Ten + issues that tarnish The Help **Updated!**

I had to re-title this post, based upon the blunders those behind The Help movie are making. See item 12’s *update*

 

1. Denigration of several African American male characters

2. Indefensible dialogue and scenes (naked pervert, Aibileen and the roach scene, etc.)

3. Error in the death of Medgar Evers by a primary character (Skeeter, Pg 277)

4. Elevation of the white males who practiced segregation while downgrading black males.

5. Aibileen’s indifference to Minny and her children’s abuse while worrying over Mae Mobley’s abuse

6. The bossy maid stereotype overshadowing a character who is a victim of domestic violence (Minny).

7. Stereotypical characters, both black and white.

8. Depiction of Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 as ruled by women, specifically a twenty-four year old socialite named Hilly

9. Over the top descriptions of black characters from their dark skin tones to their physical attributes.

10. Black characters and white characters differenced by their supposed southern “dialect”.

11. A difference is made in the portrayal of the littlest characters in the novel, that being Mae Mobley and Kindra.

12. The marketing mis-steps over promoting the movie. Insensitive statements, questionable tie-ins, to WTF?  interview quotes.

 

 

 

Josephine Street Kitchen, New Orleans 1939

 

 

  

 

Based on these, as well as other problems in the novel, blog posts on this site explore what went wrong. In addition, I need to add something else. It’s one thing when an author creates a bigoted character, and has that character act out in prejudice. It’s quite another when the author’s own bias, either based upon what they’d been taught or wrongly assumed about another culture  seeps into their book.

The problem with The Help is that imo, both of these issues occurred. Stockett plays omnipresent narrator several times to either inform the reader about who’s good, or who’s not. And segregationist ideology on African Americans comes out of the mouths and inner thoughts of the black characters as amusing anecdotes. Had an editor caught this, I wouldn’t have needed to start this blog.   An editor SHOULD have caught this, and more.

 

 

 

Issue One

 

Denigration of the African American male:

Black female domestics are almost idealized in The Help, while the African American male is far too often called “no-account”. The mates of the primary maids (Aibileen, Minny and Constantine) are portrayed as absentee fathers (Aibileen and Constantine’s estranged partners Clyde and Connor respectively) while Minny’s husband Leroy is a wife beater and abuser of his children and also a drunk. Minny also describes her father as “no-account” and a drunk. There is a brief mention of civil rights activist Medgar Evers murder, and lesser characters such as Treelore, Aibileen’s son, Robert, the maid Louvenia’s grandson who is brutally beaten, and Reverend Johnson.

 

 Posts which go further into the portrayal of black males in the novel are:

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-help-useless-to-african-americans/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/few-good-men-of-the-help/

 

 

Troubled Heritage

 

 

 

 

Updated posts on where Stockett failed in her insulting depiction of black males:

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/will-criticism-stop-white-authors-writing-black-characters/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/repost-on-fathers-day-theres-no-black-father-figure-in-the-help/

 

 

 

Kathryn Stockett, “writing while black” has Minny state this:

 

“Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got kids to think about – Minny Jackson (Pg 311)

 

What “plenty of black men” in 1962 Mississippi were doing was trying not to get killed just because of the color of their skin.

“Plenty of black men” left the south for the north, in order to find employment, a more hospitable place for their families to stay and because the north was thought to have opportunities that weren’t available in the south.

“Plenty of black men” were being called “Uncle” and “Boy” yet they fought for the right to become soldiers and die for a country that didn’t see them as equals or even human.

 

Famous Quote by Medgar Evers:

 

“We fought during the war for America, Mississippi included. Now, after the Germans and Japanese hadn’t killed us, it looked as though the white Mississippians would.”

“Plenty of black men” were husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers working for little pay with no benefits and pensions. And “plenty of black men” went missing during segregation, not because they abandoned their families, but because they are presumed dead at the hands of those who followed segregation to the letter. Many cold cases are still unsolved. There’s an organization headed by famed journalist Jerry Mitchell (http://coldcases.org/) that’s dedicated to seeing many of their disappearances solved.

From the website:
“Today in the American South, scores of civil rights murders remain unsolved, uninvestigated, unprosecuted, and untold. Those two legacies of violence and silence still haunt the region and continue to damage race relations in the United States.”    

