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Cynique

A Review of "The Help"

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I hung in there and finally finished reading “The Help”. Whew! This is a 451-page novel which revolves around a way of life that harks back to ante-bellum times, and it was written by a latter-day southern belle named Kathryn Sockett.

The book begins back in 1963 down in the deep south, and is set against the historic back drop of the festering civil rights movement. Its story line relies heavily on the observations of 2 housekeepers who have consented to help a young white woman achieve her goal of recording the experiences of 12 black servants for the purpose of cobbling their recollections into a book.

What is most compelling about this excursion into Mississippi’s Jim Crow culture is the humble and humiliating demeanor that black domestics had to maintain in order to make a living working in the homes of their frivolous white mistresses. And what goes on between these black maids and their genteel white employers inspires not only amazement but anger as incidences of charity and cruelty are detailed.

Further engaging the reader’s interest are the problems that beset the personal lives of the sympathetic protagonist and her black cohorts. These sub-plots add to the book’s poignant overtones, but the author could’ve done a better job of developing her characters and their relationships. There were also distracting inconsistencies in her portrayals of the black women involved in the project. The book's ending is abrupt, but even though a lot is left to the imagination, it does conclude on a satisfactory note.

As an authentic, sometimes humorous look at the preserved lifestyle of a bygone era, “The Help” earns my recommendation mostly because it was sobering to be reminded how 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, below the Mason-Dixon line, black domestics were still treated like slaves. Some of the occurrences revealed are straight out of “Gone With The Wind“, replete with mammy figures. And they are all testaments to the absurdity of racist southern customs.

What further impressed me about this best-seller was that it provided a graphic illustration of how the black experience differs from location to location. Back in 1963, the small town life I and many others were leading in Illinois bore no resemblance to how things were in these little post-civil war communities of Mississippi. And even, unto this day, these contrasts have been influential in creating the schisms which exist among America’s black population.

I give “The Help” 3 out of a possible 5 stars.

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Glad to know you hung in there and completed the book. The end is no surprise nor is the treatment Black domestics experienced either. Before we beat the war drums about the oppressive south - my greataunt and grandmother did days work and probably knew live-in domestics in Massachusetts during the same time period and the treatment was not very different. Since I have become a neo-native southern I have to admit that cracker is crackers is crackers and matzo. The vertical relationship between employer and employee was vile because the employers made it that way -- I would like to read it - however, I will have to be in a winter-wonderland before that happens. Should you chose to vicariously experience more - check of Living In, Living Out by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis and the experience of domestics in Washington DC - still below the M-D line but upper southern and of-so proper??

Soulful Sister

aka - soul sister -- this new system has me buggin'

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I have no desire to live "vicariously" through anything as demeaning as being a domestic to Miz Anne. And I certainly have no desire to move down south like you apparently did, Soulful Sister. BTW, I'm sure Hispanic immigrants are going through these same experiences today. Domestics of any race are subjected to the whims and insensitivity to their employers. It comes with the territory.

None of this, however, neutralizes the irony of how the black experience differs from location to location. As I have previously mentioned, back in the early 1950s when I was a student at the University of Illinois and lived in the newly-integrated womens' residence halls, the year before a defiant Rosa Parks was arrested, me and my black dorm-mates, who elected to all eat our meals at the same table when we sat down to dinner in the dining room, were served by white waiters and waitresses, who were working their way through college - and who seemed to have no problem with catering to us. People have expressed skepticism about this, but it is true, and it is what it is. An AKA soror was also elected homecoming queen during that era. I dropped out of the U. of I. after 2 years and I have been reminded by others who followed, that things changed on campus when racial tensions began to surface. But this was my black experience and who is to say it is not authentic?

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I have no desire to live "vicariously" through anything as demeaning as being a domestic to Miz Anne. And I certainly have no desire to move down south like you apparently did, Soulful Sister. BTW, I'm sure Hispanic immigrants are going through these same experiences today. Domestics of any race are subjected to the whims and insensitivity to their employers. It comes with the territory.

None of this, however, neutralizes the irony of how the black experience differs from location to location. As I have previously mentioned, back in the early 1950s when I was a student at the University of Illinois and lived in the newly-integrated womens' residence halls, the year before a defiant Rosa Parks was arrested, me and my black dorm-mates, who elected to all eat our meals at the same table when we sat down to dinner in the dining room, were served by white waiters and waitresses, who were working their way through college - and who seemed to have no problem with catering to us. People have expressed skepticism about this, but it is true, and it is what it is. An AKA soror was also elected homecoming queen during that era. I dropped out of the U. of I. after 2 years and I have been reminded by others who followed, that things changed on campus when racial tensions began to surface. But this was my black experience and who is to say it is not authentic?

