Maegen's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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did not like it
bookshelves: audiobooks, disappointments, recommended-to-me

While it was a well-written effort, I didn't find it as breathtaking as the rest of the world. It more or less rubbed me the wrong way. It reads like the musings of a white woman attempting to have an uncomfortable conversation, without really wanting to be uncomfortable. It's incredibly hard to write with integrity about race and be completely honest and vulnerable. The author failed to make me believe she was doing anything beyond a show & tell. And if her intent isn't anything greater, then it makes this book all the more pandering to the white imagination of what it must have been like to be "the help" during that era. It's passive self-reflection at best and utterly useless.

The national fascination with this book makes me sick. It makes me think of my grandmother who was "the help" to many white families for well over 50 years. Her stories aren't too different from those told in this book, but they are hers to tell. If she were alive today, I don't believe she would praise Stockett's book. In fact, I think she we would be horrified at the thought that her years of hard work (in some cases, for some very horrible people) would be reduced to some wannabe feel good story of the past.
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Reading Progress

August 7, 2010 – Shelved
March 15, 2011 – Shelved as: audiobooks
March 16, 2011 – Started Reading
March 16, 2011 –
0.0% "listening to the audiobook...3 chapters in and I'm thoroughly annoyed."
March 18, 2011 –
March 30, 2011 –
April 6, 2011 –
April 12, 2011 –
April 14, 2011 –
April 14, 2011 – Finished Reading
July 13, 2011 – Shelved as: disappointments
July 23, 2011 – Shelved as: recommended-to-me

Comments Showing 1-50 of 56 (56 new)

message 1: by jo (new)

jo i really like your review.

Maegen Thanks Jo!

Nona Thomas The Help/Stockett Meagen I disagree with your comments. As a black African American whose grandmother and mother were "The Help" this book was excellent. I do not think that this book was totally about the black and white races in the south. The book has a more universal theme which gives it mass appeal. In the case of the white characters in the book, it demostrates how social pressures and the need to belong in a group will cause people to bully and mistreat others. It also decribes what happens to those who do not participate in the mistreatment--- you are not in the group and ignored. This occurs right now with children who bully other children. For the black characters it describes the abuse and humiliation that you sometimes have to take just to have a job. In this present economy, a worker may be doing the work of two people and can not complain in order to keep a job.
Unless you are wealthy or retired and do not work we are all someone's "Help".

message 4: by Maegen (last edited Jun 11, 2011 03:39AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Maegen @Nona: Black/White race relations is the core of this novel. It's the foundation by which Stockett builds the whole story about the help and incorporates whatever themes you find so "universal" and of "mass appeal." Whether or not the book is totally about race is arguable, but isn't really my issue. My issue is her handling of race in this story. Sure, the reader is made uncomfortable as Stockett glosses over the humiliation and awfulness of being a servant. However, thats only one side of the racism the help faced. It's one thing to be hated because of the color of your skin. It's something else for those who hate to be in positions of power and be able to assert that power because of the color of their skin. Given what we know about the era and Stockett's description in her book, the white characters clearly had power and asserted it whether with action or inaction. That said, I could care less about the social pressures the white characters faced, as it was nothing compared to what the help faced. In the end, Ms. Skeeter rode off into the sunset in pursuit of her new life, in spite of previously being marginalized by her white peers. And what happened to the help? They remained the help! Stockett failed to get at the heart of how racism binds and destroys even in the face of our righteous humanity. I can't celebrate this book! I don't find it worthy. If you enjoyed it and found it meaningful to your life, that's wonderful. We will have to respectfully disagree about it. Thanks for commenting.

Nona Thomas I was glad to read your reply to my comment. I agree that the white female author could not possibly totally comprehend the experiences of Black African American servants in the south during the 1960's. I therefore do not think the purpose of the story was to provide a historical essay of racism in the south. The themes that I mentioned previously social pressures, bullying and job humiliation were true then as well as now. We can agree to disagree about this book! A book that I would like to recommend to you is "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson. She is a Black African American author. In her book she discuss the how and why blacks migrated from the south to the north. I look forward to you reommending a book that better describes the racism in the USA or in the world.