 

 

 

The dogs of war released on American citizens during segregation

 

 

     

 

 

Photo by famous civil rights photographer, the late Charles Moore

 

 

 

A lynching in Marion, Indiana 1930. The ultimate price black men paid during segregation

 

Issue Two

 

Indefensible dialogue and scenes (naked pervert, Aibileen and the roach scene, etc.)  

 

Items manufactered in celebration of the black woman’s “mammy” status

Aibileen comparing her skin color to a roach.

That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me. Aibileen’s  battle of wills with a cockroach (Pg 189)

There was no excuse for Stockett even creating this scene in reference to Aibileen’s skin color or the editors leaving it in. Unfortunately, the novel has many such scenes and dialogue. I’m not sure if the author thought she was being funny and others agreed, but when these scenes are brought up as issues within the novel, even those who love the book are hard pressed to offer a convincing rationale. Quite simply, there’s nothing that can be offered in defense.

 

 

 

 

 

Indeed, Stockett inserts several references to how the white characters (and black) view African American skin color.

Stockett even has her main heroine, Skeeter making this insensitive observation:

 

Sometimes two girls from next door would come over to play with me, named Mary Nell and Mary Roan. They were so black I couldn’t tell them apart and called them both just Mary.” (Pg 62) – Skeeter

 

But Skeeter has quite a few other observations on how she views not only skin color (Skeeter seems to only see one shade when viewing African Americans) but when giving physical descriptions, especially of those who carry weight.

 

Here are a few more of Skeeter’s observations:

 

Hilly’s smile is a fat child’s at the Seale-Lily Ice Cream window. The button on her red coat bulges. (Pg 175)

 

Half her blouse is untucked, her fat stretching the buttons, and I can see (Hilly) has gained more weight. (Pg 420)

 

The book sends the message that thin is in, while any excess weight is unwelcome (save for the “friendly softness” Aibileen carries in the mid-section, whatever the term “friendly softness” means).

 

More examples of Skeeter’s overshare on skin color and additional truly bad dialogue can be found here:

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/should-not-be-in-the-help/

 

 

 

Another indefensible scene is the “spoilt cootchie” scenario, where Minny and Aibileen talk about Aibileen’s power of prayer to cause the woman that Clyde (Aibileen’s husband) has run off with, well the woman comes down with a venereal disease. Aibileen and Minny cackle about it, with Aibileen wondering if other parishioners believe she has “the black magic.”

 

How oh how did an editor not catch this and it’s various stereotypical and highly offensive connotations?

 

This is yet another scene in the book where Hilly’s “predictions” about African Americans are fulfilled by the author.

Stockett has Hilly trying to push her sanitation initiative all over Jackson, with Hilly’s rationale being that blacks have different diseases than whites so separate toilets are needed. No where in the novel, not even with the naked pervert is a venereal disease broached with the white characters. Yet Stockett has Clyde, Aibileen’s estranged husband running off with a woman who apparently has one, and doesn’t get treated for at least three months according to the book (Pg 23-24).

Stockett names one character Yule Mae Crookle, and has the maid end up in jail after stealing a worthless ring from of all people, her employer Hilly. Yes its  that Hilly, the very same woman who’s been running all over town gossiping about blacks having diseases, only this time she’s accusing black maids of stealing. And Stockett again creates a character who fulfills Hilly’s slander.

 

It appears that Stockett keeps the white characters chaste (please oh pul-leese note Stockett keeping Skeeter as pure as snow, a virgin who’s never had a boyfriend or a date at twenty-three. While the virginal part is plausible given the times, the no boyfriend or even a boy that’s a “friend” is stretching it, considering her family’s acres of cotton. Which would be bling $ to any man back then. Stockett even has Skeeter mention her trust fund in a section of the novel). Yet the author tries to live vicariously through the black characters. Yes, Stockett falls into the stereotypes must have some truth to them when writing about minorities. That somehow our lives are so erotic and exotic that subjects which cannot (or will not) be explored with white characters must certainly be applied to minorities.

