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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Miss Moppet
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Postby Miss Moppet » Sat September 11th, 2010, 8:57 pm

"Michy" wrote: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.


Too right. The 'funny' moments were bought at the expense of character and plot, and they should have been bought at the expense of the book's credibility, too.

Michy wrote: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.


I'm not too sure what she was trying to do. From the author's note at the end, I think she takes her own book pretty seriously, but I doubt she expected it to be the bestseller it has been.

Michy wrote: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.


Right again. Granted, Mockingbird is very firmly set in the 1930s, but when it was published segregation had yet to be dismantled, and tensions were running higher than ever. You could argue that Stockett, setting her book in a period of de jure segregation, intended commentary on de facto segregation where it survives (eg segregated proms), but I can't find any.

Michy wrote: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.


Yes, and she draws parallels with anti-semitism too.

Michy wrote: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'm sure Lee would have written more if her first book hadn't attracted so much attention. That level of interest must be hard to deal with. Plus, it seems to have soured her friendship with Truman Capote, portrayed as Dill in the book.

princess wrote: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.


It doesn't gloss over the fear, but then everyone's identities are discovered and...no violence occurs, which suggests the fear was unfounded. From the writing point of view it's yet another plotline which fizzles, from the historical point of view, it's a serious distortion of the truth. Stockett does include episodes of violence, but never allows her central characters to be affected - even though, given the storyline of the book, I found it beyond belief that they (or more likely their men) would not have suffered reprisals. If a young man gets blinded for using the wrong bathroom, what's likely to happen to the maid who served the president of the Junior League a poop pie? I can think of several answers to that question, and 'finally find the courage to leave her abusive husband and be given a job for life by the family who adore her' isn't one of them. Stockett contrasts a fantasy plotline with a realistic historical background, which I found very jarring.

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Sat September 11th, 2010, 11:25 pm

"Miss Moppet" wrote:I'm sure Lee would have written more if her first book hadn't attracted so much attention. That level of interest must be hard to deal with. Plus, it seems to have soured her friendship with Truman Capote, portrayed as Dill in the book.


Apparently, she's written other manuscripts but thrown them away because she wasn't satisfied with them. Sometimes having such tremendous success on the first try can have a debilitating affect. In your mind, everything thereafter has to be as good as the first time, and as a result you end up with nothing. Oh, well, at least you can say she quit while she was ahead. :)

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wendy
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Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
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Postby wendy » Wed November 17th, 2010, 1:41 pm

"Miss Moppet" wrote:Too right. The 'funny' moments were bought at the expense of character and plot, and they should have been bought at the expense of the book's credibility, too.



I'm not too sure what she was trying to do. From the author's note at the end, I think she takes her own book pretty seriously, but I doubt she expected it to be the bestseller it has been.



Right again. Granted, Mockingbird is very firmly set in the 1930s, but when it was published segregation had yet to be dismantled, and tensions were running higher than ever. You could argue that Stockett, setting her book in a period of de jure segregation, intended commentary on de facto segregation where it survives (eg segregated proms), but I can't find any.



Yes, and she draws parallels with anti-semitism too.



I'm sure Lee would have written more if her first book hadn't attracted so much attention. That level of interest must be hard to deal with. Plus, it seems to have soured her friendship with Truman Capote, portrayed as Dill in the book.



It doesn't gloss over the fear, but then everyone's identities are discovered and...no violence occurs, which suggests the fear was unfounded. From the writing point of view it's yet another plotline which fizzles, from the historical point of view, it's a serious distortion of the truth. Stockett does include episodes of violence, but never allows her central characters to be affected - even though, given the storyline of the book, I found it beyond belief that they (or more likely their men) would not have suffered reprisals. If a young man gets blinded for using the wrong bathroom, what's likely to happen to the maid who served the president of the Junior League a poop pie? I can think of several answers to that question, and 'finally find the courage to leave her abusive husband and be given a job for life by the family who adore her' isn't one of them. Stockett contrasts a fantasy plotline with a realistic historical background, which I found very jarring.



