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Chapter 1 Summary
Aibileen lost her son, Treelore, when he was twenty-four years old. He had plans to get married and was writing a book about being a black man living and working in Mississippi when he slipped and fell at work and got run over by a tractor-trailer that did not see him lying on the ground. It took Aibileen five months to get herself out of bed and put on her white uniform and gold cross necklace so she could go serve Mrs. Elizabeth Leefolt (“Miss” Leefolt), a scrawny twenty-three-year-old lady who has just had a baby girl named Mae Mobley. Something in Aibileen is different now, though; something has changed. She does not “feel so accepting anymore.”
From the beginning, Mae Mobley is a cranky baby for her mother, though Aibileen has no trouble at all with the child. Miss Leefolt is not an engaged mother; she is ill-equipped and disinterested in raising her own child, though she shows signs of jealousy when her daughter prefers the servant. Every fourth Wednesday of the month is bridge club for Miss Leefolt, and there is a routine preparation of the house as well as the food. The house is small, with only two bathrooms, and it is evident to Aibileen that the Leefolts are not rich.
The bridge club includes three other women: “Miss” Hilly Holbrook and her mother, “Miss” Walter, as well as “Miss” Skeeter Phelan. Miss Hilly lives only ten feet from the Leefolts but drives to bridge club; she is selfish and a bit greedy, and she is not nice to her mother. Miss Hilly is a woman who dresses well and is clearly the woman in charge. Miss Walter has a bit of palsy and eats very little. Miss Skeeter is tall, thin, does not quite know how to dress, and has the appearance of shyness; she and Miss Hilly are about the same age as Miss Leefolt.
After Aibileen has served the women and seen to Mae Mobley, she continues her chores within earshot of the white ladies. They begin by discussing the rudeness of Miss Walter’s maid, Minny, who happens to be a fantastic cook with a bad attitude, according to them. That maid also happens to be Aibileen’s best friend, and she determines to call Minny and tell her that Miss Hilly is not happy with her performance. The bridge club’s conversation then moves to the issue of bathrooms. Miss Hilly is appalled at the idea of using the same bathroom as “the help” and claims it is “dangerous.” She...
(The entire section is 678 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Jackson, Mississippi, has a population of 200,000. Six days a week, Aibileen crosses the Woodrow Wilson Bridge by bus to the neighborhood called Belhaven, where Miss Leefolt and her white friends live. The white people have plenty of room in which to sprawl; the colored part of town has nowhere to grow. Since it cannot spread out, that part of town “just gets thicker.” The bus that afternoon carries nothing but colored maids going back home at the end of their workdays. Minny is regaling everyone with the story of Miss Walters, “her white lady,” whom she found standing naked on her front porch. When the others call the woman crazy, Minny defends Miss Walters—no one can make fun except her. When Aibileen tells her what she heard that afternoon, Minny gets angry and Aibileen thinks perhaps she should have kept her mouth shut.
Several mornings later, Aibileen arrives at the Leefolts’ home and sees an old lumber truck with two workers in it sitting in front of the house. They are here to build a bathroom. The Leefolts are arguing. Mr. Leefolt tells his wife the idea is ridiculous, they cannot afford it, and they do not take orders from Hilly Holbrook. When Mae Mobley enters the kitchen in the silence after her father’s outburst, he bends down to her and tells his daughter she will not be going to college so her mother’s friends do not have to use the same bathroom as the maid; then he slams the door as he leaves.
The child is upset because she thinks she has done something wrong, but Aibileen keeps her from crying. Miss Leefolt complains that Mae Mobley has gotten out of bed three times this morning already, and Aibileen tells her it is because the child needs changing. Miss Leefolt had not noticed. As she takes the little girl to change her diaper, Aibileen is furious at the careless mother who had not thought to change her daughter’s diaper since eight o’clock last night, though she is careful not to let her anger show to Mae Mobley.
Aibileen earns $172 a month working for the Leefolts. After paying all her bills, she has a mere $13.50 left each month for groceries, getting her hair done, clothing, and tithing to the church. And now the bus has gone up to fifteen cents a ride. Minny calls her this evening and tells her Miss Hilly is sending Miss Walters to a nursing home and she is now out of a job. Aibileen is not surprised, unfortunately, because having a...
(The entire section is 1257 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
As she stands on the back porch of a country mansion, Minny Jackson is determined to keep her mouth shut, to do whatever it takes to get this job. A woman who resembles Marilyn Monroe answers the door and introduces herself as Celia Rae Foote. She is covered in flour from her hair to her false eyelashes to her “tacky pink pantsuit.” Inside, the kitchen is in even worse shape.
Miss Celia explains that she is not very good in the kitchen. Minny has to bite her tongue to refrain from making a sarcastic comment. Miss Celia is twenty-two or twenty-three (ten or fifteen years Minny’s junior) and is wearing no shoes. This makes her a “fool” in Minny’s eyes, someone from way in the country, “like some kind of white trash.” She wears more makeup than most other white ladies and has more bosom than most; she is skinny and Minny hopes the woman is an “eater” since she is a “cooker.” Miss Celia just smiles and washes her hands in her sink full of dishes before offering her a seat and something cold to drink. Now Minny knows for sure that something “funny” is going on here.
Three days ago when Miss Celia called, Minny thought the woman must be crazy or stupid to want her despite the stories of theft—and now this. Minny has never had a white woman offer to serve her, so she tells Miss Celia perhaps they should tour the house first. It is a huge, old Confederate general’s home and is filled with antiques. Miss Celia is from Sugar Ditch, Mississippi (a place known as being the poorest of the poor, even for white folks), and she would rather have everything done in white with gold trim, but her mother-in-law will not let her redecorate. It is Miss Celia’s first time to hire a maid (which is obvious to Minny), and she called Minny because Miss Walters gave her such a positive recommendation, especially because of her wonderful cooking.
The house is enormous, with five bedrooms and five bathrooms plus a pool and a poolhouse. Minny is thrilled at how much money she will likely earn, and she is not afraid to work. Miss Celia opens a closet the size of Minny’s living room in which she keeps all the family silver, and Minny is suddenly afraid she will be confronted with the rumors of her stealing a silver candelabra. Instead, Miss Celia apologetically shows her the high windows. Back in the kitchen, Miss Celia is convinced Minny will not take the job because the...
(The entire section is 1228 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Minny spends her first week at Miss Celia’s scrubbing the house until there is nothing left to scrub it with; the second week she scrubs it again because “it’s like the dirt grew back.” The third week Minny is satisfied and begins to settle into a routine. Miss Celia always seems surprised that Minny comes back every day, and Minny enjoys the quiet. (It is unlike her house, which contains five kids, a husband, and neighbors.) Each day has its task, and since there are no children to tend to, there is time every day for a cooking lesson with Miss Celia. These are the only times she rouses herself from her bed. Every few days she sneaks up to the second floor for five minutes (where there should have been children, according to Minny) to visit the “creepy rooms.” The only time Miss Celia leaves the house is to get her hair trimmed and frosted, but that has only happened once in the three weeks Minny has been there. Minny is thirty-six years old and knows she cannot ask, but she desperately wonders what her employer is so afraid of outside her house.
