Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Really people? The Help?

When I'm on a plane or at a party and people ask what I do and I reply, "I'm an English professor," I get one of two reactions: either the person will start apologizing for their grammar (it's too much trouble to tell people that I'm a lit professor and really couldn't care less about their grammar) or they will ask what I'm reading.  For those of you who don't know English profs, let me clue you in a little secret: I'm rarely going to be reading anything you're remotely interested in.  (Except lately I'm reading tons of romance novels, but that's a story for another day).  The last two books I got excited about were What Was African American Literature? by Kenneth Warren (which was nonsense) and Pym, a novel by Mat Johnson (which was so so good, but probably only if you've also read Poe's Pym).  I never get around to reading the "latest" novel until everyone has moved well past it, which brings me to today's topic: The Help.

I agreed to lead a book discussion on the The Help because I'd intended to read the book anyway and I love a good book discussion.  One chapter in, though, and I want to gouge my eyes out.  You want it not to revel in tired, uncomplicated, misleading stereotypes. But how can it do anything else when it includes these unironic lines:

Fact, [Miss Leefolt] whole body be so full a sharp knobs and corners, it's no wonder she can't soothe that baby.  Babies like fat. Like to bury they face up in your armpit and go to sleep. They like big fat legs too.  That I know.
And of course she knows because she's fat black woman who has raised 17 white children.  Good lord, people, have we really not moved past this?  Am I really reading a New York Times bestseller about a mammy?

To be fair, I've only read one chapter.  Maybe it gets better.


Morgan said...

Oh you mean you haven't gotten to the part where the meddlesome white lady with a heart of gold swoops in to make life better for the (horribly stereotyped) poor black women? Yeah..it gets better that way.

P said...

Wished I could have warned you before you picked it up. The book came highly recommended from people whose judgment I cannot vouch for, and really I should have known better. Just when I thought the book would get better (i'd read the last page), I got to the author's afterword and was more furious than ever. Worse yet, I read this book while in England, and had no one to vent with, so thanks for helping me find my release AfroGeek Mom!

Erica said...

okay, I am going to go out on a limb here and, at the risk of being judged, say that one of the benefits of being away from academia is that I can now read (and often enjoy) very problematic books without feeling guilty. That is not to say that I didn't see The Help as problematic for many, many reasons and that I wasn't appalled at various points in the novel. But I did find it to be a compelling story.

Jill said...

It does not get one bit better. I'm always amazed/saddened at what becomes a best seller.

Anonymous said...

I'm also glad to read your comments here. So many people have recommended it, I read it and found some parts of the narrative compelling, some parts too painfully stereotyped to enjoy, and also found that most of the positive thoughts I had about the book flew out the window when I read the afterward, which just made me angry. Compared to it, the book seemed nuanced in its depiction of race-relations.

However, I found the relationship between Minnie and the woman whose name I can't remember who was trying to negotiate the class structure compelling. That is, even though I recognized Minnie as an architype all her own, I found the depictions of class and race intersecting interesting.

Anyway, I'll look forward to reading your thoughts after you finish the book.

-Deandra (Alison's friend; we haven't actually met, but I feel like we have. I enjoy your blog!)