I feel you Ms Cynique ! I rated it a 3 also.

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Thanks for the response - I am unsure if my skin is growing thin in my old age - or was there some venom to the reply post? I believe we are saying the same thing although your college experience pre-dates mine and I attended an HBCU instead of a PWI - being from Massachusetts all of my schooling was the "minority" experience couched within liberal-mindedness - whatever that is suppose to mean. My college experience post-School Daze.

The intention of original post was to indite white supremacy universally - which I believe we agree on - and the working class experience is doubly oppressive - and for those non-natives triply oppressive - even those who are English speaking. My statement about living vicariously -- was intended to cause a feeling of empathy and pride for those working women - my female ancestors - whose sacrifices resulted in my being able to acquire a doctorate.

Just thought I would clear the air - for my peace of mind and possibly greater clarity - should you decide to respond.

Soulful Sister

aka - soul sister - because of the new interface to post -

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Before we beat the war drums about the oppressive south - my greataunt and grandmother did days work and probably knew live-in domestics in Massachusetts during the same time period and the treatment was not very different

(I beg to differ--I doubt if domestics in the north were threatened with violence or loss of job for voting or other innocent activities. I doubt if a domestic in the north worried that her son might be killed for whilstling at the white employer or mother or daughter. I doubt if getting uppity with the boss would earn a visit from nightriders eager to straighten him or her out.

Why you think we's all up here, anyway? Cuz we like frostbite?

Life in the south was awful--if it was so wonderful there wouldn't have been so many of us up here--I am here because my great grandfather had to leave town on the first thing smoking for getting into it with his foreman at the sawmill--he had to leave, right away, with what was on his back and SEND for his family. I never heard of anybody leaving Massachusetts and sending for his family after getting into it with his employer.

I know people these days are reluctant to talk about it. Do some reading of history.)

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Talk about overkill. I wouldn't inject the word "venom" into my response to you, Soulful sister. That would be like me characterizing as "contemptuous" your rejection of my implication that the south is more guilty than the north of degrading their domestic workers. BTW, Doctor, the word is spelled "indict", not "indite". ;-)

I agree, Chrishayden, that the racism in the North was never as blatant as it was in the South.

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It is clear to me now - you have "chip" on your shoulder. No prob - clearly justified from your pedigree - with your ancestors fleeing a violent south. What I attempted to explain is that the overt violence and covert forms of oppression are the same - Your lovely state of Illinois had King frightened for his southern born life during the 1960s. Ethnic whites are a different creature than domestic ones and throughout the north - Caanan land did not magically appear. It could be reason why there is a reverse migration happening with some Boomers, Gen-Xers and such. Don't sleep on the Bay state the busing in the 1970s showed the true nature of ethnic whites - and more recently in the 1990s an African student wandered into the wrong neighborhood in Charlestown Boston and was beaten and is blind as a result. So the "safety" of the north is relative - there are parts of New England where you best not be without cause - and white escort - as Henry "Skip" Gates.

I believe that southern culture is the most "American" form there is - the food, folkways, and history are so intertwined that you have the white and Black Jacksons from Alabama who can trace their roots back to a particular community - no doubt. Not an amicable relationship but one stretching back at least a century.

The tussle between the bad and worst of being Black in America to me is a moot issue. Especially since my immigrant ancestors were fleeing equally unjust treatment experienced in the Caribbean.

Lastly, I appreciate the energy you bring to the board - and I have enjoyed chatting with you - funny that you read The Help at all. What are you reading now??

Peace

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Are you addressing your comments to me, or Chrishayden? I ask this because I never made any reference to my kin folk fleeing the south because of southern persecution. And your "chip-on-the-shoulder" accusation, like your previous use of the word "venom" when responding to my comments, appear to be an indication that anybody whose thinking doesn't parallel yours will subjected to your paranoid-tinged judgments. You admitted to possibly being thin-skinned but it's more like being self-righteous in that you seem incapable of considering that see you what you want to see and subsequently overreact. (Just thought I'd match you by using a couple of descriptive opinions of my own.)