 

Only the white trash Celia (possibly because she’s white trash) sleeps before marriage with Johnny Foote. Yet the main black characters of  The Help pick males who either abandon them after a child is born (Connor leaves Constantine, Clyde leaves Aibileen) or is a babymaker and abuser (Leroy’s abuse of Minny, who’s carrying her sixth child as the novel ends)

Stockett makes reference to Aibileen’s two sisters who have eighteen children between the two of them. No where in the novel is there a white counterpart with a comparable brood.

Aibileen can admonish one of her now grown white charges not to drink coffee or he’ll turn out colored. Minny can make a far reaching assessment about many black males abandoning their children. Aibileen can make cavalier assessments on her best friend’s bruises and how unorganized Minny’s home appears.

Minny, an abused wife can pick up a knife (yes, a KNIFE. An instrument during segregation that continued to be linked with African Americans, as in our propensity towards violence using it as a weapon) to defend her employer against the naked pervert outside of Celia’s home. Yet Stockett writes the scene as part slapstick and partly in unveiled mock of  Minny’s size, having the maid run out of breath because she’s apparently too large to pursue the man.

More info on the naked pervert scene can be found here:

 http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/is-minny-the-mouse-that-roared/

 

 

In my opinion this novel isn’t a book that includes the beauty of both the white and black cultures while weaving in the flaws and traumatic historical time period. It’s a novel that reinforces the stereotypes of both cultures.

 

 

 

Issue Three

 

Error in the death of Medgar Evers  

Medgar Evers (AP Photo/Francis H. Mitchell – Ebony Collection, File)

Unfortunately, it’s not just in the book were the error occurs:

They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to  me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. (Pg 277) – Skeeter

Even Kathryn Stockett repeats and embellishes that somehow, Medgar Evers was bludgeoned instead of shot. Stockett repeats the error in two  three audio interviews (and there may even be more out there):

Excerpt:

“…that summer Medgar Evers, who was the field secretary for the NAACP was bludgeoned to death on his front steps. His children actually came outside and were covered in blood and he died in the hospital that night.” (5:51 minutes into the 29 minute interview)

http://covertocover.podbean.com/2009/04/26/kathryn-stockett-the-help/

 

Excerpt:

“…1963 was a horrifying and momentous year in Mississippi’s history as well as the entire United States. It was… the fall of 62 when James Meredith was accepted into Ole Miss and in 1963 Medgar Evers the uh…who was with the NAACP he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.”  (stated at 8:34 minutes into a 10:31 interview) 

http://media.barnesandnoble.com/?fr_story=59e76c8fa39941fb2ff1013f7928b8ed42d449c2&rf=rss

 

 

**Updated**

Yet another audio interview where Stockett again states Evers was “bludgeoned.” And no, these interviews weren’t done on the same day.

 

Excerpt:

“. . .Shortly following Medgar Evers the field secretary for the NAACP was bludgeoned to death on his front steps,”

(4:21 minutes into a 18:31 interview)

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/speakingvolumes/2009/05/26/interview-with-kathryn-stockett

 

 

I’m at a loss to explain how reviewers missed the Evers error in the novel. Or even, in their rush to jump on the “love” fest for the book, that they missed the audio interviews. There was no hard investigative research done to find the links. They could be googled (and still can be) at any time. They’re even available for download.

 

 

 

 

Issue Four

 

 

Elevation of the white males who practiced segregation while downgrading black males.

Jackson, Mississippi 1963 Woolworth sit in. From left to right: Hunter Grey Bear, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Anne Moody

 

 

 

More info can be found in these posts:

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/few-good-men-of-the-help/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-biggest-blunders-kathryn-stockett-made/

 

 

 

 

Issue Five

 

Aibileen’s indifference to Minny and her children’s abuse while worrying over Mae Mobley’s abuse

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/saint-aibileen/

 

 

 

 

Issue Six

 

The bossy maid stereotype overshadowing a character who is a victim of domestic violence (Minny)

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/the-abuse-storyline/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/is-minny-the-mouse-that-roared/

 

 

 

 

 

Issue Seven

 

Stereotypical characters, both black and white.

