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Selection Info & Discussion Guides

The Help: a Novel
By Kathryn Stockett

In the year 1962, Jackson, Mississippi, is home to three very different women. Aibileen, a black maid - devoted, loving, and wise - moves continually from family to family, raising and caring for white children until the racial prejudice of the family seeps into their impressionable minds and hearts. She raises her seventeenth white child, Mae Mobley, as the little girl's mother, consumed with appearance and reputation, turns a cold shoulder to her daughter's need for motherly affection. Aibileen's best friend, Minny Jackson, finds work as a maid for the mysterious Celia Foote, after losing her other job to her short temper and sassy mouth. Skeeter Phelan, recently graduated from Ole Miss, dreams of more for her life than her mother's domestic and marital expectations. An aspiring writer, Skeeter questions the racial prejudice of her small-town community - a place where roles are accepted. Status is unquestioned. Race is definitive. But some rules are made to be broken - at least those dividing the people of Jackson, Mississippi, and Skeeter has an idea. But to make it work, she will need...help.

With extraordinary style and skill, author Kathryn Stockett weaves a dramatic, emotional story. In the turbulent setting of the South, at the pinnacle of the civil rights movement, one revolutionary idea will draw the lives of three very different women together in a timeless, moving tale of change, courage, friendship, hope, and love.


Discussion Questions

Publisher's Discussion Guide



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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