Welcome to the third edition of the Virtual Book Club! This month we read “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. Set in Mississippi in 1962, she shares the story of Skeeter who has just returned from University with a writing degree and her interactions with various women in her town. There is strong divide between the privileged white women who have hired the African American women to raise their children, cook and manage their homes. Skeeter is the bridge between these two groups. As I grew up on a farm in Canada and never had any kind of hired help (as a family we did it all) nor did I know of anyone who had hired help (nanny, housekeeper or farmhand) I felt that I could not do this particular topic any service as I lack experience and knowledge. Instead, I am going to write on another topic that was prevalent in the book and that is “mean girls”.
This book and the movie are what I call “a get out of your seat and applaud” at the end type of movie. The characters and dialogue are so well developed, at times heartbreaking and at other times hilarious. I particularly took a liking to the relationship between Minny Jackson and Celia Foote.
Minny originally worked for the ultimate mean girl or should I say mean woman, Hilly Holbrook. Minny is a force to be reckoned with. She is strong, quick-witted and never holds back, which often gets her in trouble.
Celia looks like Marilyn Monroe but is from a poor family and is considered white trash. She is new to town and has married Hilly’s ex, Johnny Foote, which clearly does not sit well with Hilly. While Celia desperately tries to fit in with the socialites of the town, they follow Hilly’s lead and shun Celia.
Not only does Celia not have friends, she has no experience cooking or cleaning. She feels like she is failing in her duties as a wife to her husband and this wears on her. She tries again and again to hire help, however, she is unsuccessful. Things take a turn in Celia’s favour when Hilly fires Minny and she accepts a job offer from Celia.
A friendship grows
Celia is a very friendly woman and is affectionate with everyone, including Minny. Minny is not used to this behaviour coming from a white woman and is not comfortable with it. Celia is completely unaware that she is crossing into Minny’s personal space and she simply treats Minny as she would anyone. In Celia’s mind, color does not divide them.
Their friendship grows and deepens and they share beautiful moments such as the first time Minny teaches Celia to fry chicken in Crisco. Once the chicken is ready and Minny is sitting down to eat by herself, Celia sits down with her as a friend would. Minny is taken aback, but Celia insists that they eat together.
This scene moved me so much. Two outsiders sharing food and friendship. Perhaps it is just me because I have often been on the outside alone looking in, but seeing these two finding a real friendship made my ♡ soar with joy.
Re-creating the heartwarming kitchen scene
For the reasons I described above, I loved this scene and wanted to re-create it in my greenhouse. To do this, I used a yellow tablecloth my mom embroidered when I was a young girl, so likely in the late 1960’s. As well, I ordered yellow seat cushions and hung my lace curtains.
It is a simple scene with just a small vase of flowers on a plain table between two amazing women. Two very unlikely friends finding exactly what they needed!
But what about the mean girls?
Sorry I got a little off track there but that is because their friendship and way of treating each other meant so much to me. Why so? Because it is so rare! These two women found each other because they were rejected. Rejection always feels horrible, but in this case it worked for the good. Celia learned so much from Minny and Minny found someone who valued her and cared about her no matter what her skin color was. Thank goodness a mean girl brought them together!!!
Hilly Holbrook is the prime example of a mean girl/woman and all her socialite friends are representative of every mean girl’s group of minions. I think every one of us has encountered a mean girl at one time in our life. If you haven’t, you better start asking some hard questions because you just might be the mean girl…or you had amazingly good luck!
My experience with mean girls
I met my first mean girl in elementary school and she was a friend for many years. I had no self-confidence and was the perfect minion for her as I never talked back or questioned her. That is something I regret to this day. She eventually found another girl who was just as mean and they were a terrible duo. They gossiped and criticized everyone as soon as the person walked out of the room but were sweet as pie to their faces. A lot of people thought they were lovely girls, but I knew the “behind the scenes versions” and they were far from it. I like to refer to them as the “vultures” and like vultures, they picked everyone apart, right down to their bones.
In grade 9, I met a very exuberant young woman in one of my classes and her and I got along so well. She was intelligent, happy and always saw the best in everyone. We had a lot of fun together, unfortunately the vultures did not like her. They made it clear she was not welcome. They said she laughed too much.
