THE HELP By Kathryn Stockett – Discussion

This week I read “The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I’ve been wanting to read it ever since Kristen posted her review. Since I feel that most people have already read this book by now, I decided it might be fun to start a discussion. I took some questions from the author’s website and have given my answers for each one. Please copy the questions into the comments field and fill in your own answers!

1. Who was your favorite character? Why?

My favorite character was Aibileen. There was so much to love about her. For starters she not only saw the beauty in others, but wanted them to feel it too. I loved how she was always making Mae Mobley say that was a kind girl and a smart girl when everyone else was always putting her down. I thought Hilly was pure evil, but Aibileen was able to find good in her when she observed the way she treated her children. Another thing that endeared me to Aibileen was how all her friends were trying to get on her ‘prayer’ list because she was meant to be on the VIP list with God. That reminded me of my grandmother.

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

I think fear and hatred motivated Hilly. If she honestly believed that African American people carried different diseases and needed separate bathrooms, separate places to put their food, etc, then why would she let an African American woman raise her children? I don’t feel she believed these things at all but was filled with so much hatred that she used those reasons as excuses. I think anybody can be a good mother, but that doesn’t make you a good person.

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?

I felt like Skeeter’s mother was Hilly mixed with Elizabeth. She critiqued Skeeter all the time (Like Elizabeth to Mae), but was more affectionate and a but more sympathetic. However, overall,I found her to be an unsympathetic character. Her treatment towards Constantine was unforgivable and she was not supportive of Skeeter.

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


A huge portion. People are fearful of change and they trust what they know – even if it’s wrong. It’s easy for me to look down my nose at Hilly for example, but who knows what I would have been like in the same situation. I’d like to think I would be nothing like Hilly and the girls, but I am also over 40 years in the future living in California so who knows what I would have been like?

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

YES. I kept waiting for Skeeter to ask Stuart his political views to see she he was a suitable match, but she was willing to marry him no matter what! Stuart could have felt the same way on matters as Hilly, but that didn’t seem to bother her. Why?


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


Yes, she had been jilted so many times I thought it was more than justified. Especially since back in Mississippi during those times you’d be killed for telling your stories to white people like she did. She had 6 children, and job she needed to keep and was risking her life to tell a white girl her stories. She was more than justified to not trust Skeeter and Celia.

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?

Mae Mobley was constantly being put down by her mother so it’s hard to say how she would have come out. Would she have always clung to Aibileen and continued to believe that Aibileen was “more right” than her teachers and mother? Or would a day have come when Mae would have wanted the acceptance of her mother and friends and acted as they did? I feel like racism is a choice, and as a white person in Jackson, Mississippi during that time maybe it was the easier choice to make. I like to think that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be like Skeeter and would have had a mind of her own.

8. From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac 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?

Tanning beds! I think my children will laugh when they see pics of my teenage self looking orange.

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?

Yes. To me Aibileen was the embodiment of wisdom, calm, and grace.

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 parents who put away their valuable jewelry before their nanny comes? Paradoxically, they trust the person to look after their child but not their diamond rings?

I haven’t had any experience with this. What do you think?

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

I thought it was extremely funny but disgusting at the same time. I would NOT have gone as far as Minny but only because I would have never had the guts to. Minny was such a lovely character in my opinion. I’ve met several women similar to her in my time. Women that are tougher than nails but secretly have a heart of gold and are always looking out for their friends. I also loved when Minny discovered the check Ceila had written out to Hilly that said “For Two-Slice Hilly”.

Here are the questions to copy/paste into the comments section:

1. Who was your favorite character? Why?

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

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?

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

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

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

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?

8. From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac 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?

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?

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 parents who put away their valuable jewelry before their nanny comes? Paradoxically, they trust the person to look after their child but not their diamond rings?

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

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  • http://www.daemonsbooks.com Kristen

    1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
    My favorite character was Aibileen too (Skeeter is a close second). Aibileen just seemed to come to life from the pages of the book. I just want to sit in her kitchen and listen to all her stories.

    2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?
    I agree with you that Hilly is motivated by fear and hatred. I also think she gets off on being so self-righteous. She thinks she’s morally superior to everyone, which makes her feel better about herself. As for being a good mother, I just don’t know. She’s so spiteful, I’d hate to see what would happen when her children get older and disagree with her on something.

    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?
    I feel like Skeeter’s mom isn’t motivated by hatred, just fear of what other people think of her. She’s all about appearances, which is why she’s always nagging poor Skeeter to straighten her hair and find a husband. For someone like that, being embarrassed in front of all her friends is just about the worst thing that can happen and that’s what Constantine’s daughter did. I also think she’s a little jealous of the close relationship between Skeeter and Constantine. I felt a little bit of sympathy for her–unlike Hilly who I just plain hated–but she was so mean to Constantine and it’s hard to forgive that.

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

    This is a really good question and something I thought about a lot while reading The Help. I agree that the answer is a huge portion. I really, really hope I would have been more like Skeeter, but I guess you never know unless you’ve been in that situation.

    5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and that it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?
    Yes, it bothered me too. I think she saw him as an opportunity to be more like her friends and make her mother happy when she should have been asking herself if he would make her happy.