S4L Book Club – The Help

I like to read reviews of books after I’ve read the book. I like to see if I agree or disagree with the review, if that reader noticed things I didn’t or had a different take on them. It’s one of the ways I help myself think more about what I read. It’s like having one of you lead discussions: ideas are presented to me, rather than generated by me, and I respond. It’s this interaction of ideas that leads to thinking.

I came across this line in a review of The Help: The book is worth reading if for no other reason than the reminder that popularity and public opinion are bondage. It stopped me in my reading tracks. It’s not a new idea, but in this context, perhaps because of the word “bondage,” it seemed significant. At the very least, it’s something I want to think more about.

In terms of the book, I think every character can be called a slave to popularity and public opinion. Hilly has to work hard to maintain her place. Elizabeth and Celia can’t seem to alter their positions no matter how hard they try: they’ve been labeled, and they’re stuck with those labels.

In fact, Celia is kind of a slave to Minny’s opinion—or public opinion as Minny interprets it. Celia doesn’t seem to see herself as above Minny. Rather, she recognizes and acknowledges some of Minny’s strengths and abilities as superior to her own. She likes and respects Minny and wants to be her friend. But Minny won’t have it, even though she doesn’t disagree that her abilities are often superior. She refuses to accept a place on equal ground with her employer, even when it’s offered. I’d say she holds herself above her white employer.

Do you agree? What other ways are popularity and public opinion conveyed as bondage?

By some measures, I think I walked away from popularity and public opinion a long time ago by choosing this life I live, but my work is often slave to them. Is a writer/needleworker/designer successful if public opinion doesn’t favor her work? Can she earn a living if her work isn’t popular? Trying to make a living with my creative output means that it is judged publicly. There’s no way around that. If I want to make money, I have to produce things the public wants and deems valuable enough to exchange money for.

If I’m honest, having my work and income be a slave to popularity and public opinion bothers me greatly, but I can’t deny or ignore the fact that it is.

In what ways do you feel the bondage of popularity and public opinion?

Categories: Reading

2 replies »

  1. It has been forever since I read the book (and I can’t find my copy), and the movie is more recent in my mind. Toward the end of the movie, there is a scene where Minny meets Johnny, and he tells her he knew Celia had help…they go in the house together and Celia has prepared a feast of all the things she has learned to cook…Minny sits down and Celia serves her – did this happen in the book? Because in this instance, it seems Minny was able to change and accept a different kind of relationship with Celia than she had ever had with previous employers.

    I feel like Hilly really believes in what she’s doing, for ex. that the help need separate toilets, whereas I think Elizabeth may not necessarily believe this, but she’s so held hostage to what Hilly thinks, that she goes along with it. I think Celia and Skeeter are a little different – I don’t think either of them is as concerned with what others think, but they suffer nonetheless – Celia because the other women judge her and won’t let her be a part of their group, and she really just wants some friends; Skeeter because she not like the rest of her friends in that she graduated, wants a career, isn’t married, and isn’t afraid to try and make a difference.

    This has been a really interesting question…I’ve been mulling it over since it was posted!

  2. No, that’s not the way Minny met Johnny in the book, and the whole serving Minny thing was only in the movie. That’s another change I didn’t like–it way too easily, conveniently, and tidily ties up and snips off that complex thread.

    Do you think Hilly actually believes the blacks carry different diseases, as she or someone claims, or do you think she really believes it’s necessary to keep blacks oppressed so she can continue in the lifestyle she likes? I guess maybe she believes simply that the lifestyle she grew up with is the only proper way. Maybe she’s on auto-pilot and not thinking too much about anything; she merely wants to continue in the lifestyle she knows and is comfortable in.

    It’s funny–and pathetic, I think–how I sometimes can’t think beyond my own perspective. I’m trying to think like Hilly. To be sincere in those thoughts. It’s HARD!