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/theres-something-about-celia/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/aibileen-and-minny-were-robbed/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/the-problem-with-the-help/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/blonde-ambition/

 

 

 

 

Issue Eight

 

Depiction of Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 as ruled by women, specifically a twenty-four year old socialite named Hilly

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/why-the-help-gets-on-my-last-nerve/its-all-hillys-fault/

 

 

 

 

 

Issue Nine

 

Over the top, negative descriptions of black characters from their dark skin tones to their physical attributes.

I touched on this in Issue Two.

The women are tall, short, black like asphalt or caramel brown. If your skin is too white, I’m told,  you’ll never get hired The blacker the better.(Pg 257) Skeeter

 

More examples can be found here:

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/should-not-be-in-the-help/

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/separate-but-unequal/

 

 

 

 

 

Issue Ten

 

Black characters and white characters differenced by their supposed southern “dialect”

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/identity-crisis-in-the-help/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/why-the-help-gets-on-my-last-nerve/disappearing-accents/

 

 

 

 

Issue Eleven

 

 

A difference is made in the portrayal of the littlest characters in the novel, that being Mae Mobley and Kindra.

 

 

 

Sunflower, the deleted hoof shining centaurette from Disney’s 1940 movie Fantasia shows “attitude”

 

 

 

 

Kindra, Minny’s youngest child is portrayed as the bratty, mouthy black kid with “attitude” though she’s only five when the novel begins. See how Stockett plays favorites here:

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/comparing-mae-mobley-to-kindra/

 

 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/separate-but-unequal/

 

 

 

 

Issue Twelve

 

The marketing mis-steps over promoting the movie. Insensitive statements, questionable tie-ins, to WTF?  interview quotes.

Kathryn Stockett reportedly used this quip “I just made this sh*t up!” at a recent event.  Read the full story here

Screenwriter and Director Tate Taylor has been really putting his foot in his mouth. From requesting the menstrual cycles of his female stars so he could keep track of them (Ewww.  Link to quote is here) to his “You’ll be craving fried chicken” statement about the film and now claiming that witnessing actress Viola Davis do a scene where she’s asked to hurry up in an outhouse is worse than seeing a lynching. Read all about it here

 

Another verbal gaffe is from Tate Taylor, where he states per a UK site:

“All of the criticism we’ve been facing is based on the fact that I’m not an African-American director and that Kathryn is not an African-American writer,” Taylor says. “It suggests that race relations in my country are still very black and white. But outside of a small academic elite, it doesn’t matter.”

Read more about the quote here

 

 

**Updated** Here’s Tate Taylor’s latest foot in mouth quote. Dude is utterly, and totally out there. His disconnect isn’t funny. It’s truly sad:

Taylor: What I really, really loved about the Medgar Evers storyline and backdrop was that he was in their neighborhood. While they were doing this clandestine project, this Civil Rights leader who’s their neighbor gets murdered, and their characters are wondering, “What’s going to happen to us?”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/12/the-help-an-oral-history-with-viola-davis-octavia-spencer.html

 

 

 

“The Medgar Evers storyline . . .  he was in their neighborhood” was more than a “storyline”. Evers was a Civil Rights Icon, and a REAL person who was assassinated. Stockett’s characters are FICTIONAL. This is more than a director/screenwriter getting a hard on because pretend characters are inserted into a real, traumatic historical event. Somebody educate this guy. PLEASSSEEEE

 

There’s also recent interviews where both Stockett and Tate Taylor appear to contradict how The Help came to be. If you click the link to the post below, I’ve compiled past and present interviews which call into question just when Taylor acquired the screen rights, and how much influence he may have had during Stockett’s crafting of the book:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/so-about-the-help-and-this-agreement-among-friends/

 

 

 

Here’s a mis-step by one of the executive producers on Twitter:

 

 

 

Really? Well, we’ll see if that “joke” comes true. The blunders are adding up with this film.

**Update** mbarnathan deleted the tweet and issued an apology a day later**

 

 

From HSN selling items “inspired” by the movie

Join HSN for a one-of-a-kind collection created in
the spirit of “The Help,” the must-see new movie from
DreamWorks Pictures. Experience beauty, home decor,
designer fashions and more from top brands such as
Carol’s Daughter, Emeril and Lela Rose for HSN
all in the essence of this inspiring story.
Shop The Collection Exclusively on HSN
online August 1 | on air August 5-6

Umm-mmm. Nothing says lovin’ like a dish from the oven “inspired” by a book on black maids following the white savior trope.