Since when was laughing a character flaw? Unless it was laughing at someone? She wasn’t doing that so I guess they just didn’t like her joy.
I was not strong enough to walk away from the vultures, and cross the bridge to the “other side” the “better side”. As a result, I lost a very dear friend. That loss pains me to this day.
And they turned on me too…
In grade 11, I was dating a boy and one of the vultures (vulture #2) had a mad crush on his best friend. My boyfriend, his best friend and I were going to a movie. I asked if vulture #2 could come along but the best friend did not want her to. He didn’t want to be put into the position of her getting the wrong idea as he was not interested in her.
The next day our whole group of friends went to play baseball and then went back to a friend’s home for the evening. At the baseball game, I started picking up strange vibes because everyone there was avoiding me. I had no idea what was going on. When I got to the party, the ice cold reception that greeted me was shocking.
Finally, a friend told me that vulture #2 was furious because she had not been invited to the movie. Of course, vulture #1 stood up for her and I was turned into the bad guy. Not a single person talked to me about the situation, nor did they talk to my boyfriend or his best friend. The vultures were able to turn a whole group of friends against me. Funny, how they didn’t bother to blame the best friend at all. No, it was solely my fault.
That is the power of mean girls. Especially when they are surrounded with minions and I knew the role of the minion all too well. I got what I deserved I suppose.
I walked home that night in the dark down a country rode all by myself sobbing. Fourty years later, I can remember exactly how I felt.
Knowing I did not have a single true friend.
An aha moment
After high school I lost contact with the vultures, however, I did see them many years later and they hadn’t changed a bit. Less than a minute into our conversation, they were badmouthing someone they had seen the night before. Some people never change! As I walked away from them so many thoughts and feelings came rushing over me…
I was so thankful we were no longer friends.
I was thankful I made the break when I did.
Most of all, I regretted not making the break in grade 9.
With age comes understanding
As I have grown older, I have come to realize that no matter how beautiful a person is on the outside, if they are mean on the inside that ugliness will bubble out and one day it will sting you.
I loved Constantine’s quote about ugliness – it is so true.
Mean girls often grow into mean women
I had hoped that the vultures would have grown, matured and become nicer people but that did not happen.
In the case of “The Help”, Hilly was around 22. She was not a child or a teenager. She should have grown out of the mean girl attitude by then. Unfortunately, she was the head of the women’s club and set the tone for the other women. She ruled with an iron fist and would insert herself into everyone’s life and dictate how they handled situations. For example, when Celia showed up to a women’s club bridge luncheon, Hilly told all of the women to hide. In another situation, she made her friend fire her nanny based on a lie. No one was allowed to go against Hilly and no one would dare, because she would make their life hell.
Does any of this sound like the vultures? Honestly, I think mean girls as a whole are cut from the same cloth and behave shockingly similar. Maybe this is just what “ugly on the inside” grows into?
So what do you do?
I believe it all comes down to strength and doing what is right. The main character of this book, Skeeter, is incredibly brave and does go toe to toe with Hilly. Skeeter’s mom is also instrumental in the success of putting Hilly in her well-deserved spot. Key takeaway – always have a good wing-woman by your side when taking on a mean girl!
Another important thing to do, is to teach our children not to be mean girls or mean boys. I love how Aibileen made it her mission to raise her employers’ children believing that there is good in them. Each morning she would say to the child she was looking after:
Then she would make them repeat it “I am good. I am smart. I am important.”
When a child is fed positive words, the words will grow inside them and they will become those words. What goes in, comes out and it will push out any ugliness that may be lurking inside.
“The Help” shared the story of the downtrodden suffering at the hands of the rich and powerful. Thankfully, Minny, Celia, Skeeter, and Aibilieen found strength within themselves to stand up against the mean girls. At the same time, they formed true friendships with equally good people.
The best result though was that we as readers got the wished for outcome and that was for the villain, or in this case, the mean Hilly, was exposed and taken down a notch or two all while enjoying a double serving of chocolate pie!
Let’s hear from the rest of our group
Now it is time to check on how Lynn, Erin and Cindy have interpreted the book!
To see each person’s post, just click on the title link below the photo and you will be directed to their website.
Lynn from Living Large in a Small House
Cindy from Reinvented Delaware
Erin from Erin Evolving
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