We read The Help in our Southern book club and most of the members found it a refreshing change. I would not put it in the same league as TKAM because it does not have enough literary depth. I also wonder if KS has another book in her as this one was so personal!

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Michy
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Postby Michy » Thu November 18th, 2010, 6:41 am

Just curious -- are any members of your club African American, and if so, how did they respond to the book? I've wondered how black readers feel about it.

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wendy
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Postby wendy » Thu November 18th, 2010, 12:29 pm

"Michy" wrote:Just curious -- are any members of your club African American, and if so, how did they respond to the book? I've wondered how black readers feel about it.


None of our members are black but we do have a strong international, political and religious mix. But I do remember a news article we read when the book first came out. It featured an all-black reading group in Charlotte and they apparently loved the book.

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Miss Moppet
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Postby Miss Moppet » Thu November 18th, 2010, 9:18 pm

"wendy" wrote:None of our members are black but we do have a strong international, political and religious mix. But I do remember a news article we read when the book first came out. It featured an all-black reading group in Charlotte and they apparently loved the book.


Assuming everyone is telling the truth online about their ethnicity and/or place of origin, there does not appear to be any consensus among whites, blacks, Northerners or Southerners about the book. I think one black female reader on the Amazon thread said she planned to use it for kindling but as Wendy says, others have loved it.

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wendy
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Postby wendy » Fri November 19th, 2010, 2:40 pm

"Miss Moppet" wrote:Assuming everyone is telling the truth online about their ethnicity and/or place of origin, there does not appear to be any consensus among whites, blacks, Northerners or Southerners about the book. I think one black female reader on the Amazon thread said she planned to use it for kindling but as Wendy says, others have loved it.



I guess it is a very rare book that appeals to everyone!

JennBarnes
Newbie

Postby JennBarnes » Wed December 29th, 2010, 2:53 am

Hi, I'm new to the forum and this is the first post I've responded to, but the topic is engaging, so I guess I'll opine. I gave The Help to my mom as a Christmas gift last year after having read it myself and liked it. She grew up in S. Alabama during the time the book is set, and reading it opened up a conversation between us about her family's maid, and the dynamics between she and my grandparents. The stories she told me lent authenticity to the novel, even the ending, especially the ending. Having grown up with my grandmother I can guarantee you, no white woman in her position would admit to being trumped by a black woman, ever. It's been a while since I read it, but I can remember feeling that the author captured the divide that exists between black and white people in that part of the South. I disagree that there would be harsher recriminations to the book's publishing, it was a symbiotic relationship after all. Those ladies did not want to have to clean their own houses, and their husbands would have resisted paying elevated wages to out of town help. Wether you like the book or not, I think it's fair to say that it was a heck of a first effort for Katherine Stockett.

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Michy
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Postby Michy » Wed December 29th, 2010, 3:36 pm

"JennBarnes" wrote: Having grown up with my grandmother I can guarantee you, no white woman in her position would admit to being trumped by a black woman, ever.
I see your point, and in The Help not only was it a white woman not wanting to admit being trumped by a black woman, but definitely not wanting to admit that she ate *ahem* "chocolate" pie.

Nevertheless, my opinions of the book still stand. I didn't totally hate it, and I've read worse books, certainly, but it just didn't strike the right mood for its subject matter and I think it's way over-hyped. The majority of readers don't agree with me, of course, but hey, that's why there are thousands of writers churning out thousands of books every year -- so there will be something for everyone. :)

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Miss Moppet
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Postby Miss Moppet » Wed December 29th, 2010, 7:04 pm

"JennBarnes" wrote: Wether you like the book or not, I think it's fair to say that it was a heck of a first effort for Katherine Stockett.


We'll have to agree to disagree about that, Jenn, as I agree with Michy that it was over-hyped - but thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience, and welcome to the forum!


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