Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Help: Discussion Questions

**WARNING** May contain spoilers!! If you haven't read the book-- you might want to wait to read my answers!

1. Who was your favorite character? Why?

This is a tough question! I really liked all of the 3 main characters for different reasons. Even the characters I didn't "like" were very well developed and written. Skeeter might be my MOST favorite character. She was viewed by her friends as awkward, brainy, and reserved. But in reality, she was more confident and courageous than any of them could ever dream of being. Just goes to show how little some people really get to know their "friends."

I think some of my favorite Abileen moments occurred with Mae Mobely. I loved the stories of "Martian Luther King" and how she was always telling MM that she is special and smart. Having taught kids that have grown up in homes like MM's, I know how important these few words can be. I often have students too, who have been brought up in moderately racist homes-- so teaching the Civil Rights era is often eye-opening for some of them. Can I change all of their minds? No. But I do try to make it clear that this is a choice that THEY get to make. This is not one of the things parents can decide for you.

2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On one hand she’s so unpleasant to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes she can’t control her. But she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think you can be a good mother but at the same time a deeply flawed person?

I think overall Hilly is a miserable person. I think she is probably in a marriage that she doesn't really want to be in. Perhaps she never got over Johnny ditching her, and just grabbed the first available "appropriate" spouse-- maybe to make Johnny jealous? She is having kids because that is what is EXPECTED. It helps her keep this "perfect" image. This of course is completely opposite of the route that Skeeter takes. And I view Skeeter as a much happier person-- even though she has to deal with all of Hilly's nonsense.

Yes, I do think a person can be a good mother (or parent) but be deeply flawed. Again, as a teacher, I see this all the time. Unfortunately, these parents tend to teach their children (often through example) to be just like them. And of course, it can work the other way too-- be an amazing person, and a lousy parent.

3. Like Hilly, Skeeter’s mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic. She seems to care for Skeeter – and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine. Yet the ultimatum she gives to Constantine is untenable. And most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical. Do you think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Why?

Again, I think she is just doing what is expected of her by society. Unlike Hilly, I don't think she is in a miserable marriage, nor do I think she had children just because she was expected to. But I think she maybe sees Skeeter and is a bit envious of what she is going to be able to do with her life. Instead of being a housewife/ mom, Skeeter can move to the big city and get  a job and be her own person.

Her mother certainly becomes more sympathetic when diagnosed with cancer. But I also think she becomes more who she really is, or rather SHOWS Skeeter more who she is during this time. She seems to become less critical-- maybe because she is just so exhausted, or maybe because she wants Skeeter to see how she really is/ feels. Through all of her silly ways, you can see she just wants the best for Skeeter and for both of her kids to be happy.

4. How much of a person’s character do you think is shaped by the times in which they live?

I think a LOT. Most people do not want to be viewed as different or radical. It is human nature to want to be accepted by others. Luckily we do get the rare people who not only THINK something different, but they try to DO something about it. And I don't just mean opinionated people that always speak their minds-- those people are usually just all talk. I mean the people that risk it all-- career, reputation, even their life to try to make a difference- to try to make society better.

The Civil Rights era brought MANY examples of this- both good and bad. Of course we have Martin Luther King, Jr. but we also had the other side-- governors of these southern states, police chiefs in these towns (like Bull Connor)... I always try to remember that without these "bad" (though I choose to say they are uneducated and ignorant) people, the "good" (educated and brave) people could never have achieved what they did. I very much believe in fate-- everything happens for a reason. Sadly this era brought forth many tragic and seemingly senseless deaths-- MLK of course, but also lesser known african americans and also white "freedom fighters" such as Rev. Jonathan Daniels.

5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?

Not really. First of all, even if he had stayed, I don't think it would ever have worked out. Secondly, her mother lay upstairs dying-- I think Skeeter wanted to do SOMETHING to make her mother's last days happy and give her some hope.

6. Do you think Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?

Well, sure! Think of everything she had seen growing up in the deep south. For all the good relationships she might have seen, they were totally overshadowed by the horrible things. And how many times do you think she was lied to through the years-- and lied ABOUT! Sometimes I think that is worse. Lie to me, not good but ok-- lie ABOUT me to others and oh! It's ON!

7. Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?

I totally think Mae Mobley would NOT have been racist-- and I choose to think that because of all that Abileen did for and with Mae Mobley, she STILL won't be racist.

I firmly believe racism is taught. Children hear their parents making racial slurs, telling racist jokes, and making overall negative generalizations about another race. Children look up to and model their parents (and other important adults in their lives). Children are taught to think that their parents know best and are always right. As I said above, I have many student raised in racist environments, and these kids are often SHOCKED when they see videoes and pictures from the Civil Rights era. "How could people treat other humans that way?!" This is usually a response to physical and violent abuse they see. But they are often just as appalled by the verbal abuse. Ironically, this is the same they have grown up with at home.