All your vaunted defense of the south, complete with your anecdotal proof indicting the north, does is to specify what you assumed I already know. And, indeed, I am aware that racism is wide-spread and institutionalized. But I still don't buy your suggestion, that it was just as bad in the north as it was in the south. There were, after all, hundreds of white Northerners who marched side by side with MLK through the hostile neighborhoods in Chicago. And back in 1963, federal workers like me needed only to pass the civil service exam to be paid the same wages as Whites. Also, it was that good old "yankee know-how" that won the civil war, not the arrogance of southern traditions.And, in the present how many rebel flag-waving states went for Obama??

The whole thrust of my argument, however, was how the black experience differs from location to location. Like my experiences at the University of Illinois, my tenure working for the U.S. Post office were atypical in that the black workers who dominated and controlled this work force in my area practiced discrimination against the white workers who were in the minority. And you can't obscure that with a lot of emotional subtefuge. Having said that, soulful sister, I appreciate your civility and informative responses and since you have discerned that I am cynical, I trust you will suck it in and keep on truckin. Next book on my agenda is "Oprah".

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Interesting review. i was on the fence about rewading it. It got such tremendous review but it did not seem like a story that would interest me...

Cynique so you are going to read Oprah. Self hating Negro in training y'all LOL! That just made me think about your self-hating negro post (I read but did not have time to comment on). I thought I was gonna be burned in effagy just for posting Oprha's book on the web site. Cynique for your own safety don't read the book in public :-)

Soulful. How come you could not use your original moniker? At anyrate, I have to say I'd take my chances, pre-civil right, in the north realtive to the south -- any day of the week. I have no meaningful memory precivil rights, but I've read about it and seen the pictures. There was not a lot of "strange friut" up north....

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Good Day All,

Nothing like a little tussle during the humdrum of spring. Thanks for the exchange -- erryone.

I do not think Oprah is self-hating - here I go again. I think she is a business woman who knows her market - soccer mom's and liberals who want to ignore reality and sup from the table of fluff. Than again Kitty Kelly is sumptin - she put Ronald Reagan on blast and that was no joke - from the Irish mafia to channeling spirits of the dead. I am reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

I did not realize the dreadful impact Regan had on federal legislation and the exponential growth of prisons - which Bush 1 and Clinton continued. I am now in the Clinton era and that cracker - whoa boy did he do some stuff - elevating Blacks to high govt office while the underclass are shuffled off into jails with a one strike rule. This whole issue of post-racialism is not a black white thing - it is a green no green thing - those with paper and those without. Moreover, the federal courts are relaxing the rules on the 4th amendment and opening the floodgates for potential wide spread suspicion.

Lastly, Troy I cannot explain what happened to my original moniker and registration - so I have a new one for the meantime - I might try the old name - who knows. Are you doing BEA this year?? I was hoping to make it - haven't registered and would like to pop in at least for the exhibit hall -- if not enjoy.

Peace

Soulful

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It is clear to me now - you have "chip" on your shoulder. No prob - clearly justified from your pedigree - with your ancestors fleeing a violent south

(I could not figure out what you were talking about--since ALL our ancestors, who were not transported up here or fled up here from slavery, were fleeing a violent south--figured that you were a person probably born about the 70's or 80's or thereafter and you weren't even around here now and you don't know and your family didn't tell you and then you post the following...)

Especially since my immigrant ancestors were fleeing equally unjust treatment experienced in the Caribbean)

(One of those, eh? Come up here to show us how to take advantage of this, because we don't know what to do and how to do it in this paradise. Likely married to or involved with a white person.

Let me just tell you, you don't know what you are talking about when you are trying to equate the treatment of blacks in the north to that in the south. Not at all. You are talking about what you read and me and Cynique can talk about what we saw and what happened to us--and I only got the tail end of it since I was born in 1950.

No, I will not be able to convince you at all of anything since you probably think you are smarter and better than native born African Americans.

White folks will have to do that. Some of our most fireeating racial politicians have been people like you--Stokeley Carmichael, Malcolm X's mother--

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Hey Soulful I'll be at BEA http://runt.it/2010bea We are actually hosting a party as well. You'll find a link at the end of the page.

The self hatred thing was intended for Cynique. It is a running joke. I've been labling her and other folks who do something counter to the generally accepted practices of Black American i.e. not worship Obama or Oprah, and have anything good to say about Condi Rice, or Clarence Thomas. wink.gif

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