(Editor’s Note: I am revealing major plot points in the my very first paragraph and throughout this discussion!)
I thought “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett, was an excellent book, and I loved reading it even though it was painful in many parts. I cried my way through the second half of the book weeping upon learning that Constantine gave up her daughter (and her daughter crying out for her mother to come back for her!! Can you imagine?) and when Abileene had to leave Mae Mobley. Abilene was the only loving “mother” that child had.
Someone commented when we proposed the book that it didn’t have anything to with motherhood but now after reading the book I completely disagree. I think the relationships between the maids and the children and the mothers to their daughters definitely qualify it for the mom blog. Obviously race relations play a huge part of the book and did influence how the children were raised.
I loved learning how the maids did their work (I could use some housekeeping lessons.) and what was for dinner – I want that caramel cake. I liked Abileene’s wisdom “Babies like fat.” I agree or at least I just want to believe that. I saw three big themes for discussion:
1. Maids raising the kids
2. Mothers and daughters
3. Race relations
1. Maids raising the kids– It’s amazing that the white ladies didn’t think the maids were good enough to use their toilets but thought it was perfectly fine for them to raise their children.
The maids were like stay-at-home moms. They cooked and cleaned, did the grocery shopping, made the dinners, and kept the house on track. Meanwhile, they were also supposed to entertain the children. I think nannies now a days don’t have all the other chores attached – they are just caring for the kids and really isn’t that hard enough.
It is a dangerous line to cross when the child starts loving the caregiver as the parent but it happened frequently in the past and I’m sure even now.
“By the time she a year old Mae Mobley following me around everwhere I go. Five o’clock would come round and she’d be hanging on my Dr. Scholl shoe, dragging over the floor, crying like I weren’t never coming back. Miss LeeFolt, she’d narrow up her eyes at me like I done something wrong, unhitch that crying baby off my foot. I reckon that’s the risk you run letting somebody else raise your chillums.”
I would be heartbroken if my baby loved somebody else more than me. It would hurt terrible if they counted on someone else to take care of them. Why didn’t Mae Mobley’s mother want to take care of her? She wasn’t heading off to work. She was playing cards and hanging out with her racist friends.
I think similar attachments happen now with nannies. The popular book “The Nanny Diaries” looked a lot at how the children got attached to the nannies and if they got fired or left the child did not understand..
I loved how Abileene was trying so hard to make sure that Mae Mobley was colorblind. She truly wanted her to know that everyone was equal – a lesson she would never have gotten from her parents.
I loved how Abileene was trying to boost Mae Mobley’s fragile little ego. She wanted her to know she had worth even when her mother was critical of her. I tell my kids all the time in passing they are smart, they are beautiful and they are special but when we have quiet time and I’m laying down with them in bed I make them look me in the eye and I tell you them “You know we love you. You know we will always love you no matter what. You know you are smart. You are blessed. You are a good boy/girl.”
Michael’s mother died when he was in college but she always used to tell him “Don’t let anybody tell you they are better than you.” His mother grew up poor in the Philippines but she wanted him to know that he was just as good as everyone else and that has stuck with him!
2. Mothers and their daughters:
You saw Mae Mobley and her mother 20 years later in Skeeter and her mother. It really made me think about picking at Rose about dumb things – like hair or clothes. It’s just not worth making your kid feel like crap and have them anticipate you picking at them. It made me think of how Alexis Stewart describes her relationship with her mother Martha Stewart. She told a story once on her radio show about her mother editing the letters she sent home from camp and sending them back to her corrected.
Skeeter still wanted to take care of her mother when she was sick and she didn’t want to disappoint her. But she didn’t want to live like her and I think that’s a lesson that applies even today. They are not us and aren’t going to make the same choices we made.
Why are mother daughter relationships so tough? Do you think mothers are more contentious with their daughters than their sons? Is it a competition thing?
3. The Race relations – There’s so much ground to cover with the race relations and not all of it relevant to a mom blog discussion. Even though I was born in the 1970s and saw the KKK growing up in Georgia, it’s still hard to imagine the world like this. I can’t imagine teaching your children to hate anyone or teaching them that someone is less than they are.
It was painful for me to read about the children turning on the maids after they were grown. I can’t imagine loving and caring for those babies and then all of a sudden them thinking they are better than you.
I was also very fascinated seeing Minny with her own children. We didn’t have Minny working in a house with children so we couldn’t directly compare Minny’s white children to her black children. But it was interesting to see her interact with her children, how her home was organized, how the kids who were working dropped the others off, what she made for their dinners compared to what she was making for Celia.
Poor Minny’s kids will have other scars than racism – remembering their father beat their mother.
The part about Skeeter wanting to thank Constantine made me think about us thanking our own mothers more often!
Worst moments in the book for me?
I know that the blinding of the boy for using the whites only bathroom and the Medgar Evers getting shot was awful, but I just wept over Constantine giving up her child and the child crying for her not to leave her!! And then Abiliene having to leave Mae Mobley was terrible. What will Mae Mobley do with out her? Will she be OK? Will she grow up to be hateful? Will she remember her special time with Abilene? Will she remember Abilene’s special stories?
Lilina was sleeping next to me in bed when I read the end and I felt as though someone took her out of my arms and away from me. It literally made my heart hurt!
OK so what did you think of the book? Tell me your thoughts on my three sections:
1. Maids raising the kids
2. Mothers and daughters
3. Race relations
Also feel free to throw out parts of the book that really affected you or made you think? Also throw out your own questions from the book.