Perhaps a roach broach? A replica of the one Aibileen waited on  for company and noticed “He black. Blacker than me.” (Pg 189)

 

 

More posts on how those behind the book are f ‘ing up can be found here:

 

$ Making the Help Pay $

How The Help Got Over (in spite  of itself)

The New Jim Crow- The Help and Chicken Party

20/20s Help Promo

To be continued. . .

 

16 Responses “Ten + issues that tarnish The Help **Updated!**” →
  1. I am loving this analysis. Just one note…
    “No where in the novel, not even with the naked pervert is a venereal disease broached with the white characters.”- Hilly at the end of the book and movie is described/seen as having a big red ugly blister on her lip that I’m pretty sure we are supposed to think was from herpes. I dont have the book with me to find the page number, but it was almost shown as a punishment for her horrible behavior throughout the book and her hypocrasy. She was so worried about getting diseases from Black folks, but she already had one that she likely got from her husband or past boyfriend.

    Reply
    • Elon, you bring up a very good point. I know which scene you’re referring to. It’s on Pg 420 when Hilly parks her butt in front of Skeeter’s house and we get a narration by Skeeter on how tore up Hilly looks, because Hilly’s also gained weight and her buttons are popping (Why is excess weight thought of as okay for the maids but a negative for Skeeter’s crew? and since Skeeter’s view of the maids is skewed, how do I know the maids are as big and black like she claims? hmm)

      Here’s the thing though, Kathryn Stockett made sure readers knew Minny and Aibileen were talking about a “spoilt cootchie” on a black woman, but Stockett sure is vague about Hilly’s cold sore, thus making it seem as though it could be due to “stress” over the “Terrible Awful Truth” being revealed in the maids book that she ate Minny’s poop in a pie.

      Excerpt of the scene:

      “Waiting for someone?” I(Skeeter) say at the window.
      Hilly jumps and drops her cigarette into the gravel. She scrambles out of the car and slams the door closed, backing away from me.
      “Don’t you get an inch closer,” she says.
      So I stop where I am and just look at her. Who wouldn’t look at her? Her black hair is a mess. A curl at the top is floppy, sticking straight up. Half her blouse is untucked, her fat stretching the buttons, and I can see she’s gained more weight. And there’s a . . . sore. It’s in the corner of her mouth, scabby and hot red. I haven’t seen Hilly with one of those since Johnny broke up with her in college.

      ##End of Excerpt##

      Okay, the key here is “I haven’t seen one of those since Johnny broke up with her in college” so yeah, it’s supposed to be “stress” related.

      **Update**:
      Found this interview by Stockett that confirms the cold sore is stress related

      “Sometimes you can see the cracks in the surface with Hilly. That’s why I threw in that cold sore. You can really tell that all the stress is getting to her.”
      Source: http://www.slicemagazine.org/an-interview-with-kathryn-stockett.html

      Reply
  2. As the movie is about to come out, we see the trailer on TV that illustrates exactly who this story is about, and to whom it is being marketed. We see seven white faces before any of the main black characters appear, 30 seconds into to clip. The ad has a few short moments of dialogue for the black characters, surrounded by a dominating white narrative. The producers make clear their priorities for who gets to tell this story, before we have even entered the theater. (http://tiny.cc/txw7n)

    Reply
    • Hello BTSF,

      Thanks for your post. I’d read your review and thought it was spot on. I’ve got it an excerpt on this site under reviews. Yes, we do see who its marketed to. We also see that clips highlighting how much “fun” Minny and Aibileen appear to be having in the kitchen are played up especially on BET. I wonder if they’re trying for the Tyler Perry dollars by doing this?

      Reply
  3. Just wanted to say thank you for this fantastic analysis & the site. I am sad to say that I chose The Help for my book club’s selection this month. In my defense, I had literally NO IDEA what it was about. I didn’t know the setting, the time period, or that it was even about African American domestic workers (they’re not portrayed on the cover after all… the trailer hadn’t come out yet when I chose it, nor had the movie tie-in edition.) I had heard some ramblings of it being made into a movie with Emma Stone. That is ALL I knew about it (and really all that the marketing is trying to sell!) so I picked it when it was my turn to pick a book. I’ve never been more sorry to pick a book in my life!

