Discussion questions for "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett created by Julie, a Tosa Book Club member. We freely share our discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.
- Aibileen reflects on how the outside appearance of Miss Leefolt as a loving mother does not parallel her actions toward Mae Mobley in the privacy of the Leefolt home. According to Aibileen, family secrets like this are known only by the help. Do you think that knowing these secrets makes the help vulnerable or powerful? Why?
- In Chapter One after the bridge game ends Skeeter seeks out Aibileen because of Hilly's conversation about the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. Skeeter asks Aibileen if she wishes she could change things. At the time, Aibileen thinks that it is one of the stupidest questions she has ever heard. As the events in the book unfold, how does Aibileen's point of view change?
- Minny and Aibileen are very different—Minny is younger and spirited, Aibileen is older and more reserved—yet, they have a strong friendship. How do these differences help them in their friendship?
- Aibileen says she has a bitter seed growing in her chest ever since her son Treelore died. Her reaction to things that trouble her is to push them down inside. Eventually she agrees to collaborate with Skeeter on the book. How does the book help Aibileen release this bitter seed?
- Skeeter seems naive about the danger she places herself and the maids into while writing the book. Do you think she is blinded by her ambitions or genuinely unaware of the risks she is taking?
- Aibileen prefers to work for families with young children before they "start to think that colored folks ain't as good as whites." Skeeter finds "nigger book" scrawled in purple crayon on the library's copy of "Frederick Douglass, an American Slave." Discuss the impact that adults have on their children to develop intolerance toward others. What kinds of bigotry are still being taught to children today?
- Minny wonders how Miss Celia got so far in life without knowing where 'the lines are drawn." How does Celia's behavior contribute to her becoming a social outcast? Discuss Minny and Celia's relationship. Do you consider it a friendship?
- Aibileen tells Skeeter that if the truth about the book comes out there will be terrible consequences. She says, "A white lady do things different than a white man." How does a white woman exert her power over people in this book? Do you think it is just as vicious as a man?
- How does Yule May's imprisonment affect the black community? Why is it the catalyst that drives the maids to agree to talk to Skeeter?
- As the maids reveal their stories to Skeeter, she says that what surprises her most is "the dichotomy of love and disdain living side-by-side." What are some examples of this in the book? How does the racist culture contribute to this polarity?
- Charlotte, Skeeter's mother, keeps many important truths hidden from Skeeter. Why does she hide the truth about Constantine? Why does she hide the truth about her health?
- There are many examples of troubled mother-daughter relationships in the book. Discuss Miss Walters and Hilly's relationship. Why do you think Miss Walter's bought Hilly the pie at the auction?
- What was your reaction when Minny revealed the "Terrible Awful" to Celia? The next day Celia chops down the mimosa tree. Why does she finally choose to chop down the mimosa and what does it represent to her?
- Discuss Stuart and Skeeter's relationship. Was their first date a hint of Stuart's character? Why did Skeeter choose to ignore many of his flaws? Were you surprised that Stuart took back the ring when Skeeter revealed the truth about what she was writing.
- Aibileen receives a "signed" copy of her book from the church. Aibileen is sad when she thinks about how different the white community would react to Skeeter if they knew she wrote the book. What reaction would the white community have toward Skeeter?
- What do you think happens to Aibileen and Skeeter in their new lives?
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The Help is Kathryn Stockett's debut novel. It has been favored by the critics as a highly readable and accurate portrayal of life in Jackson, Mississippi during the early civil rights movement. Toby Clements at The Telegraph says of The Help, “Each of the many relationships between the large cast of characters is perfectly captured, and there is a layer after layer of irony....but most impressive—and attractive—is the blend of rage and humor with which she writes and that is what makes this novel at once so horrifying and yet so savagely funny.” While most critics have hailed the novel as a success, some have criticized Stockett for her use of outdated dialect. Janet Maslin from the New York Times, said, “The trouble on the pages of Skeeter's book is nothing compared with the trouble Ms. Stockett's real book risks getting into. Here is a debut novel by a Southern-born white author who renders black maid's voices thick, dated dialect.” However, Janet Maslin praises the novel later on in the same review, saying that Aibileen's and Minnie's voices “leap off the page in all their warm, three-dimensional glory.”
Heller McAlpin at the Christian Science Monitor says of The Help, “By addressing not just the injustices but the inexplicable love' that flourishes between servants and their employees, 'The Help' arouses both admiration and indignation.”
The consensus among critics is that The Help is an accurate and highly readable novel set in the south in 1962, accurately portraying the lives of black maids and the white women who employed them.