Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mississippi and The Help

I just finished reading Kathryn Stockett's NY times best selling book The Help and I wanted to share with you my favorite passage. It came after the novel was over and is the author writing about Mississippi. I could relate very well to what she wrote about since I have been asked the same question from people in Ohio and Minnesota since I moved from Mississippi when I was 18.

Also, I can find myself doing the same things (minus the stiletto and the ladylike portions) when confronted with the reaction to the unveiling that I am from Mississippi. It is common place among my friends and coworkers to hear me talk about how someone (usually a professional athlete) is from Mississippi. I am showing my pride about being from Mississippi with a list of names of famous people, since it a lot easier to roll off that list then to try and describe my true feelings on Mississippi. I try not to overextend myself with pointing out the contradictions of the state. I don't want to get into why I couldn't imagine growing up anywhere else, but how when the subject of where to lives comes up I never have included Mississippi on the list. Generally I stick to defending Mississippi since the negativity people have toward the state doesn't match my viewpoint.

I am rambling a little bit now and will leave it to the pro to describe best her feelings on Mississippi.

Kathryn Stockett - page 449 - The Help

"The rash of negative accounts about Mississippi, in the movies, in the papers, on television, have made us natives a wary, defensive bunch. We are full of pride and shame, but mostly pride.

Still, I got out of there. I moved to New York City when I was twenty-four. I learned that the first question anyone asked anybody, in a town so transient, was "Where are you from?" and I'd say, "Mississippi." And then I'd wait.

To people who smiled and said, "I've heard it's beautiful down there," I'd say, "My hometown is number three in the nation for gang-related murders." To people who said, "God, you must be glad to be out of that place," I'd bristle and say, "What do you know? It's beautiful down there."

Once at a roof party, a drunk man from a rich white Metro North-train type of town asked me where I was from and I told him Mississippi. He sneered and said "I am so sorry."

I nailed down his foot with the stiletto portion of my shoe and spent the next ten minutes quietly educating him on the where-from-abouts of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Henson, Faith Hill, James Earl Jones and Craig Claiborne, the food editor and critic for The New York Times. I informed him that that Mississippi hosted the first lung transplant and the first heart transplant and that the basis of the United States legal system was developed at the University of Mississippi.

I was homesick and I'd been waiting for somebody like him.

I wasn't very genteel or ladylike, and the poor guy squirmed away and looked nervous for the rest of the party. But I couldn't help it.

Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me, unless she is their mother too."


Eric said...

My thoughts exactly when I finished reading the book...

But I can't imagine Gabie and me deciding to ever leave.

Kevin Malphurs said...

It is interesting being a Mississippian in another state...I don't know if I would recommend it or advise against it. It is just strange.

Glad to hear you read the book as well.

Do you know what high school in Jackson the author went to? In the back of my mind I always wondered who knew her and what was she like.