    On the first page I started cringing. I started thinking “Oh what did I get myself into here…” I’m planning on printing this out and bringing it to the meeting. My book club is an open-to-the-public type that meets at a national chain bookstore in town… we have a mix of (white, female) college students/recent grads and (white, female) senior citizens. I’m not looking forward to how the discussion is going to go over… but I will do my best to impress upon everyone how this is not a feel-good-story.

    Reply
    • Hi Rachael,

      Thanks ever so much for your post.
      All you can do is ask your members to have an open mind. Some will love the book (and in truth, there are sections where Stockett’s writing shines) But the ugliness woven throughout the novel outweighs what she was attempting to do. There’s just too many times where its apparent the reader is being manipulated.

      And Stockett’s with a major publisher so this should never have been allowed.
      The Book was a hit, but much like other so called “beloved” novels that were deemed cringe worthy over time and changing attitudes, The Help may wind up been a book Stockett may wish she’d taken a bit more time on and done a lot more research for.

      Please come back and let me know how your discussion of the novel went. It’s better to read the novel than not. Many people don’t even know about the subtleness of segregation.
      Stockett put words into her black characters mouths that actually originated from segregationist ideology. An example is the line “Don’t drink coffee or you’ll turn colored”
      This was an old, demeaning joke. When I saw that line I couldn’t believe it had made it into the final draft of the book. Yikes!

      Reply
  4. I’m not sure if this is noted elsewhere on the site, but Stockett has Constantine’s granddaughter as a member of some “black cat” club, which clearly meant to be the Black Panther Party- especially in light of that character’s militancy. The BPP was not founded until 1966, so there certainly wouldn’t have been a chapter in Chicago in 1962. This is a basic fact-checking issue. What writer wouldn’t make a cursory Wikipedia check before deciding to include this plot point? I have to say, I still like the book fine, even though I agree with most of this site’s analyses of its flaws.

    Reply
    • Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your post.
      I do know about the error, but thanks for bringing it up. With a book this popular, one of the excuses has been that this is a novel of fiction and that fiction can’t be held to the same standards as a non-fiction novel.

      Whether that excuse holds up when a writer finally does a book on say, 9/11 and misses a crucial piece (perhaps a mistake on the number of planes involved) then I believe accuracy will be of utmost importance.

      If anything can be learned from all this, is that writers can’t just hide behind artistic license when they’ve been sloppy about research, especially when with a major publisher.

      And that while professing to pay homage to a culture, it would be a good idea to at least consider some faucets that are beautiful, and not just played for laughs.

      Reply

  5. knapsgirl

    August 13, 2011

    I just finished the novel The Help and wanted to add my personal observations regarding education. I am an educator by profession and was relieved to see that college educated women of color appeared in the book, the author noted their proper pronunciation and everything( “oh he’s so well spoken”) however their portrayal was less than flattering. Yule May, who did not complete college to get married, feels compelled to steal from her openly bigoted employer to fund college for her twin sons. I found this unbelievable and improbable, much was made of how close she and her husband were to have the money, she asks for a salary advance is turned down and then robs the same employer? Then there is Yule May’s cousin, Gretchen. Gretchen is rude and abrasive. She tells “saintly” Skeeter she and all the other women hate her and leaves without doing an interview and taking the cash. The author is quick to note all the other domestics left their money to go toward Yule May’s children education and her defense fund. So Gretchen in her “angry black woman-ness” does not fulfill her obligation to be interviewed (then why did she come?) and apparently steals from her own family members. Conversely, those who are identified as having less education and who speak in pigeon English seem to be some how morally superior. They never steal and endure all racism with stoic faces and Christian hearts. The message is clear: Educated people of color are less moral, their desire for success will lead to their moral ruination.
    Note: Even the male character attacked over the fitting room incident is an entrepreneur. He owns a landscaping business and tells Abilene that he has six people working for him.

    Reply
    • Hi knapsgirl,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve got a post that goes further into the division Stockett made between those who appear to be more educated (Yule May, Gretchen and Lulabelle) also note that these characters have physical characteristics closer to white.

