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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Help

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Help:

This book has a kazillion ratings and reviews so I doubt there is little I can add. I found the story and dialog to be quite believable. As someone who came of age during the sixties I well remember the battles, both physical and verbal, between the “separate-but-equal” crowd and those pushing hard for civil rights.  We lived in a suburb of Philadelphia and my mother had a lady come in once a week to do the cleaning. I happened to be home from school one day - it must have been a holiday or something - and at lunch I took my bowl of soup and crackers into the dining room with my book (reading, not TV, is the foundation of anti-social behavior) while my mother and the cleaning lady (it still is irksome to use that term) ate in the kitchen. My mother later told me the lady said it was the first time she had ever sat at the same table to eat something with a white woman.  (My mother had issues of her own, but they had more to do with educational elitism than race per se, witness her early antipathy to our adoption of several mixed-race children whom she perceived to be a less than stellar intellect. This was in the early seventies when cross-racial adoption was still a rarity.)

Much as I despise religion, I have to give it credit for providing the impetus (at least in the north, but also in some churches in the south) for the civil rights movement.  It was distinctly a religious crusade, fostered by the National of Islam under Elijah Mohammed (the so-called Black Muslims,) some Catholic priests like the Berrigans (much to the dismay of their bishops) and many Protestant ministers. Bombings of churches could only lend more credibility to the marchers.

I was attending a Quaker school and remember hearing stories about one family in the Meeting that adamantly refused to permit letting blacks into the Meeting. This was in the fifties. Since Quakers have to do everything by consensus, they could essential block black membership. The issue remained unresolved until the family saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall and moved away.

I read many of the reviews and comments on Amazon and was struck by a couple who thought the book demeaned black maids. I found just the contrary, that if any group was degraded, it was the clique of white girls who, with only a few exceptions, didn’t do anything of worth and cared mostly for clothes, boyfriends, and whether a black ass had sat on their white toilet seat. Some African American readers felt the black maids were demeaned by the book. I find many of these comments quite interesting because I don't think the book is about black maids at all.  I think it's about a vapid white culture that is concerned with appearances and boys, and make-up and whether their precious behinds will be soiled by sitting on a toilet that might have been used by a black person.  For me, the book ridiculed that white culture and showed how one person made an attempt to cross over and understand the other culture's point of view, but it remains the perception of the white culture at the time so by necessity, the view of black dialect and actions must be a flawed one.

I loved the scene where Abilene is trying to potty-train Mae Mobley and is in a quandary because the child needs to see how adults do it, yet Abilene is terrified to use the bathroom in the white house rather than the colored one built for her in the garage.  So she shows her the colored one which  Mae Mobley Leefolt then wants to use all the time, to her white mother’s horror.

Yes, there are some anachronistic events, yes, the dialect seems forced sometimes.  So what. Outstanding book that reveals the tensions of being black and a decadent and dying white culture in the United States during a period of cultural upheaval.

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