Every week Minny reminds Miss Celia of how many days are left before she has to tell her husband about having a maid, and both of them get more nervous about it by the day. Miss Celia is a terrible cook, but Minny needs her to learn so she can explain Minny’s presence in their home. One day Miss Celia asks Minny if she is happy. She says she is and tells Miss Celia she has got to be happy with all she has too. Normally Minny would enjoy bossing a white woman around, but there is something in Miss Celia’s eyes that causes Minny to speculate about her employer’s circumstances. Miss Celia must have noticed the suspicion and explains that she often has nightmares about having to return to Sugar Ditch, which is why she sleeps so much during the day. Minny does not believe her but gives her a “stupid smile.” Miss Celia always tells Minny to leave a smudge on the glass when she cleans the mirror or leave at least one dirty dish in the sink—to make it “believable.” Minny does her best to comply, though it is difficult for her to do so.
One day Miss Celia explains what she would like to do with some of the flowers and plants in the yard, and Minny is surprised to learn that her employer used to tend flowers back in Sugar Ditch. When Minny tells her to go work on the plants and get some fresh air, Miss Celia sighs and says she...
(The entire section is 808 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Skeeter is driving her mother’s Cadillac too fast on a gravel road, but she does not care that she is damaging the car as she thinks about what Hilly said to her today during bridge club. She, Elizabeth, and Hilly have been friends since elementary school, and they were close. At Ole Miss, she and Hilly were roommates until Hilly left to get married. But today Hilly threatened to kick Skeeter out of the League. Skeeter does not care so much about the League; she is hurt because her friend is willing to cast her aside so easily.
Skeeter pulls into the lane of Longleaf, her family’s cotton plantation, and slows down so her mother will not see how fast she has been driving. When she goes inside, the conversation between Eugenia (Skeeter) and her mother is typical: all of Eugenia’s friends from college have jobs and husbands but she has neither—and her dress is dirty. Telling her mother she wants to be a writer will only bring on more of the same, so Skeeter does not tell her; nor does she tell her about the boy in college who broke her heart. One time when Skeeter told her mother she wanted to use some of her trust fund money to get her own apartment, her mother had cried “real tears” and took to her bed. Now her mother is looking at her as if she does not understand a thing about her. When her mother begins once again to talk about how to find a husband, Skeeter kicks off her shoes and walks out the front door—her mother’s warnings about ringworm and mosquito encephalitis wafting behind her. She has been here for the three months since graduation, and she feels as if she is in a place where she no longer belongs.
Her older brother nicknamed her “Skeeter” when she was born because she looked like a mosquito with her long legs and skinny body. Her mother has spent her entire life trying to convince people to call her Eugenia—without success. “Mrs. Charlotte Boudreau Cantrelle Phelan does not like nicknames.” In her teen years, Skeeter was tall—too tall, according to her petite mother. The five-foot-eleven girl has a twenty-five thousand dollar trust fund (from cotton) to entice men who are more concerned about money than beauty.
Skeeter’s childhood attic room is adorned like a white wedding cake, and it is still her sanctuary. The only thing she never liked about her room was that the slanted stairs were a separation between her and Constantine....
(The entire section is 1306 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
One hot September morning, Skeeter treks to the mailbox at the end of their drive and finds a letter addressed to Miss Eugenia Phelan. It is from the senior editor at Harper & Row Publishers, Elaine Stein. She tells Skeeter she is impressed at her ambition at wanting to work for such a prestigious company with absolutely no experience. She recommends that Skeeter take whatever job she can find at her local newspaper and, in her free time, write about anything that disturbs her—“particularly if it bothers no one else.” Underneath the typed letter is a handwritten note offering to look at her writing and give her advice because someone once did the same for her. Skeeter runs back to the house and is immediately inspired to begin typing a list of things she finds disturbing. After she mails the letter the next day, she realizes she probably wrote things she thought the editor would like more than injustices that truly interest her.
Two days after she received the letter, Skeeter enters the door to the Jackson Journal building for an appointment with Mr. Golden. When she called, she said she was interested in any available position and was surprised at how quickly they asked to see her. The receptionist is less than professional, and Mr. Golden looks in every way like a small, mean man. After Skeeter hands him her resume and sample articles from school, Mr. Golden edits her work with a red pencil as they talk. In between making “violent red marks” on her work and telling her she should have had more fun at college, Mr. Golden tells her he guesses “she’ll do.” He hands her a thick file of papers and tells her Miss Myrna has gone crazy; all Skeeter has to do is write the answers like she does and no one will know the difference. Confused, Skeeter has no idea who Miss Myrna is and asks the only question she can think to ask—how much the job pays. He tells her eight dollars a week. She is still dazed at it all, but Mr. Gordon thinks she is holding out for more money and increases the amount to ten dollars. He will give her nothing if he does not like her writing style, and copy is due on Thursdays. Skeeter has just gotten her first job.
Her mother is less than pleased (which confirms Skeeter’s instinct that she should not have told her about it) and asks Skeeter how she will manage to give advice about cleaning when she has never done it herself. She adds that...
(The entire section is 1402 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
It is the middle of October, and in the mornings the toilet seat in Aibileen’s bathroom gives her a start when she sits down. There is no cross-through to the garage, so she must go outside to use the bathroom even in the cold weather. Aibileen is sitting on the back steps eating her lunch when Mae Mobley joins her with her half-eaten hamburger. The little girl would rather be out here with the maid than inside with her mother, who looks at everything in the room but her. Aibileen thinks about other children she has raised and is satisfied they have “grown up fine.”
Miss Leefolt begins hollering for Mae Mobley to get back in her high chair and complaining that her friends’ children are all better behaved; then the phone rings and her attention is diverted from her daughter. The little girl has a look of consternation on her face, and when Aibileen asks what is wrong, she says, “Mae Mo bad.” This breaks the woman’s heart, and she tells Mae Mobley she is a smart girl and a kind girl—and she says it until the child repeats it back to her. Aibileen wonders what would happen if she told the girl something good about her every day. She is going to try it.
It is time to potty train Mae Mobley. Aibileen has done this many times before. The key is for the parent to model the behavior for the children so Aibileen can get them to do it consistently. Miss Leefolt has adamantly refused to let her daughter into the bathroom with her; now it has become apparent that the maid is going to have to be the one to show her how it is done. She takes the child out to the garage. Aibileen does what she must quickly and without allowing the child to see much, but Mae Mobley is amazed and immediately wants to “tee-tee” herself. For the rest of the day, she goes tee-tee in the toilet.
When Miss Leefolt comes home, Aibileen proudly tells her about her daughter’s accomplishment. Miss Leefolt hugs Mae Mobley and tells her how proud she is of her—though Aibileen knows she is mostly relieved that she will not have to change diapers anymore. When Aibileen tries to get her to go one more time before she leaves, the girl turns stubborn and refuses. Before Aibileen can get her diaper back on, Mae Mobley runs to the bathroom in the garage, which infuriates her mother. She slaps the child hard on the back of her legs more than once, telling her this is a dirty place and she did not raise...