      Here’s the post:

      http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/colorstruck-in-the-help/

      Yule May is trim, with “good hair, no naps” per Aibileen. This is the thing that stands out to Aibileen about Yule May, and she’s (Aibileen’s) clearly smitten with Yule May’s grade of hair.

      Gretchen is also described as trim and wearing pink lipstick (which means she must be light in complexion). Skeeter even talks about Gretchen speaking with care, much like her own friends do. I totally agree with your assessment on how these closer to white characters fall into the “less moral” category, or let’s face it, less of a “credit to their race” because of how “uppity” they behave, Lulabelle especially. Stockett gives this character one week with her long lost mother (Stockett repeats several things in the book, like length of time) before Constantine dies, which makes me think she dies of a broken heart (being separated from her beloved Phelans, especially Skeeter).

      Lulabelle suffers the cruelest cut of all when this happens, which I believe is the author’s way of saying these characters deserved their fate, simply because they did not go along with the program.

      Reply
  6. I recently finished reading The Help while several people were going to see the movie.I was working at an artist retreat in my now home state of North Carolina and was very surprised at the discussion that occurred one day regarding the reaction to this much applauded movie and book. Three of the women in my group were “southern”. All were very educated and knew each other from raising their children together in a small Southern college town. All had at least their Master’s and all taught at the same college. One remarkable lady had returned to school after a divorce and was an specialist in international law.I would venture to say that these ladies are not your average southern woman. Interestingly, we are all from the same era as the book. We were young women, married and starting careers in the late 60’s
    When the topic of “The Help” came up one lady bristled and voiced her onion that “everyone would think we (Southern women) were like that.” The others tried to assure her that it was clear the the book’s setting was in Jackson, Mississippi and that “everyone knew that Jackson was the hotbed of terrible prejudice and segregation. “Things were crazy there.”
    I then realized that being Midwestern and raised with my siblings in the country, our reference points were separated by more than geographical miles. I didn’t have a black classmate until I was a freshman in college. I was raised to know that “nigger” was a very bad word. I was part of a community committee to raise awareness of”race relations.” I researched and wrote an editorial for our school newspaper on “block busting” and interviewed several very uncomfortable real estate agents as to whether or not they would sell property in our all white suburb of Detroit to a black family. Later I demonstrated and marched at my college when the news that Martin Luther King had been murdered.
    Now that I am in my 60’s I know that life experiences shape the person that you become, that I could easily have been a Southern lady by birth. I have tempered my judgmental and idealistic views with maturity, empathy, an a strong effort to try and see views from various perspectives. I am still a work in progress.
    The three ladies all state that they “loved” their family household domestics(help) like part of their family. “My Daddy was really good to her. He bought her a house.” One lady stated she always worried that her mother would find out that she really loved her lady more than her mom. I heard a lot of effort being made not to use the term help.
    I listened and had a very hard time sleeping that evening. Do I open my mouth and say what I am thinking or do I let i go? My mother was very ill from the time my youngest brother was two. We did live next to my Grandmother and she helped my Dad probably more than I know but as kids we stepped up and I helped with the laundry,ironing, mopping and cleaning and taking care of the younger children. No one in my realm of reality had any kind of “Help.” My Aunts and Uncles all had very large families.It was expected that the children worked in the garden, cleaned the chicken coops and on the dairy farm got up at 5am to milk the cows.My Dad worked two jobs and sometimes three. He was a teacher and earned his Master’s degree when I was a sophomore in high school. He prepared me well for cooking for large groups and his goulash and meatloaf are still two of my favorite recipes. I could go on but wanted to share just enough to show the contrast and backgrounds of our lives.
    The next morning at breakfast I spoke up. “I just wanted to share something with you about our discussion last night. Having read the book, I never had the thought that all Southerners were like the one depicted in the book. It was clear that the author was writing about Jackson, Mississippi. I remember the turmoil of the 60’s with the church burnings and murders of the civil rights workers. I also understood that this was a book of fiction. As such there were many, many generalizations and stereo types. Despite the criticisms that could be madeI think that this book is good in the fact that it has caused us to have this discussion.”
    Later that day one of the ladies came to me and asked how many siblings did I have and where in the birth order did I come. I told her 4 and first born. Then she looked at me and said, “Catholic but who helped your mother? Who did your dry cleaning? I said, yes and just laughed. I explained that I learned to iron by doing sheets and other flat work. We could not afford dry cleaning. Oh my, life is full of generalizations, prejudices and stereotypes, isn’t it?
    She then asked me more about my childhood and patted my hand in sympathy. You sure had a hard time. ” I laughed and said, “no I didn’t. It was great and I had a wonderful childhood. I didn’t know another way and knew that I was surrounded by my family and loved.” She looked astounded and I said, “you need to think about that you or I could have been born in Haiti or Mexico, that we are who we are and we need to think about walking in others’ shoes and try not to apply our reality to someone else.” We talked for awhile longer and I think it was a meaningful discussion for both of us.
    I didn’t ask the questions that I first crossed my mind. Did your lady sit at the dining room table with the family?” Did you attend the same church? Did your Dad pay social security and health benefits. Did they use your bathroom? I held back thinking that our conversation as it was had just opened the door to other possibilities, one step at a time.

