Friday, July 23, 2010

TH ~ second set of questions

1.  Who was your favorite character?  Why?

2.  What do you think motivated Hilly?

3.  How much of a person's character do you think is shaped by the times in which they live?

4.  Do you think Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?

5.  Do you think racism is inherent or taught?

6.  What did you think about Minny's pie for Miss Hilly?  Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

TH ~ first set of questions

1.  When Minny was 14 years old, her Mama gave her some advice (pp. 38-39). Using my highly condensed version here, do you think (so far) that Minny is following Mama's advice?
Rule Number One ... white people are not your friends. ...
Rule Number Two ... don't you ever let that White Lady find you sitting on her toilet. ...
Rule Number Three ... when you're cooking white people's food, you taste it with a different spoon. ...
Rule Number Four ... use the same cup, same fork, same plate every day. ...
Rule Number Five ... you eat in the kitchen.
Rule Number Six ... you don't hit on her children. ...
Rule Number Seven ... No sass-mouthing.
2.  Did you pick up on all the ways Crisco can be used?  We could learn a thing or two from Minny, who, early in the book, tried to teach Miss Celia to cook.  Share something you learned from Minny's list of ways to use Crisco (pp. 43-44).

3.  Why did Skeeter's mother object to her college degree (pp. 55-56)?

4.  Newspaper want ads used to seperate Help Wanted: Female from Help Wanted: Male.  Skeeter read under the "female" ads:  "Trim, young secretary wanted.  Typing not nec.  Call Mr. Sanders" (p. 58).  Skeeter wonders, "Jesus, if he doesn't want her to type, what does he want her to do?"  Under the "male" column, Skeeter notices that "Percy & Gray, LP, is offering Jr. Stenographers fifty cents more an hour" (p. 59).  Do you remember those days?  Or have you heard an older person talk about what it was like?

The Help ~ book discussion for July

The Help ~ by Kathryn Stockett was published in 2009.
Skeeter, 22 years old, has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss.  She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger.  Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child.  Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way.  She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi.  She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job.  Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation.  But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that puts them all at risk.  Why?  Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times.  And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Women's Stories

Lisa See's Shanghai Girls is not only itself a story about two women - sisters Pearl and May - but also a testament to the power of women's stories.

Early in the book, Pearl and May draw strength, as they flee from war-torn Shanghai, from their mother's story about the moon sisters. Mama had, in turn, listened to and learned from her own mother's stories.

As the novel nears its conclusion, Pearl, as the book's narrator, reaffirms the significance of women telling one another their stories:
So often we're told that women's stories are unimportant. After all, what does it matter what happens in the main room, in the kitchen, or in the bedroom? Who cares about the relationships between mother, daughter, and sister? A baby's illness, the sorrows and pains of childbirth, keeping the family together during war, poverty, or even in the best of days are considered small and insignificant compared with the stories of men, who fight against nature to grow their crops, who wage battles to secure their homelands, who struggle to look inward in search of the perfect man. We're told that men are strong and brave, but I think women know how to endure, accept defeat, and bear physical and mental agony much better than men. ...

If we hear that women's stories are insignificant, then we're also told that good things always come in pairs and bad things happen in threes. ... The Louie family's tragedies arrive in a long and devastating cascade like a waterfall, like a dam burst open, like a tidal wave that breaks, destroys, and then pulls the evidence back to sea. Our men try to act strong, but it is May, Yen-yen, Joy, and I who must steady them and help them bear their pain, anguish, and shame. [pages 228-229]

When I reached the final words of the novel, I found myself hoping to hear more about Pearl's life, her destiny, as well as that of her daughter Joy. I want to know more of these women's stories.