(The entire section is 1497 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Three weeks ago, Miss Skeeter got a phone call from Elaine Stein, the editor from New York. She took the call in the pantry, a place she always used to go for privacy. Skeeter had sent her idea for a book to Miss Stein, telling her she already had one working and respected maid who has agreed to talk to her—which was, of course, a lie. Skeeter explained that everyone has heard the white woman’s point of view about having black maids, but no one talks about the fact that these black maids raised children who then, ironically, grew up to hire them. Miss Stein called to tell her the idea had merit, but she used to live in Atlanta and doubted any black women in Mississippi would be willing to talk of such things in such racially charged times. Skeeter insists that it can be done. Miss Stein tells her the idea is good but there is “no possible way to take it to print.” In the end, she agrees to read whatever Skeeter sends her and let her know if it is worth pursuing.
When Skeeter goes to Elizabeth’s house, she brings an old, worn-out satchel that belonged to her grandmother but matches nothing she owns. The Miss Myrna letters are in it. Hilly reminds her of her date’s arrival in two weeks, and Aibileen greets her quietly. It has been a week since Skeeter’s visit to Aibileen’s house. As they work quietly on new Miss Myrna questions, Skeeter pulls out an envelope and tries to give it to Aibileen. She tells the maid she wants to pay her for her help, but Aibileen will not take it. She recognizes it as a bribe and tells her to find someone else to talk to about her book idea. She begs her to put the envelope away in case Miss Leefolt comes in and sees it. Skeeter really has set aside five dollars from each article and has been waiting until the amount was substantial enough to give it to Aibileen, but she realizes now her timing was poor and they are worse off than they were before. She may have scared her away for good.
Mrs. Phelan corners Skeeter in the kitchen and tries to “fix” the only thing about which she can do something—her daughter’s hair. She applies a bunch of goop on her daughter’s head, rubs it in, covers it with a plastic cap, and attaches a hose from the cap to the Magic Soft & Silky Shinalator. She sits for two hours, smoking, reading, and thinking about the past week. Skeeter kept hoping to catch Aibileen alone, but it never happened. Hilly was...
(The entire section is 600 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
It is Saturday, the day of Skeeter’s date with Stuart Whitworth. After another session under the Shinolator, she goes shopping for the flattest shoes she can find and a dress that flatters her tall, skinny figure. She charges it all to her mother, who is always begging her to do more shopping for clothes that are flattering for “her size.” Her stomach is actually in knots, and Skeeter is afraid to hope for something she thought she would never have. Her new hair and dress give her hope.
Four months ago Hilly showed her a picture of Stuart. He was handsome, but Skeeter was intimidated to learn that for years he had dated Patricia van Devender (the girl named “Most Beautiful” at Ole Miss for two years in a row) and started his own oil business in Vicksburg, but she agreed to the date to keep Hilly “off her back.”
Skeeter does not tell her mother about the date; she knows her mother would fill the next months with “excruciating questions” when things do not work out as she would like. Her brother, Carlton, is home with his girlfriend, and she is exactly the kind of girl Mrs. Phelan wishes Skeeter was—concerned about china patterns and family heritage. She needs to get her mother’s keys to the Cadillac so she can get to Hilly’s in time to do her makeup and get dressed before Stuart arrives. Mrs. Phelan will not allow her daughter to be rude to their guest and insists she stay with the family that night—or what would their guest think of them? Skeeter finally resorts to lying and says she has to take care of Hilly’s children because she is sick; her mother finally relents but says she cannot take the Cadillac.
Desperate because she only has half an hour before Stuart will arrive at Hilly’s, Skeeter finally takes the keys to the old truck and leaves. For her first date in two years, Skeeter drives to town in a 1941 red Chevrolet pickup truck with a trailer hauling a John Deere motor grader behind it. It stalls twice along the way and she wonders if the truck will even make it. At three minutes before six, Skeeter parks the truck down the street, grabs the bag with her dress, and runs to Hilly’s house. She throws open the door, windblown, sweaty, and out of breath. Then she freezes.
Stuart is already there, and when he stands up she sees he is at least four inches taller than her. Hilly grabs her and takes her to her dressing room....
(The entire section is 1066 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
It is the first day of December, and Minny can only think of what will happen on Christmas Eve: Miss Celia will tell her husband she has a maid. Although she is not sure what will happen after he is told, she knows she has more dignity than to die standing on a white woman’s toilet. The man she saw was not Johnny Foote (it was just the meter man), but Miss Celia was still so shaken afterward that she could not even measure salt into a teaspoon.
On Monday, Minny cannot stop thinking about poor Robert, the boy who was beaten and blinded for using a white bathroom. As she prepares to go to the store, Minny and Miss Celia make the grocery list. After three months of cooking lessons, the young white woman can still do little more than shell butter beans. Miss Celia asks if they can make a chocolate pie this week, but Minny tells her she does not know how (for she has vowed never to make one again after the Terrible Awful with Miss Hilly). Mister Foote loves Minny’s food, and she is tired of not getting any credit for it. Her cooking and her children are the two things about which she is most proud.
Miss Celia makes calls from her bed, offering to help with social functions, but Minny knows her help will never be needed. As soon as she saw the photograph of Johnny Foote, she knew her employer would never be asked to help with or invited to attend any such functions. Johnny Foote is Miss Hilly’s former boyfriend. He cast her off for Miss Celia and Miss Hilly never got over it.
Wednesday night Minny goes to church early to meet Aibileen; the older woman asked to meet her there so they could talk privately. Aibileen tells her about Miss Skeeter’s book and wanting to put on paper what it is like for them to serve white people. Minny sarcastically says to tell her they all live their dreams by working for others all day. The truth is that they are too afraid to ask for anything more than they are given and often have to move on when the children they raise stop being color-blind and turn out like their mothers. Telling the truth would get them both in trouble, but they do feel enticed to talk to Miss Skeeter. Minny decides she cannot be that foolish.
Miss Celia spends some time outside by the pool during a week-long heat wave in December. Minny once thought her mistress was sick in her body, but now she wonders if she is somehow sick in her head. Every day Minny hears...
(The entire section is 1188 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
While most of the world is still in the throes of winter, the first signs of spring are appearing in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter is dressed in black and has a black scarf draped over her head. Tonight she is meeting Aibileen for their first interview, but she tells her mother she is meeting friends from church. This meeting has been delayed for a month. First the holidays kept Aibileen busy doing all of Elizabeth’s Christmas preparations, and then Aibileen got the flu. Skeeter is afraid Elaine Stein will have lost interest or forgotten her offer to read her work.
After parking in front of an abandoned house three houses away from Aibileen’s, Skeeter walks quickly to her front porch and is quickly admitted. Skeeter has never seen Aibileen in anything but her white uniform, and she notices that the woman looks nice and seems to stand a little taller here in her own home. As Aibileen goes to get some tea and cookies, Skeeter notices the curtains have been pulled together and pinned closed so there is no gap. As they settle in for the interview, Aibileen is nervous and says she has never had a white woman in her house. Skeeter wonders what would happen if a white person discovered she was here talking to a black maid not in uniform. She is suddenly aware that she would probably be arrested and charged with “integration violation,” of helping further the civil rights movement. They are both nervous when they hear a crowd walk by outside.