Maegen @Nona: I will add The Warmth of Other Suns to my to read list. Thanks for the recommendation. I will take a look at my library and recommend a book or two to you.

Nona Thomas Thank You. Glad to be be your GOODREADS friend

Jean Great review. Well said.

Nona Thomas Thanks Jean for your comment

Anjanette Nicely said - thanks for sharing your opinion

Maegen Thanks Anjanette.

message 12: by Jenn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenn I didn't read past the first 10 or so pages because the dialect was getting to me. What do you think of the author's choice to have the black characters speak in dialect while leaving the white characters' dialogue in standard written English despite their having southern accents as well?

message 13: by Cindi (new)

Cindi I'm glad to read your perspective of this book. I come at it as a white person who wants to understand racism. I understand sexism, I think. I can't understand what it is to be a person living in the U.S. with a different color skin, because I'm not. I want to understand it and think I'm learning as I read a book or in the case of The Help, watch a movie. But, then I find that there's still so much more missing. Can you recommend a book or several books I could read? I like non-fiction best, but will read fiction if the sentiments written are "real world."

Maegen @Jenn I think it was a poor decision that didn't enhance the the book in any way.

@Cindi a few of my favorites are the Alchemy of Race and Rights, From Mammy to Miss America and Beyond, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

message 15: by Cindi (new)

Cindi Thank you Maegen. I added those to my to-read list.

message 16: by Jacquelyn (new)

Jacquelyn i haven't read it, but i've been hearing a lot of similar things about the movie. definitely not as well put as this review.

message 17: by Jacquelyn (new)

Jacquelyn but for the sake of criticism, perhaps i will read it... haha

message 18: by Jacquelyn (new)

Jacquelyn ... also, i would like to note that what's most bothersome about this book is that she is reaping recognition and money for something that, if i'm assuming correctly, she sat aside and watched? mmm perhaps i should put this next in my book list.

Candida Pugh The only part of your review I disagree with is your generosity in calling this garbage well-written.

message 20: by Rhi (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rhi Great review. I linked to it from mine, you said what I wanted to say far more eloquently than I would have.

Maegen @Candida: I do think Stockett has great writing ability, I just wasn't at all impressed or pleased with this story.

@Rhi: Thanks!

Patrick I think the main point here is how far society has come when a white woman empathizes with the black help that raised her.

Candida Pugh I think 50 years after the Freedom Riders were beaten senseless and 50 years after people were tortured and died fighting for voting rights and 150 years after the end of enslaved "help", we need to look for more than empathy to celebrate.

But that's just one opinion.

Maegen Well said Candida!

message 25: by Patrick (last edited Nov 23, 2011 02:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patrick Yes, but it still progress in the right direction, right? If a class of peopled who traditionally has no business empathizing with their black servants begins to empathize with them, I think that is something to celebrate!

Just an idealist trying to point out the positive!

Martin Maegan, I very much agree that: "The national fascination with this book makes me sick." Other, much better stories, by much better writers have addressed the racial divide and have included the experience of black domestics working for white employers: Faulkner's "Go Down, Moses," Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun," Morrison's "Beloved," Gaines' "A Lesson Before Dying" among others. I've stated part of my argument in my own review of the book which I'd like to share:
"It's hard to believe that so many people would see The Help as the better book or with a better insight into racism in the US. What accounts for the difference? Let me speculate that the appeal of this book is that it has one more white character who initiates the reconciliation of the races; that is, it's another example of a story shouldering the "White Man's Burden." And it's another story that provides a point of identification with a white protagonist which partly accounts for it's wild popularity among the white readers who make up a majority of the nation's readership."

