S4L Book Club – The Help

Here’s canned question #2 for The Help: 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’m not very interested in the actual questions here; I think the answers are obvious and not especially thought-provoking. If you find them more interesting, please answer them. Force me to think differently. That’s why we’re here.

What strikes me most about this is the claim that Hilly is “a wonderful mother.” Really? Did you think that? I did not. Quite the opposite, in fact. She was, perhaps, more interested in her kids than Elizabeth was in her own, but I didn’t note anything “wonderful” about her interactions with her kids. In fact, they were rarely present in the story, and when they were, she was having them looked after by The Help. Remember, Hilly invited Elizabeth to the country club pool only when Hilly’s maid had the day off. Aibileen concluded, as did I, that the invitation was motivated by a desire to have Aibileen watch Hilly’s kids in addition to Mae Mobley. She was more interested in pawning off her kids than having Elizabeth’s company. That doesn’t strike me as wonderful mothering.

I have to believe that Hilly was as demanding of her kids as she was of her Help and friends, and that she held her own wishes and needs in higher regard than those of her kids. That’s her personality, and while it might be possible to alter one’s personality in specific situations, I didn’t see any sign of that being the case with Hilly and her kids.

My thoughts drift to Elizabeth. I think we would all call her a fairly bad mother. She has little interest in or patience for Mae Mobley. Her greatest interest seems to be sewing and trying to strengthen her shaky role in society. But she provides fantastic care for Mae Mobley through Aibileen.

We wouldn’t criticize a parent for hiring out, say, an appendectomy or geometry tutoring. Is it right to criticize a parent for hiring out the raising of a child? Are we judging Elizabeth by standards that shouldn’t apply? There’s a saying, “You can’t judge history by modern standards.” I think we also shouldn’t judge different cultures by our culture’s standards.

My culture is one where parents raise their own kids and take pride in doing so. The kids’ needs come first, sometimes, I think, to a faulty degree.

Surely there can be good parenting within a culture where raising the kids is farmed out. Isn’t that the culture in the book? In that context, hiring Aibileen is great parenting, no?

But, then, there’s the matter of how Elizabeth acts toward Mae Mobley. She’s not loving or kind or patient, and, for that, I think we can fairly judge her a bad parent.

What do you think? Is Hilly a “wonderful mother”? Is she a better mother than Elizabeth?

Categories: Reading

4 replies »

  1. I’m still reading about floaty ducks, turtles, beavers and frogs so I don’t know about this yet.
    Though my husband came in and said You got mail from Alaska. 🙂 My pattern has arrived. Now if I can just finish the iguana first.

  2. Wow, that was fast! Honestly, it’s like the outgoing mail can’t wait to get out of Alaska, while the incoming mail takes its good old sweet time.

    I’m glad your prize arrived.

    Enjoy the ducks, turtles, beavers, and frogs!

  3. Hiring out and being a good mother–I think there are plenty of examples where working parents have their children in daycare, and they are still great parents. I think the daycare is merely child care, not parenting. When we hire a babysitter to go out to dinner, the babysitter isn’t taking on the role of parent…the babysitter is merely ensuring a safe environment for the kids while the parents are away.

    In like manner, daycare isn’t a replacement for parenting. Parents who utilize daycare are hoping to find a safe, caring, educational, and fun (fingers crossed for that one) place for their children to be well-cared for during their absence.

    I fully agree with your assessment of judging other cultures by the standards of one’s own.

  4. Some daycares, I know, attempt to help raise kids by teaching them good manners, life skills, and pre-school knowledge–things that stay-at-home parents would be teaching their kids.

    I often think of school and teachers as contributing to the overall raising or parenting of kids. Of course, my parents worked at a boarding school. I’m certain they helped parent students.

    As often happens, much comes down to how we define “parenting.” I think there are as many parenting styles as there are parents, and many styles can work as long as the child’s needs are met–and every child has different needs. Maybe it’s enough for Mae Mobley to have the love and patient guidance from Aibileen.