Her questions seem “obvious, amateur” all of a sudden, but Skeeter asks them anyway. She discovers Aibileen was born in 1909 on Piedmont Plantation in Cherokee County, and she knew she would be a maid because her mother was a maid and her grandmother was a house slave. The best part of her job is taking care of her children. Aibileen answers but does not elaborate. Suddenly Aibileen gets up, apologizes, and walks quickly down the hall. She closes the door and the teapot and cups rattle on the tray. When she returns, it is clear she has vomited; she explains she thought she was ready to talk but no longer thinks she can do it. Skeeter is angry at herself for thinking Aibileen would stop feeling like a maid just because they met at her house and she was not wearing her uniform.
Four days later, Skeeter goes to a gathering at Hilly’s house. She has heard nothing from Aibileen since their disastrous interview; she tried to call...
(The entire section is 1089 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
For the next two weeks, Skeeter leaves the house every other night to write with Aibileen; she tells her mother she is going to feed the hungry. (Her mother’s only admonition is to be sure to wash her hands thoroughly, with soap, afterward.) The two women spend hours reading and typing, and at first Skeeter is disappointed that Aibileen is doing all the writing and she is merely editing; however, she knows she will do the writing for the other maids with whom she talks—if Elaine Stein likes what she reads. Skeeter tells the maid her writing is clear and honest. That comes from writing to God, Aibileen says.
Before Skeeter was born, Aibileen spent a week picking cotton at Longleaf, her family’s plantation. She even talks about Constantine once, saying how she used to sing so beautifully until she was forced to give her baby to—and she stops that story there. Skeeter does not push for more information, figuring there will be time for that after they finish their interview. She asks if Minny is willing to talk to her. Shaking her head, Aibileen says Minny has said no three times already, and she is starting to believe her. Aibileen thinks perhaps she can arrange for Skeeter to talk to some others, and she wonders how long it might be before Skeeter hears anything from the editor.
For the first time, Skeeter sees a glimmer of excitement in the other woman’s eyes—an anticipation and thrill that someone in New York is going to read her story. During their fifth session, Aibileen talks about the day Treelore died. She describes how the white men threw his broken body into the back of a truck, pulled up at the colored hospital and rolled him off the truck, and then drove away. There are no tears, just silence after the story is told. During the sixth session, Aibileen begins telling her about working for Miss Leefolt when Mae Mobley was just two weeks old. She is happy now to have her own bathroom because it keeps her from hearing Miss Hilly complain about having to use the same bathroom as a black woman.
Aibileen says Miss Skeeter once commented that colored people “attend too much church.” Skeeter cringes, wondering what else she might have said without thinking about the help who might be listening. When Aibileen says she thinks she should do more reading, Skeeter is quick to tell her where to find good books at the library; the maid gently reminds her that...
(The entire section is 1485 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
In the next two weeks, Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter meet regularly to record Minny’s story. She always speaks to Aibileen, not Skeeter, and nearly always storms out in a rage. Occasionally Minny lapses into stories about Miss Celia and then stops herself and tells Skeeter to leave Miss Celia out of her writing. Minny likes to talk about two things: her fury at white people and food. One day as she talks about preparing a meal with a white baby in one arm, Minny says none of this has to do with civil rights and all Skeeter is writing about is life. Skeeter pauses and agrees, saying she hopes that is what she is doing. Minny storms off again, saying she has more important things to worry about than what a white woman is hoping for.
Three months after their date, Stuart Whitworth shows up at Longleaf. Mrs. Phelan rushes up to tell her daughter that he is here and asks from which Whitworth family he belongs. She is stunned when Skeeter tells her he is the senator’s son, though Skeeter refuses to dress up or do more than brush her hair and wash the typewriter ink and correction fluid from her hands and elbows. Stuart is dressed as if he were going out to dinner; after she offers to get him a drink (or the entire bottle), he apologizes. He says again that he told Hilly he was not ready to date after what happened. He is surprised to learn that Skeeter does not know his story, so he sits on the rocker and prepares to tell her. She does not sit, but she does not ask him to leave either.
He tells her about his engagement to Patricia van Devender after having dated since they were fifteen. He assumes she knows what dating someone for a long time is like, but she tells him she has never dated anyone. He laughs and says that is probably why she is different, why he has never met anyone like her. She is honest and says what she means, unlike most women of his acquaintance. After he apologizes again for his behavior that night, he asks if she would like to go have dinner with him. As she considers his offer, she remembers the cruel things he said to her that night and answers that she really cannot imagine anything worse. He apologizes again and walks with his head down to his car. Skeeter is moved by his contrition and hollers at him to wait a minute while she gets her sweater.
Skeeter is remembering everything that happened from that moment as she lies in bed pretending to be...
(The entire section is 1412 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
It has been difficult having Miss Skeeter and Minny both in her living room talking about Negro women and working for white women. There have been no battles, but it has been close. Miss Skeeter shows Aibileen the list of reasons Miss Hilly gives for colored bathrooms, and it feels to her like something the Ku Klux Klan might have written. When Minny gets upset and is about to leave—for good this time—Aibileen shows her the list. She takes her time reading it, and then she looks at Miss Skeeter “long and heavy.” It is the motivation she needs to continue, but she warns Miss Skeeter to stay out of her personal life.
Aibileen fixes lunch for Miss Leefolt and Mae Mobley, and they sit at the table together. Miss Leefolt has spent the entire morning gossiping on the phone with Miss Hilly. Once the new baby is born, Mae Mobley will get no attention from her mother, so Aibileen likes seeing them spend a few minutes together. After lunch she fills the wading pool for Mae Mobley, and Miss Leefolt invites Hilly’s children to join them. The three children have a great time splashing in the pool on a hot day, and Aibileen again notices that, despite her other flaws, Miss Hilly loves her children. She talks to them, has contact with them, and tells them she loves them all the time—and they adore her.
The women sit in the shade and watch the children play, and Aibileen can see that Miss Hilly is anxious to talk to Miss Leefolt. While she is gone, Miss Hilly takes the opportunity to talk about her bathroom initiative. When Aibileen sits back down, Miss Hilly looks at her and finally asks if she likes having her own toilet. The maid says yes, though she is tired of talking about it. Miss Hilly talks about “separate but equal” and then asks if Aibileen would want to go to a school full of white people. The maid mumbles an obligatory “no, ma’am” and goes to her Baby Girl to fuss with her hair. What she really wants to do is cover the little girl’s ears and keep her from hearing both the questions and her answers.
Then it occurs to Aibileen that she does not have to just agree, so she tells Miss Hilly she would prefer a school where colored and white students are together. Miss Hilly smiles coldly, wrinkles her nose, and says that white and black folks are just so different. Aibileen wants to say that they may be different but they are also just people. It does not...
