“The Help”- The discussion I was afraid to have…

So my mom and I run a book club. We meet once a month and discuss the book the club has chosen. This month the book club book was “The Help”. We all met up first to catch the movie so we could include the movie adaptation in our discussion. I have to say that this book definitely drew out one of the most interesting discussions we have had since the book club started. We talked about everything from gender discrimination, racism , civil rights, parenting, and a whole myriad of other topics. However, the discussion I was too afraid to really bring up is whether or not the character of Hilly was a sympathetic character.]

Don’t get me wrong, the topic of her came up. The opinion seemed to be the same across the board, she was a good mother but a horrible person. But, I am not all that sure. I want to preface this by saying that I do not agree with her views in any way and I am in no way trying to defend her character or defend the characters of those like her, I am more or less trying to understand the reason why someone would be the way she was.

For someone who didn’t read the book, I want to make clear who Hilly really was. Hilly was your typical Stepford wife. She was the head of her ladies league, she was in control of pretty much every aspect of her life and her town, she was your prom queen, head cheerleader or whatever other girl you and your friends wanted to be like growing up. One blogger describes her as follows:

“this character never really changes throughout the book. In the first chapter she’s set up as the villain and maintains that persona throughout the novel. What she does learn is that “Johnny” (Celia’s husband. Celia is the character Stockett called a red neck in a UK interview) never fell as hard for her as she apparently did for him. If evil had a name it would be Hilly. Her character is one of the weakest in terms of character development in the novel.”

Heres where my opinion differs, while I agree that Hillys campaign to separate the races is disgusting and wrong, for her time she was actually doing what many felt was right. Reading the book from a modern day point of view it is easy to view her as pure evil because we do not agree with her. Now, we understand that we are all just people and the lines that were drawn was foolish and cruel. But at the time this book took place, many people still felt these lines were needed. Many people still felt there was a difference between the races. It may have not been cruelty in their eyes but just ignorance. We need to remember that this is how they were brought up and although what they believed was wrong, they didn’t know that. Remember, for a time many people felt the world was square, does that make those people stupid?

 

One thing we all agreed on was Hilly was a good mom. Actually, one of the only good moms in the book. Could this have been the author’s way of trying to show that even the people who were unable to see the good in the impending change could still be good people?

 

One scenario our book club vaguely glossed over was that of Yule May. Yule May was Hilly’s maid. Yule May asked for a loan and Hilly said no and her reason was, “That a true Christian don’t give in charity to those who is well and able. Say it’s kinder to let them learn to work things out themselves” Yule May ends up stealing a ring and going to jail for it. Although I wanted to hate Hilly for this I was left with a nagging question. Would I go to my boss for a loan for something so personal? And even if I would if he said no would I turn to stealing? Both answers was a definitive no for me. Although this may seem cruel what happened to Yule May I think the reader needs to remember that she was Yule May’s boss not her friend. Even though Yule May’s intentions were pure she did break the law.

The movie did a good job portraying Hilly as the villain, but movies are much more cut and dry than books. I think that while Hilly was the type of person who needed to be educated on the need for change I don’t think she was a purely evil person. I think Hilly was 100 % a product of her society and bought into all that she had learned growing up. I don’t think she saw the problem with the way things were and she was more focused on her own power and popularity that the need for change was not on her list of priorities.

So I turn to you bloggers, what did you think of the character of Hilly Holbrook, was she pure evil? If you didn’t read the book what do you think of the type of character she represents?

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18 thoughts on ““The Help”- The discussion I was afraid to have…

  1. I think it’s a difficult topic. You can go either way, yes she was a product of her generation and upbringing, but Hilly’s mother wasn’t like that, so maybe she was just her way to keep her esteemed status in her circle. I believe she was educated but educated down south. I think having lived in the south nd during that time period, she didn’t want to create any friction.

    • Good point bringing in Hillys mother to the conversation. I just wonder if maybe her mother was more ready for change than she was. I know it doesnt normally work that way but it is possible.

  2. It’s so ironic that you posted this today, because yesterday afternoon I watch an interview on You Tube with Viola Davis (who as you know, played the other maid in the movie). It was a fascinating interview with her (who btw, I think is one of the MOST talented actress of this time). She was also brilliant in the movie, “Doubt.”

    I also loved the movie, The Help.

    And as far as the character of Hilly goes (and this comes from ONLY seeing the movie), I think she was simply written as a stereo-typical, upper class southern woman at that time.

    “I think Hilly was 100 % a product of her society and bought into all that she had learned growing up. I don’t think she saw the problem with the way things were and she was more focused on her own power and popularity that the need for change was not on her list of priorities.”

    Exactly. And she was definitely written with an evil twist about her.

    One of my favorite parts of the movie though, was when she ate the shit pie.

    I was clapping my hands; watching her face and realizing what she just ate.

    And if you remember in the movie, even the her mother (portrayed by Sissy Spacek) laughed!

    I can’t say if I think she was PURELY evil. But the depiction I got from the movie was that she is someone who I would not want to be around.

    FAB post, girl!

    X

    • Oh Ronnie I love your comments as usual! The shit pie was absolutely hilarious and you are right well deserved! I highly recommend the book though it gives a more thorough perspective!

  3. I think it would have been good if you had brought this comment up at book club. I agree with you that I did not find Hilly 100% evil. I truly do not think that people are that black and white good and bad. I think someone said yesterday the world is shades of grey(hey maybe a book idea for future months!?!?).

    She was definitely a product of the times in some way. Her thinking was on par for the time and the south. She HONESTLY felt separate bathrooms were needed for reasons such as a virus and the comfort of both races. Was she right? No. Some of the thoughts and ideas she had were from people she felt had more authority and knowledge than she ie the governor. They halos gave value to her independent ideas witch gave her further belief that her ideas, ideals were right.

