make it a classic, and just because a book tackles race relations in the American South doesn't automatically make it another To Kill a Mockingbird. When I wrote my review for The Help I tried to articulate the various things I didn't like about it, but I was left with an overarching disappointment with the book that I couldn't pinpoint. But BB's simple analogy nailed it for me; The Help is really just The Nanny Diaries re-set in 1960s Mississippi. There is nothing wrong with TND -- I found it highly entertaining. But that's the thing -- The Help wasn't thought provoking in the vein of TKAM, it was entertaining in the vein of TND. And while I don't mind reading about the bad parenting and other foibles of New York's super-rich in the 1990s, and the "plight" of their nannies, I just don't think that same theme works well when translated into the very real plight of Mississippi's black population in the 1960s. Their situation was far more serious than that, but Stockett doesn't bring it out in a serious way. Instead, she "dumbs it down" and makes it entertaining, which it most definitely wasn't. Although, to be fair, perhaps she wasn't trying to write another TKAM, perhaps that is just the label that infatuated readers have given her work.

As for TKAM, it is a thoughtful and poignant coming-of-age book, and Scout is an utterly endearing character. It is not a perfect book, there were parts of it I found to be improbable, and I can think of other coming-of-age books that are just as poignant and memorable -- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Separate Peace and Summer of My German Soldier come immediately to mind. But I think what has set TKAM apart and forever established it in the echelons of Great Classics is the time at which it was written. So much in life comes down to timing. TKAM threw a spotlight on the plight of blacks in the American South while it was still happening. Even if Stockett had wanted to write a book with the same impact of TKAM she never could because she is, quite simply, 50 years too late.

I would argue, though, that the primary message of TKAM is larger than just the plight of blacks. The story of Tom Robinson is book-ended by the story of Boo Radley who was equally disadvantaged but in a completely different way. I think another thing that has set TKAM apart from other great coming-of-age novels and made it so distinctive is that it can be boiled down to a single message that is articulated loudly and unmistakably; it is wrong to harm or otherwise take advantage of those in society who are weak and disadvantaged and who have done no harm to others. It is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

It's kind of amazing the number of awards and prizes Harper Lee has won for this one book, which is the only one she has ever published. She has even won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and at least one honorary degree. Personally, I think the book is good but it's not that good! Again, it all comes down to timing; she just wrote the right book at the right time, similarly to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin a century or so earlier.

(I am now ducking to avoid all the tomatoes that are flying at me!)
Last edited by Michy on Sat September 11th, 2010, 6:40 pm, edited 6 times in total.

princess
Reader
Location: Scotland

Postby princess » Sat September 11th, 2010, 6:58 pm

"EC2" wrote:As someone outside the culture and reading it out of curiosity and for time out from my own sort of stuff, heck, for entertainment, this is probably going to be my best read of 2010. I loved the characters, I loved the story. Despite the subject matter, I laughed out loud in places - in a good way. I would go with all the newspaper review comments over at Amazon UK and follow the herd of 198 five star reviews. I don't always go for hyped novels; some have left me cold, (Captain Corelli, Labyrinth for e.g.) but I think the hype is justified for this one. But then horses for courses. If a book is right for you, you'll love it. If it ain't, you'll wonder why the heck everyone else is raving about it!


My thoughts exactly!!!

I don't think the book glossed over the apprehension the maids had about their identity being discovered - Minny lived in fear of her husband finding out. And (if I remember correctly) there were plenty of mentions of the kind of attacks black people were subjected to - the maid's grandson who was blinded being one.
Currently reading: The Poisoned Pilgrim: A Hangman's Daughter Tale by Oliver Potzsch

princess
Reader
Location: Scotland

Postby princess » Sat September 11th, 2010, 7:06 pm

"EC2" wrote:I know some Scottish people complain about the Outlander novels and how Jamie Fraser's accent isn't the biz at all. I have lived in Scotland as a child, but I grew up where the Scots accent was broad Glaswegian - imagine a full novel of this! LOL!


Jamie Fraser's "accent" spoiled the Outlander novels for me - I imagine him as speaking like a total "weegie" (Glaswegian) - remarkable for a man whose primary language would have been Gaelic!!!
Currently reading: The Poisoned Pilgrim: A Hangman's Daughter Tale by Oliver Potzsch

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sat September 11th, 2010, 8:23 pm

You won't get tomatoes from this end!

I think those who are comparing The Help to TKAM are missing the mark entirely; they are two completely different kinds of books. As I've said before, just because a book tackles race relations doesn't automatically make it a classic, and just because a book tackles race relations in the American South doesn't automatically make it another To Kill a Mockingbird.

I didn't realize people were actually comparing them; oh my word no! What you said.

The Help is really just The Nanny Diaries re-set in 1960s Mississippi

Ha!


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