(The entire section is 1405 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Not one word is spoken about the shooting or its aftermath in the Leefolt home. There has been no word from Miss Hilly, and Aibileen is still sick with worry. The day after the funeral, Miss Fredericks (Miss Leefolt’s mother) stops at the Leefolts’ and simply walks into the house. Aibileen is ironing, and Miss Leefolt gives her a look that tells her to stop what she is doing, pick up the scattered toys, and wipe the jelly off Mae Mobley’s face. Miss Fredericks drives an expensive car and does a lot of shopping, so she probably has a lot more money than the Leefolts do. Now she demands that her daughter take her to the fanciest restaurant in town, and Aibileen knows the older woman will expect her daughter to pay.
After her suggestion that Aibileen make them a nice lunch is rejected, Miss Leefolt goes to get her purse. Miss Fredericks asks Mae Mobley if she likes the dress she sent her, and then she scolds the girl for not saying “yes, ma’am.” Aibileen can see the child is thinking now there is another woman in the house who does not like her. As the women leave, mother is telling daughter that she has to make sure her hired help is teaching her granddaughter good manners.
After they leave, Aibileen feeds Mae Mobley, but the girl is not hungry. She is coming down with a summer cold, and Aibileen gives her a soothing tonic for her throat. As she prepares to read her a story before her nap, the black woman always tells the almost-three-year-old that she is kind and smart and important; however, she knows soon those words will not be enough. Aibileen is not interested in reading the same stories again, so they just rock for a bit until the sadness Aibileen is feeling surfaces and she begins to tell a story about a little white girl and a little black girl who were different colors but shared all the same parts and became friends. It is not much of a story, but Mae Mobley asks her to tell it again. She tells it four times before the child falls asleep, and Aibileen quietly promises to tell her a better story next time.
Aibileen has not seen Miss Hilly in five days, and neither has Miss Skeeter. They both know this is a bad sign. Miss Hilly calls to invite Miss Leefolt and Mae Mobley to the country club to go swimming—the country club that does not allow blacks or Jews. It is too expensive, so the Leefolts do not belong. Miss Skeeter calls, and Aibileen lies for her...
(The entire section is 1013 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
About a year after Treelore died, Aibileen began to attend the Community Concerns Meetings held at her church to help her pass the time. In recent days, though, the meetings have been more about civil rights than keeping the streets clean. Now, since Medgar Evers’s assassination a week ago, there is a lot of frustration, especially by the young people who have not yet built up a callus to injustice. The meetings are held every night, and there is crying and yelling because people are angry. Aibileen is here tonight hoping to find more maids to talk to since it seems they will be able to continue their project.
Thirty-five maids have refused. Aibileen is beginning to feel she is trying to sell something no one is interested in buying, but she knows she is telling stories that must be told. Minny would be an effective salesperson for this task, but they all decided from the beginning not to reveal her part in the project. They have to use Miss Skeeter’s name, though she is not the one who can convince the women to talk to her. Word has gotten out, and now Aibileen routinely gets cut off before she can say more than a few words.
Deacon Thoroughgood is leading the meeting tonight. He tells everyone they will spend the time in quiet prayer, and Aibileen is thankful. She says her prayers and will then go home and write them. Yule May is sitting in front of Aibileen; she is the most educated maid in town, having mostly finished college. As they are praying, a young black man stands in the doorway and asks what everyone is going to do about it. The Deacon tells him some of them will march with Doctor King when he goes to Washington, D.C., but that answer does not satisfy the agitated man. He is incredulous that all they plan to do is pray and asks if they think prayer is going to keep white men from killing them. In front of Aibileen, Yule May begins to nod her head in answer to the question.
The meeting ends at eight o’clock and Aibileen visits for a moment with Miss Hilly’s maid. Yule May is forty and thin and always wears small, gold hoop earrings. She and her husband are about to send their twin sons off to college and have saved nearly all the money to do so. The two women have a mutual love of writing, and Yule May quietly says she knows what Aibileen and Miss Skeeter are doing. Aibileen tells her she understands why she cannot help; she cannot afford to lose her job,...
(The entire section is 585 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
After nine months of working for Miss Celia, Minny is still not sure if her employer has something wrong with her body or her mind. She spends most of her time in bed, about which Minny used to be glad. But now that she has met Mister Johnny, though, Minny is ready to get Miss Celia up and “in shape.” When she refuses to get up, Minny uses her secret weapon and asks when she is going to tell her husband she has a maid. This always gets Miss Celia moving (and sometimes Minny does it just for her own entertainment). At Christmas, Miss Celia cried and begged for more time, and Minny gave in to her tears.
Mister Johnny has tried more than once to arrange for Miss Hilly and her friends to come over to play bridge, but it has never happened. Aibileen heard the other women making fun of the idea, and Miss Celia does not know how to play bridge anyway. Minny is relieved. She no longer worries about Mister Johnny, but she is sure Miss Hilly will tell Miss Celia about the awful thing she did (something she would probably fire herself for doing). Celia has left several messages for Miss Hilly, but Miss Hilly has not returned the calls. Minny hopes the phone never rings again.
The next day Miss Celia gets out of bed, and Minny thinks she is going upstairs, which she has begun to do again. Instead she begins calling the women from the League. None of them take her calls, of course, and Minny tells her these women “ain’t worth it.” Miss Celia just goes back to her bedroom and closes the door.
A heat wave comes at the end of June, and it makes Miss Celia even lazier. She will not even go sit by the pool, and this creates a problem for Minny. Miss Celia hovers when Minny cooks, and she eats lunch with her—at the same table—every day. Minny’s theory is that if God wanted white people and colored people to be so close together for so long, he would have made them colorblind.
The Community Concerns meeting is Wednesday night, and the attendants will discuss a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. Aibileen is going but Minny insists she cannot attend and gives her friend a fake excuse. She reluctantly agrees to come over to talk to Miss Skeeter on Tuesday night. She feels like she is talking behind her own back, but she wants things to be better for her children; it is a “sorry fact” that it is a white woman who is doing this for them. What Minny cannot say is...
(The entire section is 1265 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
All the way to Miss Celia’s house, Minny practices her apology. When she arrives, Miss Celia tells Minny good morning; however, she is not feeling well and goes straight to her room. Minny is not sure what to do, so she does her work as if she still has the job and hopes she is not being foolish. That afternoon Miss Celia does not come out of her bedroom for her cooking lesson, so Minny goes and finds her shut behind the bathroom door. Minny hollers that she will be working in the bedroom, but there is no answer. She tidies the room and finds a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird on Mister Johnny’s nightstand. She is amazed that there is a book with colored people in it and wonders if Miss Skeeter’s book will ever get published. There is a scuffing noise behind the door, and Minny tries to entice Miss Celia out by mentioning Mister Johnny, but that does not work.