Maegen @Patrick: Empathy alone just isn't enough. It doesn't equal progress.
@Martin: Thanks fror sharing, great review!

message 28: by Patrick (last edited Dec 03, 2011 05:06AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patrick Megan,

Empathy is progress if it comes from people who never had empathy for their Black help in the first place!

Empathy does not mean much for minority to empathize with a fellow minority but for the white majority in the south who use to have maids it is a big deal.

Small steps lead to bigger ones in the future!

message 29: by Patrick (last edited Dec 03, 2011 05:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patrick Martin:

." And it's another story that provides a point of identification with a white protagonist which partly accounts for it's wild popularity among the white readers who make up a majority of the nation's readership."

Thanks for stating the obvious! People will identify more with characters who are like themselves; DUH!

Why do you think that the Invisible Man by Ellison was first a favorite among Black Americans; b/c it spoke to the anger they were feeling.

Candida Pugh What I don't understand is evangelists flacking for The Help. You like it, others think it stinks. We've stated our reasons. That's where book disagreement normally ends. The Help is "entertainment," not The Bible. So, why keep barking away at those who won't fall into line with you?

message 31: by Martin (last edited Dec 03, 2011 11:27PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Martin @Patrick: "Thanks for stating the obvious! People will identify more with characters who are like themselves; DUH!"

I think I've just been insulted and you don't seem to be sincere in thanking me either. I'm a little surprised that this message comes from someone who's idealistic and likes to use the word "empathy."

I identified with the narrator in "Invisible Man" ("The Invisible Man" is by H. G. Wells) even though I'm a white man in my fifties who's never experienced bias because of my race. I identified with Santiago from "The Old Man and the Sea" even though I am not an old poor Cuban fisherman. I identified with Sethe in "Beloved" even though I've never been a slave woman. Surely, my point is "obvious" here; I can identify with others quite unlike me superficially because we all live on this one Earth with its joys and suffering. Those who flocked to this story, and it's mostly white women if goodreads is representative of its readership, found a convenient and shallow representative for their imaginative selves in Skeeter. If they had a broader sense of their identification with others, they might have read and appreciated the much better stories I've mentioned.

Patrick Martin, you are able to empathize with other characters because you are smart educated man who is aware.

But you are in the minority, the majority of people will read books and empathize with only the characters who are like themselves.

All I am saying for those majority of people who never empathized with people outside their race or socio-economic status, a book like this serves as a first step to empathy toward black people. As we all know empathy is the first step toward social change.

As far as my comment towards Invisible Man goes. Initially, it was first a hit among black people and perhaps a few liberals because of its message of anger that was represented in it but only much later did it become a classic read and enjoyed by most.

Martin Patrick, I will concede this point. "The Help" being so widely read is probably a good thing on balance since more people will be thinking and talking about racial problems in the US than before. I just don't believe that the message of the book is particularly helpful and I do think the book is unconsciously racist. Check my review:

I don't know the history of "Invisible Man's" readership. Maybe it was a hit with black people first, but it was awarded the National Book Award in 1953 after it was published, so it probably had a wide audience.

message 34: by Patrick (last edited Dec 07, 2011 12:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patrick Martin, in the end this is all I was trying to point out, that the Help through its wide readership and positive reviews got people to empathize with people who they would normally not have thought about.

As far as the National Book Award goes, just because it won in 1953 does not mean it was widely read at that time. A book is chosen to win an award by 5 member committee of writers. So winning the National Book Award simply means that those 5 members who critiqued the book felt it was the best book that year. But winning the award does not necessarily guarantee that it was widely read by the general public until much later. People who tend to take note of National Book Awards tend to be literary inclined thus not your normal American person.

message 35: by Mary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary I disagree. She had a story to tell and what other perspective could she tell but her own? Any author is going to write about people who are different than they are. Does Toni Morrison have the right to write about the black male experience since she is female? The criticism that Stockett has no right to write about her experiences with race is akin to the lines Aibline tells us we all draw in our own heads. Everyone in this country (and the world for that matter) has been negatively impacted by racism - even those who perpetrate it because it diminishes them as a human being. To deny Ms. Stockett her voice is itself an invisible line that continues to separate us. There were many voices in the turbulent 60s and we need to listen to all of them.