8. From the perspective of a 21st century reader, the hair shellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?

HMMmmmm... I guess when I first started highlighting my hair, it was still the pull-through- the-cap method-- which was insanely painful! Nowadays it's the foil method, which really does look ridiculous. I often sit at the salon on color days, looking around at all of us ladies in our aluminum best and wonder, "If an alien walked in, or even a person from a third world country, WHAT would they think?!"

9. The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?

Abileen tends to keep her thoughts INSIDE her head (instead of OUT of her mouth like Minny). Even Skeeter is expressing her thoughts-- mainly through writing, but even verbally at some points. Abileen appears resigned to her life- at least to people like Elizabeth and Hilly-- but little do they know!

It's like the old saying about always being  aware of the quiet ones!

10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white? Have you heard stories of someone who put away their valuable jewelry before their nanny comes – so they trust this person to look after their child, but not their diamond rings?

Oh sure! And there is still plenty of just old-fashioned racism in the south. Nationally I think a lot of racism, and behavior like mentioned in this question, are focused more on hispanics. Unfortuanately it is hard to trust ANYONE in today's world-- but there are just as many "nice respectable" white folks that do things just as bad as the minorities.

11. What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?

Well, I despised Hilly as a person, so I think the pie was HILARIOUS! Would I ever go that far-- no. I am not nearly as brave as Minny!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Discussion Questions for "The Help"

Yes, I am finally getting around to this!!! I kept promising and telling Ms. SDub that I would get on this... Then in true Justy fashion I would forget. So here I go... Please forgive any spelling and grammatical errors!

Which character do you feel you are most like? Why?
Woo-wee!! This one was so hard for me. I really had to do some comparing and contrasting and here is what I have come up with. I feel I am a combonation of Aibileen and Ms. Celia. Forgive me if my explanation is long winded. It is hard to put into words why I chose these two characters. Let me begin with Ms. Celia. She is described as somewhat of a ditzy blonde that can't do anything domestic. I don't feel this side of her is what I relate to. The side of Ms. Celia I can relate to is her longing to "fit in". She desperately wants to be a part of Ms. Hilly's circle. She offers to help with the Junior League Banquet... She calls everyday... Now the reason I can relate to this is because of where I work. Let me explain. I work with some of the BEST teachers in the state. I truly mean that. I have been in several schools and I have never encountered a group that cares about teaching and learning like our staff does. Here is my thing though. These ladies have all lived in the same town together, many went to high school together, some even went to college together. They all know each other and their families. I came into this town as a "transplant". I am at a disadvantage simply because I didn't grow up there and do not know many people outside of who I work with. There are many days where I just want to "fit in". Does this make sense???? These girls go out together, have dinner together, go to concerts, etc. I have mentioned that I would like to do things with them but it just hasn't ever really happened. Now, don't misunderstand me. This is not intended to be a pity post at all!!!!! This is just how I feel I can relate to Ms. Celia just wanting to belong somewhere. I hope that makes sense??? Like I said it's hard for me to put it into words!!

Whew!! That took alot for me to write that out. I'm not a good writer and it's hard for me to make sure the words I am typing convey my feelings properly. UGH! I need to work on this! I will come back later and write about Ms. Aibileen.

Happy Reading!!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I only have 38 more pages of The Help! (I know-- you are thinking, "Well, it's ABOUT time!") I had to force myself to stop reading at 11:30 last night when it became clear that I would not be out of school for snow. I am DYING to finish it up! I have enjoyed it all along-- but man! It really gets GOOD during these last 100 pages!

And Oh, Minny! Love her!

SO-- I WILL be done tonight! And I will be answering my discussion questions SOON!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I didn't read The Time Traveller's Wife, so I cannot compare this one to it the way so many other reviewers have. That being said, I don't know why everyone is so upset that it is not like the first book-- why should it be? Different story, different characters... just different.

I liked this one pretty well. It is strange, and a bit convoluded and far-fetched in places... but overall I think it is written well. The ending leaves you hanging, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But I don't really feel that all the characters were fully developed, making the ending somewhat weak.

I listened to this one, didn't actually READ it. The narrator was good, character voices were not ridiculous, etc...

I would recommend this one for anyone that likes (a) this author- again, this is all of hers that I have read, (b) ghosts-- there's a lot in this one, (c) stories that take place in London/ England, (d) the relationship between twins.

My rating: *** 

For Those That Have Read THE HELP...

Which character do you feel you are most like? Why?

I would like to think that I am most like Skeeter... brave, intelligent, accepting... I really like this character-- one thing that draws me to her, and this may seem kind of a silly reason, is that her name is Eugenia. This was my mom's name-- certainly not common. And she reminds me of my mom in some ways-- she is very smart, doesn't care so much what others think, more nerdy than fashionable.

But she also knows what she believes and how she feels, and she doesn't let her silly,shallow friends change her opinion. (We all have friends like these, don't we?) And we always get to a point where we think, "WHY am I friends with this person?" Of course the question may REALLY be, "AM I really friends with this person?"

Looking forward to hearing what you think...

I'm still chugging along! On page 303 now!