Finally Minny asks Miss Celia to say something so she knows she is okay. Miss Celia says she is fine but Minny can hear she is not. It is almost three o’clock, and Minny needs to make sure (if she is not fired) that all is well so she does not get fired a second time. Finally the door slowly opens, and Miss Celia is sitting on the floor. Her complexion is pale blue and flat, and there is a lot of blood in the toilet bowl. There is also blood along the hem of her nightgown, as if it had dipped into the toilet. When Minny looks closer, she sees something “solid-looking” in the bowl. She offers to call Mister Johnny, but Miss Celia is adamant that she only call Dr. Tate.
Minny describes the situation to the woman on the phone and then tells Miss Celia that Dr. Tate is on his way. She tries to move her to the bed, but Miss Celia does not want to get blood all over everything and have to explain it to Mister Johnny. She wonders why there was so much blood this time and what she is going to do with it so it does not get stuck in the pipes. Minny knows now that she will have to be the one to fish Miss Celia’s dead baby out of the toilet bowl and dispose of it.
She tries to get practical but then wonders if the doctor will want to examine the fetus and shuts the lid on the bowl. As they talk, Minny learns this is the second child Miss Celia has lost. She and Mister Johnny got married because she was pregnant, and she lost that baby, too. When Minny tells her she will never keep a baby with all that whiskey in...
(The entire section is 935 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
It is 1963 and Longleaf still has no air conditioning, so Skeeter sleeps on a cot on the back porch. She remembers sleeping out here when Constantine stayed with them, and again Skeeter misses her terribly. She has no writing to do because she is caught up on Minny’s stories and Yule May is not quite ready to talk to her. The heat and racial tension are making things uneasy for everyone. The Life magazine in front of her tells the story of a black teacher’s death. He was a Mississippi man who dared to speak out against their racist governor. She realizes how foolish she had been three months ago; she had not realized the risk the maids would be taking by talking to her.
The only cool place on the plantation is the car, so she gets in and starts the ignition. Suddenly the passenger door opens. Stuart slides in and gives her a quick kiss. He has to go to Biloxi for three days and invites her to come with him. He has lodgings on the beach where it is cool, and Skeeter is tempted to go despite the scandal of sharing a room with a man before marriage. Her friends would all tell her not to even consider it, but she does. He tempts her with kisses, but she cannot lie to her mother. Before he leaves, he invites Skeeter and her parents to his parents’ home for dinner in a few weeks. After he leaves, Skeeter is left to worry about sharing a meal with a state senator—and with her mother asking a multitude of questions, looking desperate on behalf of her daughter, and mentioning cotton trust funds.
When Stuart returns, he comes directly to Longleaf. Mrs. Phelan assures him they would be delighted to have dinner with his parents, and Stuart is polite to her in every way. Skeeter loves so many things about this man, including his callused palms and neat nails, being able to look him in the eyes when they talk, and having someone with whom to go to events. As important as anything to her is the protection he affords her in her own home; when he is here, her mother leaves off her nagging and criticizing. Finally Mrs. Phelan goes to bed and they sit on the sofa. Stuart only wants to kiss her, but Skeeter is troubled about his former relationship and needs to have some questions answered. She must find out what “constitutes breaking up forever,” what the rules of a permanent relationship are, and how many of them can be broken before it is too many. She knows none of these...
(The entire section is 1495 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
The Phelans are on the steps of State Senator Whitworth’s house, and Skeeter is begging her mother to remember what they talked about. Her mother agrees not to mention her cotton trust fund—“unless it’s appropriate.” Skeeter looks at her parents and thinks they must look like “country bumpkins.” But the door opens and it is too late to do anything about it. Mrs. Whitworth is dressed in a suit similar to Skeeter’s and says she is delighted to meet them all. She meet’s Skeeter’s gaze directly; her eyes are blue and beautiful, like cold water. When she smiles and slides her hand down Skeeter’s arm, a prong of her ring scratches the younger woman’s skin and Skeeter gasps.
The Senator is loud and a bit rough, though he is as friendly as his wife is cold. He tells them to call him Stooley, since everyone else does, and he and Mr. Phelan begin talking farming and politics. They head to the formal living room, and Skeeter catches the maid’s eye; Skeeter smiles and the woman drops her eyes and nods. It occurs to Skeeter that she must know, and she realizes how “duplicitous her life has become.” She tries not to be nervous, to act like she is not worried and has met many boyfriends’ parents before.
Stuart is still on his way, driving from Shreveport. The Senator asks what they want to drink and seems disappointed when his guests ask for coffee and iced tea. As they share polite conversation, Patricia van Devender’s name comes up more than once, and Skeeter hopes Stuart will arrive soon. Although Mrs. Whitworth is ten years younger than Skeeter’s mother, she looks older because her face has turned “long and prudish.” She asks what Eugenia (she, too, uses Skeeter’s given name) is writing, and Skeeter does not quite know what to say. There are maids in the room and she could never tell the truth anyway. Mrs. Phelan finally says she is writing a book about Jesus (assuming all those nights her daughter has been going to church have been research for her book). Stuart finally walks in the door.
He heads straight to Skeeter and kisses her cheek, and she relaxes just a bit. When she turns, though, she sees his mother smiling at her as if she just wiped her dirty hands on her best guest towel. After Stuart gets a drink, he settles in next to Skeeter and holds her hand. When she notices the gesture, Missus Whitworth takes her two female guests on a...
(The entire section is 1133 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
A cooling unit has finally been installed at Longleaf. It is located in the relaxing room, and it is there because the doctor recommended it. Skeeter’s mother is tired all the time and her ulcers are getting worse; the doctor says keeping her cool would at least make her more comfortable. Skeeter has not told her parents that Stuart broke up with her, and she longs for some relief from the heat to cool her “singed and hurt” heart.
The feel of the cool air is glorious, and all three of the Phelans stand and enjoy the new contraption. Skeeter’s father turns the knob to “3,” the highest setting on the unit. It runs for a moment and then everything goes black. It blows the current. An hour later, after he repairs it, Mr. Phelan says there is only one rule with the new machine: never turn the knob to “3.” Once her parents are sleeping, Skeeter creeps around the house turning off everything that uses electricity except the refrigerator. She stands in front of the air cooling unit with her blouse unbuttoned and turns it up to “3” because she longs to feel nothing, “to be frozen inside.” She wants the icy air to freeze her heart. In about three seconds, the power blows.
Skeeter spends the next few weeks immersed in interviews. She types all day and late into the night, and the women’s stories allow her to escape her own miserable life. Her mother is anxious to have the Whitworths over for dinner, but it is clear she is getting thinner and weaker all the time and Skeeter does not want to tell her about Stuart. She simply says he has been out of town. It is still hot, and even Pascagoula finds reasons to be in the relaxing room where it is cooler. When her mother says she is free on the twenty-fifth, Skeeter tells her she will check with the Whitworths. She continues the charade because her mother seems so frail and in so much pain.
The manuscript is sitting on Aibileen’s table; it is an inch thick, and it is beginning to look like a book. It is nearly August and there is a lot of work yet to do before January, but Skeeter is finished with five chapters, including Minny’s and Aibileen’s. The names have all been changed and the stories are set in the fictional city of Niceville in the very real (and racially divided) state of Mississippi. Aibileen asks if Skeeter thinks it will get published. She responds with false confidence and says Elaine Stein...
