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Nov
13

Mother-tween book club showdown: THE HELP VS. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

On the heels of our first mother-tween meeting on “To Kill A Mockinbird,” my daughter suggested we read “The Help.” It seemed like a logical choice, since both books deal with civil rights and with deep-seeded racism in the Southern states.

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My daughter finished “The Help” and announced, “Mom, this book is awesome!  It’s even better than To Kill a Mockingbird!”  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I really liked The Help, and I’m even looking forward to seeing the movie.  I thought it was well written, and even moving at times. BUT can it even come close to competing with the Pulitzer prize-winning, modern classic To Kill a Mockingbird?  I don’t think so!

On the other hand, as soon as that question was out of my mouth I began to wonder how I was going to argue in favour of To Kill a Mockingbird. Is a prize-winning or “classic” book automatically better, simply because other people have deemed it so? I think that T.K.A.M. is of a higher literary caliber, but perhaps I am biased by its stature in American literature.

The Help had some good plot twists, and honestly I couldn’t put it down.  Most of the characters were very well developed, and I especially enjoyed the contradictions within the personalities of  Celia Foote and Minny.  I thought that Kathryn Stockett wonderfully recreated the values and culture that informed the daily lives of the maids and their bosses.  Like Harper Lee, Stockett is a White woman from the south.  The book has been extremely popular so far, but will it become a timeless classic like To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Let me try and put my finger on why T.K.A.M. is actually a better book, and not just because someone says so. Unlike The Help, which has one central  theme running throughout, To Kill has several themes interwoven.  The book is about much more than racism in the south.  It’s also about the magic of childhood, and about the loss of innocence.  It’s about the love between a father and his children.  It’s also about the justice system, and the value of law for society and for the individual.  This is also the story of a hero, of one man who had the courage to fight for what was just. Harper Lee subtly weaves the themes together, without “in your face” moralistic preachings.  There are some beautiful passages that are part of  the quotable American lit. cannon.   In contrast, The Help did not contain much in the way of beautiful poetic passages.  On occasion, the messages were not subtle enough and on the preachy side.

I don’t know if my argument will fly with my daughter.  Maybe she’s right after all, and I’m just being a literary snob. Maybe  The Help will have its place as a modern classic.  What do you think? Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” at the top of the post.

We’ll be going for dinner and a movie next week to discuss.  I’ll keep you posted!

 

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