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Essay Topics For The Book The Help

Help (Stockett)

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Discussion Questions
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?

11. What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title:The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Page Count: 534
Genre: Historical fiction
Tone: Moving, fast-paced, uplifting

 

 

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

1. Who were the heroes of The Help? Why?

2. What characters did you feel most connected to? Why?

3. Were there moments in The Help where you despised a character? Why? When? Are there any characters in The Help who have no redeeming qualities?

4. Who is Hilly? Do you think she is a good friend? What about a good employer? Do you think she is a good mother? Can the reader connect to Hilly? Why or why not?

5. Who is Elizabeth? Do you think she is a good friend? Is she a good employer? Do you think she is a good mother? Can the reader connect to Elizabeth? Why or why not?

6. Does Skeeter want to get married? Who does she find to marry? Do you think it is a good match?

7. What is the outcome of Skeeter and Stuart’s relationship? Why? What was Skeeter’s reaction?

8. Aibileen takes care of Mae Mobley. Do you think the child and Aibileen would have remained close as Mae aged? Do you think Mae would’ve become a racist like her mother? Can you be racist and still care for someone? Is that right or wrong? Is racism a nature or nurture character trait?

9. What was Minny’s revenge against Miss Hilly? Do you think this was right or wrong? Would you have taken revenge this far?

10. Stockett uses dialect when writing her African American characters. What did this add to the story? Did you ever find it hard to read or distracting? Can you think of other good books that use heavy dialect?

11. Did the Caucasian characters speak in dialect? Why or why not? Do you think this is problematic?

12. Racism is an obvious prejudice in The Help. Are any characters discriminated against for other reasons?

13. Do you feel as if Celia’s struggle is equal to Aibileen or Minny’s struggle? Why or why not?

14. Did it surprise you to find out that The Help was written by a Southern, white woman? What was your reaction to learning the author’s heritage?

15. The Help received rave reviews and became a best seller, but it also received negative reviews. What are some reasons that people might not like this book?

16. Some of the negative reviews mentioned that Stockett never truly got inside Aibileen and Minny’s heads. Do you think this is true?

17. Some critics of The Help believe the book to suffer from the “white savior complex”. This is a plot device where a Caucasian character becomes the benevolent benefactor of “helpless” persons of color. For example, think about movies like Avatar, The Blind Side, and Freedom Writers.

•    Critics state that these films are not about justice, they are about having an emotional experience that validates privilege. What does that mean? Does that connect back to The Help?
•    In addition, “…these films capitalize on the stories of people of color, yet instead of telling the film through their eyes, they are presented as stories of the white people who help them.” How is that problematic? Do you see this happening in The Help?

18. Do you think Kathryn Stockett is a good writer? Why or why not? Do you understand why The Help was so wildly popular?

19. Does racism still exist today? In what forms? How can we combat it?

20. What other novels would you recommend that strongly deal with racism? What is the benefit of reading a novel on such a heavy issue?

 

Other Resources

Penguin publisher website for The Help
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
CliffsNotes on The Help
Interview with Katie Couric
Interview with Southern Living

 

If you liked The Help, try…

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Space Between Us by Thrity N.

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