(The entire section is 971 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Today is Mae Mobley’s third birthday. The child is in a “big-girl bed” now because the nursery is being prepared for the new baby. She is not very pretty. Aibileen does not mind, but she always tries to make her prettier for her mother. Aibileen fixes her Baby Girl a special bowl of grits and has her blow out three candles she brought from home just for the occasion. Miss Leefolt is off getting her hair done, but she has purchased a gift: the giant doll Mae Mobley has wanted from the television commercials.
Aibileen begins to bake two birthday cakes. Miss Leefolt wants chocolate and assumes Mae Mobley wants it too, but the maid knows the toddler loves strawberry best of all—so she bakes one of each. After breakfast, Aibileen gives Mae Mobley her old, whiny baby doll. The little girl says, “Aibee, you’re my real mama.” It is not a special moment for Mae Mobley; she is simply stating a fact. The maid tells her she is not her mama, that Miss Leefolt is her mother. She is sure the confusion will go away, but it makes her remember another one of her “children.”
John Green Dudley’s first word was “mama,” and he called everyone he knew the same name. No one worried too much about it until he began dressing up in his sister’s clothes and wearing her perfume. For six years, John’s daddy would take him into the barn and try to beat “the girl out a that boy” until Aibileen could no longer stand it.
When Miss Skeeter asked about her worst day as a maid, Aibileen told her it was a stillbirth; it was really those six years she spent waiting at the door for John Green Dudley’s beating to be over. She wishes now she had told that young boy that he was not a “sideshow freak” or going to hell because he liked boys. She wishes she had filled his ears with good things, like she is doing with Mae Mobley now. Instead, she just waited for him to come back into the house so she could dress his welts.
They hear Miss Leefolt pulling into the carport, and Mae Mobley says they cannot tell or her mother will spank her. Aibileen figures the girl must have referred to her as her mother before and been punished for it. The birthday party goes well (and all the strawberry cake gets eaten). Miss Skeeter slips into the kitchen and reminds Aibileen she will be coming over tonight. Twice she says she will be leaving Monday morning and be gone for three days, and...
(The entire section is 1351 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
The summer is hot and the world is mesmerized by the sight of 250,000 people listening to Martin Luther King Jr. share his dream—and 60,000 of them are white. In September, a church in Birmingham is bombed and four little colored girls are killed, yet life must go on.
Miss Skeeter looks thinner and tries to look like living without friends is not hard, but Aibileen can see that it is. In October, Miss Hilly tells Miss Leefolt (who is hugely pregnant) that she sent a thank-you note to Miss Skeeter for all the toilets, which they have been installing in people’s garages and sheds for their maids.
Aibileen still makes up stores to tell Mae Mobley. The little girl loves the stories, and they teach her that even if the outsides of things look different, they are the same inside. She uses visual things, such as two colors of paper, to make her point. She even teaches the child in story form about Martin Luther King Jr. Aibileen knows she can get in real trouble for telling these kinds of stories to a white girl, but Mae Mobley calls them “secret stories” and will not tell anyone.
Last night Miss Skeeter and Aibileen were working until nearly midnight on the book. Eight stories are finished, but they still have four to go and January tenth is looming ever closer. Today is bridge club at Miss Leefolt’s (who is three weeks overdue and miserable) and it is not a very fun afternoon. Miss Jeanie Caldwell has taken Miss Skeeter’s place and everyone is polite and not very interesting to Aibileen—until the doorbell rings.
When Aibileen opens the door, her first impression is pink. She does not have to be told who this is, for Minny has described Miss Celia Foote well enough for Aibileen to recognize the extra-large bosoms held in by an extra-small sweater. Miss Celia introduces herself and asks to see Miss Leefolt. It takes Aibileen a few seconds to think about all the ways this could be bad for her and for Minny. She cannot lie and say Miss Leefolt is not here because the bridge table is just five feet behind her and all four ladies are staring at Miss Celia, mouths agape. Finally Miss Leefolt pushes herself off her chair, puts on a fake smile, and greets her guest.
Miss Celia begins speaking, and her speech has obviously been rehearsed. When she sees the other women, she stops abruptly and is embarrassed at having interrupted a gathering....
(The entire section is 801 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Minny waits nervously for Miss Celia to come home. That morning she squeezed herself into her tightest pink sweater, said she was going to Miss Leefolt’s before she lost her nerve, and drove off with her skirt hanging out of the door. Shortly after that, Aibileen called to tell her everything she heard. Minny is sure it will “take those crackling hens” just a few minutes to figure out her deception. Now all she can do is wait for Miss Celia to return.
Minny wants to know several things: Will Aibileen get fired for helping her get this job? Did Miss Hilly tell Miss Celia her lies about Minny being a thief? Did Miss Hilly tell her about the Terrible Awful Thing Minny did to get back at Miss Hilly for telling lies about her? She is sorry about that incident now, but since Miss Hilly put her own maid in jail, she wonders what will happen to her for this. Miss Celia does not arrive home until ten minutes after four. When she sees Minny is still there, she shoos her off quickly before Mister Johnny gets home. It is a twisted charade, but Minny has no choice except to go home and worry all night.
The next morning, Aibileen calls Minny to tell her that Miss Hilly and Miss Leefolt decided Minny made up the recommendation so Miss Celia would give Minny the job. Minny is relieved that Aibileen’s part in this is still a secret, though she is being called a liar and a thief. Now she just has to keep Miss Celia from talking to Miss Hilly.
As soon as she arrives at work, Minny sees Miss Celia about to go shopping for a new dress for the Benefit. Minny works out in the back yard for a bit and hears a crackling in the bushes, though she sees no one. When the phone rings, Minny wants to ignore it as she is supposed to do in case it is Mister Johnny, but today she answers it. It is Miss Hilly. Minny lowers her voice and lies, saying her name is Doreena and she is Miss Celia’s maid. When Miss Hilly asks about Minny, she says Minny quit. She also says Miss Celia has left for the coast and will be gone a long time. Miss Hilly leaves her number and tells her to have Miss Celia call when she returns. After she hangs up, Minny’s heart is beating wildly.
Minny knows she could always tell Miss Celia about the lies, but there is the Terrible Awful, and she has no excuse for that. Miss Celia returns four hours later with five big boxes. Minny helps carry them to the bedroom and...
(The entire section is 1500 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
The Jackson Junior League Annual Ball and Benefit (“the Benefit”) begins with cocktails at seven o’clock at the Robert E. Lee Hotel. The doors of the banquet hall will open at eight o’clock and dinner will begin at nine. The proceeds from the auction will go to the Poor Starving Children of Africa, and the dance floor and bandstand are opposite the podium from which Miss Hilly Holbrook will give her speech. The husbands may get drunk but none of the wives will do so. They are all hostesses this night, and they know Hilly is the shining star.