Martin @Mary: Who are you disagreeing with?

Patrick I agree with #35 comment

message 38: by Mary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary @Martin: I am disagreeing with the review.
@Patrick: Thank you!

Carolyn I agree with Maegen, I thought it was a good book but not a great book. Why some books become big hoop da laas when better books miss the sales I don't know. I attribute it to publishing and how much money you spend promoting it! Like the richest man wins the president seat. However I was probaly the only one that didn't like the book English Patient.

message 40: by Dj-sharkey (new)

Dj-sharkey Grimm Think you need to get over yourself. this white woman is free to write what she pleases, how she pleases ... and don't for a second think that you ... in the world we are living in today, could talk so well on "the help" of the past,even though you're black yourself because honey a) you would not have been there either so cannot put yourself in that position and b) you would not have been there either to put yourself in that position. Get over yourself. you've biased her because she was white and you knew that before you picked the book up. you can't get over that fact. the problem is YOU ... not the writing. RANT OVER.

Maegen So you trolled over to my three-year old review of a book I actually READ to RANT about how my opinion is about me? Thanks! I do hope that you feel better now.

message 42: by Dj-sharkey (new)

Dj-sharkey Grimm No. i argued that you condemned a woman you obviously do not know, for what she wrote about, i see no true commitment to reviewing the novel for either it's merit or it's ability to show the resilience of the human spirit. Instead you give the book a one start review for presuming your ancestors would not like it. You sound very clever. it's funny how you harbor such strong feelings against this work of art. It seems personal when it's clearly not and seems to me that if it had been less well-received by the public you might have given it a better grading.

Maegen Obviously, you did not read all of what wrote, nor any of my comments in this thread. Instead, you zeroed in on the personal aspects of what I wrote and decided it was without merit. You then assumed things about me that you don't know and that aren't even true. Given your comments, I don't see a "true commitment" from you at engaging on the topic...just trolling. My view of the book is in the post and in the comments, you just don't like them, and that's cool. I'm always willing to agree to disagree about anything, especially books. However, that's not really what you're trying to do here. It's funny, you're accusing me of harboring strong feelings against the book, when you harbor the same strong feelings for it -- to the tune of calling it a "work of art". It sounds like it might be "personal" for you. Perhaps, you should get over yourself.

message 44: by Ken (new)

Ken Leek Maegen, I thought the book was decent but after reading your review, it makes me feel like I'm pretty naive and I don't like that feeling. Would you be willing to suggest a couple of books I should most definitely read that will help me not be so naive?

Easha I think the book had a very good pace to it. The fact that the help was still the help at the end was far more true to how it actually went. The empathy and actions of a single educated white person in their society shows the slow progress for change. I would definitely have been more annoyed if it had been a completely happy fairy tale ending for all the characters!

message 46: by Elie (new) - added it

Elie Dawson Great book!!

message 47: by Mel (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mel All perspectives are colored by expectations and personal prejudice to an extent. This review is no exception.

I noticed that the books you recommended to another reviewer are nonfiction, educational books. Are there any fictional stories about this topic that happen to tackle the subject matter to your liking? I ask because with an example it's easier to put a reviewer's taste/opinion into perspective.

message 48: by Anne (new)

Anne Marie I hated the movie. Only interested in reading the book to see if it is as horrible

message 49: by Angela (new) - added it

Angela DeSilva Racism makes me sick, I'm not going to read the book Or see t he movie because I don't want to get upset and cry or get pissed off.

Alana Thank you for boldly stating a very unpopular opinion. This book actually did more to harm than good to the national conversation about race.

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