    Having said that, I do not think that the time Hilly was in, made her the person she was on the inside. She was still not a nice person. If you took her and dropped her into 2013 she would probably be one of those people caught bullying others for their differences. In 1692 she probably would have been one of the first people to yell, “witch” at an innocent person who pissed her off. Perhaps she would have been different with different parents and a different childhood. That is hard to say. I however agree with the person that pointed out her mother didn’t seem that way. We do not know about her father.

    Lets also not forget when we look at hilly that she was not mean just to “colored” people. She was in fact mean, vindictive, and spiteful, with skeeter a woman who was supposedly one of her best friends, and Celia. with skeeter hilly kicked her out and made others drop her like she had cooties. Skeeter was blackballed for many reason, and they go beyond the toilet incident. Hilly was cruel as well to Celia, a woman she did not really know. It is true hilly may have thought Johnny was cheating on her ( why do we as woman always blame the woman more than the man when someone cheats?)but is that, was that, the only reason for her cruelty? No! These are just two examples of her character that do not have everything to do with her acting solely based on the time period. she could have done the same today for the same reasons.

    Were some of her actions perhaps justified? Of yes! We’re all of them? No I honestly don’t think so. She was not fully “evil” or “bad” but she was definitely NOT a nice person. I do not think that can be blamed solely or even largely just on the time period. Her interactions with African Americans is one of the only things that can be based purely on the period they were in. That and her ideas about women.

    Sorry for the book! Keep writing I love to read what you have to say!

    • Hey Steph! Thanks for dropping by! I have to say that I do agree with you I just think that although she might be a “mean girl” she may not have been purely evil…shades of grey is a good way to put it.

      “Having said that, I do not think that the time Hilly was in, made her the person she was on the inside. She was still not a nice person. If you took her and dropped her into 2013 she would probably be one of those people caught bullying others for their differences. In 1692 she probably would have been one of the first people to yell, “witch” at an innocent person who pissed her off. Perhaps she would have been different with different parents and a different childhood. That is hard to say. I however agree with the person that pointed out her mother didn’t seem that way. We do not know about her father.”

      This is VERY true! She is definitely the cheerleader type personality. I just always try to see the reasons why people are the way they are and I think society really helped mold her into the type of mean girl she is.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Very thought provoking. I have not read the book but, from what you are describing, I would have to agree that, to a certain degree, she was a product of her upbringing. It takes special people to see beyond what they have been told is right and normal, to what truly should be.

  5. It is all a way of looking at the times, as now yes she is an evil douche bag but back then, no matter how wrong, it was the way things were. All depends on ones perspective.

  6. I agree with Stephanie. I think regardless of time period, she would have found someone to hate and pick on. It seemed to me (and it’s been a while since I read the book so I can’t think of specifics) that she is the kind of person who needs to push other people down to elevate her position in society. I haven’t seen the movie “Mean Girls”, but I think she would have fit right in.

    It’s a good discussion and just a thought provoking book. I remember not being able to put it down and reading it in a weekend but feeling the impact of it for quite a while.

  7. So many aspects to your blog, Shae. Love your blog and have always loved your writing. 🙂 Well said, Steph. I agree with most of Steph’s comments, thus saving some redundancy. I don’t believe that any person is molded from only nature or nurture. There is too much “reliable” evidence to the contrary. BOTH shape who we all become. In the instant of Yule May, although I do not condone stealing and I personally would not randomly do it, I can’t say for sure if I were a homeless mom with a starving child what I would do. As the old saying goes, you never know until you experience it. I would hope my morals outshone my desperation. It’s much easier to be venerable with ones self then it is when you see no other options for others in need. Do the ends justify the means? It’s an issue that has plagued mankind for eternity. As Stephany said, EVERYTHING in life is gray. Perhaps it’s our inability as humans to see this that pits us against each other. Black and white thinking in itself places us above those who are different. Oh, and Steph is too young to read 50 Shades of Grey!:)

    • Hey there Dee! I am glad somebody touched on the Yule May aspect of this! Now, I want to clarify- my issue was not that she stole- I can understand that in the scenario we all might go to extremes. However, this is one of the many parts (especially in the movie) that painted Hilly as “evil”. My question is if you were Hilly (the boss) would you have handled the scenario differently? I can’t honestly say that I would.

  8. I read the book and saw the movie. Hilly was a rough character to like but I certainly do understand (and agree with) much of what you said. Some people come around to things easier than others. Hilly was one to need quite a few extra pushes. Like at the end when Skeeter’s mother tells her to get her raggedy ass off her porch. LOL

    p.s. I finally managed to post the answers to your questions!

    • Hi Mary!! So excited to read the answers to the questions 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and adding to this discussion. I do love that ending part- as much as I am trying to see things from Hilly’s perspective you are right she needed that extra push and that was pretty funny however I dont remember it going down quite that way in the book…

  9. Wow…I’ve not read it. Nor have I seen the movie. But what a fun discussion. I say you go back and have it.
    Yes we find ourselves repeating patterns out of habit, ignorance and a desire for acceptance. But yes, in each of us resides the ability to go outside of those things and BE all that we are.
    Fear seems to be the popular excuse for living less than all that we are.

    • I love that last comment you made: “Fear seems to be the popular excuse for living less than all that we are.” I think this is so true. If we do not understand something or we are afraid of it for some reason we box ourselves off and refuse to allow ourselves to grow. This is is a sad excuse and can really hinder our judgment. Hilly is such a good example of this. She is afraid of that which she doesnt understand so she hides in made up facts to keep herself sheltered.

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