    Reply
  7. you must be aware of this article in people magazine about the book http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20349017,00.html

    in any case speaking of mammy issues in popular culture an excerpt from this article

    Who better to play the wise, regal and caring Aibileen than Oprah!? With her talk show ending, she’s got a little time on her hands to make a dramatic screen comeback. It’s been 25 years since she earned an Oscar nomination for her pivotal role as Sofia in Spielberg’s 1985 film adaptation of The Color Purple.

    Reply
4 Trackbacks For This Post
  1. We Just Can’t Avoid The Help | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

    [...] of our pasts, we can start shaping our present and correcting for the future.Then I read “Ten Issues that Tarnish the Help” (complete with citations from the text) and realize that I’m going to need a big [...]

  2. My Problem With “The Help” « Imagine Today

    [...] is in the upcoming movie adaption, and (more importantly) because I had noticed quite a bit of criticism being written and linked to regarding The Help on some of my favorite blogs. I don’t like [...]

  3. A Little Book Told Me So...Bookish Advice Column | Picky Girl: I read. I teach. I blog. (pickily)

    [...] before he can get to them. Could your “friend” be somehow anti-The Help? (He/she wouldn’t be the only one.) Perhaps your friend began to feel guilty that instead of ruining your copy, he/she really should [...]

  4. Lord Help Us | Wandering in the Stacks

    [...]   It was exactly what I expected. Skeeter, a recent college grad, daughter of a wealthy cotton farmer, with a trust fund ready to help her snare a husband, is the one who brings “dignity” to the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi.    Skeeter’s complete cluelessness about the world is what crystallized this book’s problems for me. She thinks that she can drive to the black neighborhood in her Cadillac, hang out for hours, and not be noticed. She thinks she can keep her position editing the Junior League newsletter after she makes enemies with nearly everyone else in the League. She thinks that Stuart, her sometimes-boyfriend and son of the segregationist state senator, is still going to want to marry her after she tells him about her book project. AND YET. Skeeter is the one with a direct line to a senior editor at a New York Publishing House.  Skeeter puts the maids’ stories down, and works so hard editing them so they can be published. Skeeter is the one who provides a way for two young black boys to attend college. Skeeter is the one who convinces the Jackson Journal to hire Aibileen to write the Miss Myrna cleaning column after Skeeter runs off to New York. Skeeter manages to accomplish so much, despite her bumbling, one wonders how she manages. I suppose that this could be looked on as a commentary on just how disadvantaged African Americans were during the Jim Crow era. On how much institutionalized racism kept people in poverty. It could start a discussion about how oppression still continues to keep a hierarchical society firmly in place. That’s not how the book read, though. It read as though I was supposed to identify with Skeeter, and realize – “Hey, if I lived in that time, I’d be a “good” person, too!” Of course, if everyone actually behaved that way, then the world would have looked (and would look right now) much, much different. The best thing I can say about this experience was I was spared buying it or trying to get it from the library, as a friend lent it to me.   For a much more complete look at this book’s problems: I Don’t Need Kathryn Stockett’s Help Ten Issues That Tarnish “The Help” [...]

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