“I’m ashamed. Sometimes, Senator. Ashamed of what goes on in Mississippi.” Carlton Phelan Skeeter’s father (Pg 268)

The BrownBaggers discussed this month’s book selection “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett today, or I should say that we discussed the issues that emerged because of the book’s themes: integration and racism.  For those who may not know about this book you will find out more by going to the “Fictionophile Blog.”

Like a few reviewers some of the group felt that the stories told about the women in the book (the book is primarily about women) did not ring true.  While most of the BrownBaggers don’t come from the South, others of us could speak to the time and similar places to verify that what we read was a snapshot of real time and situations.

I remember my Tennessee grandmother’s cook Sarah cooking for our family during holidays when we visited from Western PA.  Sarah was famous for her butterscotch tarts and fried chicken, and she always fixed those things for me and my siblings.  My grandfather drove her home after our Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  As a child I wondered when she would prepare and have her family dinner.  If I didn’t already know, I would have been educated by “The Help.”

The use of dialect in the book became a focal point for discussion.  Erin Aubry Kaplan of “Ms Magazine” asked “Why must blacks speak dialect to be authentic? Why are Stockett’s white characters free of linguistic quirks that White Southerners certainly have?”  Most reviewers, however, thought the dialect went over well.  Sybil Steinberg of the “Washington Post” states that “One of Stockett’s accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue.”  In fact Celia Foote, a white woman referred to by upper class whites in the story as “white trash,” does  speak in a dialect while the African American women can easily move from “white speak” to “dialect” when the situation warrants.

Stockett does a good job of defining the characters in this book, and the era definitely comes through with events like Medgar Evans’ death related – an event that is ignored by the whites but galvanizing for the blacks.  The BrownBaggers did not get beyond the major issues mentioned above to discuss Stockett’s character development or how she presented time and place to the reader.  The other issues were too engaging and most important to us.

As Jesse Kornbluth said in her Huffington Post review:  “’The Help’ is about something.  That is, something real.  Something that matters.  Most of all, something that matters to women, who are, as it happens, America’s most dedicated readers.”  Having typed this, I must say that our 2 male attendees also seemed to enjoy the book and the discussion.

~  The Reluctant Blogger

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