Hilly is dressed in a maroon taffeta gown, and everything but her fingers and face are covered. All the ladies show no more than a few inches of skin; those who show more are not members, they are “those kind.” The Footes do not arrive until 7:25. (When Mister Johnny arrived home from work and saw his wife, he asked if she should be quite so bare at the top. She laughed and said he knew nothing about fashion, and Johnny gave up because they were already late.) At the Benefit, there is a moment when Celia is alone, sparkling in the entryway, and the entire room grows still. It takes a moment for the sight to register, and then the men all smile and say to themselves “at last.” William Holbrook spills his drink on the shoes of one of his largest political contributors, but neither of the men notice. Hilly finally sees what everyone is looking at and her neck muscles grow taut.
Reactions to the dazzling display of bosom and sequins are mixed. One old man feels younger just seeing Celia; his wife says bosoms are for “bedrooms and breastfeeding” and she should cover them up in public. The Footes enter the room, and Celia asks Johnny in a whisper if she is overdressed because the women in the room seem dressed for church. He tells her she looks beautiful and offers his jacket if she is cold. He leaves to get her a drink (her fifth of the day, though he does not know it) and Celia looks around for Hilly. She sees her across the room and “yoo-hoos” at her. As she heads toward her, Hilly disappears into the crowd. No one speaks to Celia unless they cannot avoid it. Near the food, Minny points Celia out to Aibileen; her only response is that the women better watch their men tonight.
Skeeter arrives wearing black, looking bored, and taking a few notes for the next League newsletter. She sees Elizabeth Leefolt (who looks...
(The entire section is 1363 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
The morning after the Benefit, Minny is tired and sore. Her daughter, Sugar, who also worked at the event, is counting her earnings: nine dollars and fifty cents. The phone rings; it is Mister Johnny calling to tell Minny that Miss Celia had a difficult time last night. He asks her to take good care of her since he will be out of town all week. He will come back if he is needed; all she has to do is call him. Minny promises to look after her and tells him Miss Celia will be all right.
Minny did not see the end-of-the-night events, but she did hear about them. When Sugar started to make fun of Miss Celia, Minny smacked her, yanked her into a corner, and told her she was never to speak badly about the lady who helps provide her food and clothes. Sugar nodded and went back to work, muttering that Minny does it all the time. Her mother put her finger in her face and told her that it is her right to complain; she has earned it every day “working for that crazy fool.”
Monday morning, Minny finds Miss Celia huddled in bed with her face buried under the sheets. Despite her coaxing, Miss Celia does not get up and refuses to eat. On Tuesday morning, the food Minny left is untouched, but Miss Celia at least gets up and locks herself in the bathroom. As Minny is tidying the room, she sees a letter from Miss Hilly among the opened mail; before she can stop herself, she has read the entire note. Miss Hilly says she wants a check for no less than two hundred dollars, made out to the League, to compensate for the torn cuff on her dress. She also tells Miss Celia that her name is now on a probationary list and she may never volunteer for the League in any way.
On Wednesday morning, Miss Celia will neither get up nor answer the phone. Finally Minny answers it. Mister Johnny wants to talk to his wife but Miss Celia says to tell him she is asleep. Minny looks her “hard in the eye” and tells him she is in the shower but she is doing all right. By Thursday afternoon, Minny cannot stand it any longer and urges her to get up and clean up before Mister Johnny comes back home. Miss Celia sniffles and says none of this would have happened if she had stayed in her place and Johnny had “married proper.” He should have married Miss Hilly because she knows the right things for this kind of life. She is still upset about being called a liar and being accused of getting her that pie; she never...
(The entire section is 1317 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
Longleaf is quiet all the time now. No one calls and Skeeter’s mother is much worse. President Kennedy was assassinated two weeks ago, and Skeeter feels that it has been long enough to call Elaine Stein. The editor answers her own phone but sounds as if she regrets doing so when she hears who it is. Skeeter tells her the book will be ready to send by the second week in January, but there is no response at the other end of the line. The editor finally speaks and tells her January is too late, that the final editor’s meeting of the year is on December twenty-first and the manuscript must arrive before then. If not, it will go into “The Pile”—a place no author wants a book to go. She must also include a section about her own maid, to make it more personal. Skeeter hangs up and wonders how she will ever finish in time.
Skeeter kisses her mother good-bye, noting how much worse she is now than she was three months ago. She is forced to lie—again—when her mother asks if she is going to bridge club. Her mother knows Stuart broke up with her but she does not know her tennis partner replaced her, that she was kicked out of bridge club, or that she is never invited to baby showers or cocktail parties—anyplace where Hilly will be in attendance. Her only remaining activity is League meetings, and even there no one is more than polite to her. Skeeter reminds herself this is the price of putting thirty-one toilets on “the most popular girl’s front yard,” but it was not planned. As she typed the newsletter, the idea just came to her. She hired Pascagoula’s brothers to get the toilets from the junkyard and place them on Hilly’s lawn; they were scared but willing to do it. Hilly probably also blames her for William’s losing his senate race, too.
That evening Skeeter kisses her mother goodnight and goes to Aibileen’s house to tell her about the revised deadline. There is a lot of work yet to do, but Skeeter is most concerned about finding out what happened to Constantine. Aibileen sighs and says she would rather Miss Skeeter hear it from her than a stranger and promises to write the story out for her.
When Skeeter attends the Thursday night League meeting, even Elizabeth will not speak to her. After Hilly drones through the list of upcoming drives and the “trouble list” (a place Skeeter always finds herself now), she announces that the committee has...
(The entire section is 2168 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
After she hangs up the phone, Skeeter notices the doctor’s car in their driveway and waits for him to come from her mother’s room. He looks at her and seems to be taking her measure, and then he tells Skeeter her mother has cancer in the lining of her stomach. It is both shocking and familiar news. Her mother refuses to stay in the hospital, so the next few months might get very difficult for the family. Skeeter is appalled at the idea that her mother might live only two months, but her mother is a fighter and is likely to outlive that prognosis. As soon as Skeeter enters the room, her mother knows the doctor has told her and tells her to stop crying. Life will go on. Carlton will become a lawyer, and she is going to make Skeeter’s hair appointments until 1975 so she will not be able to “let herself go.”
The Christmas tree is already dropping its needles, and there are only a few gifts under it. Now that everyone knows, Missus Phelan no longer has to maintain a pretense of strength. She only gets up for a few minutes each day, though the doctor did start her on a new medicine. Pascagoula brings her food but she is not hungry. It is just not the same as when Constantine was here, she says. Getting good help is like falling in love—“you only get one in a lifetime.” Skeeter wants to add that to the book until she remembers the book has been mailed. The only thing left for any of them to do is wait for what is to come.
Carlton comes home for Christmas and is stunned at the deterioration in his mother’s health. The doctor says she should be in the hospital, but she once again refuses. Stuart stops by on Christmas Day; Skeeter lets him kiss her but only because her mother is dying, she says.
It is New Year’s Eve, and Skeeter has put away the Christmas decorations; she has tried to wrap each ornament the way her mother likes. She has heard nothing from Elaine Stein and does not even know if the manuscript arrived in time. Last night Skeeter called Aibileen just for the relief of being able to talk about it with someone; Aibileen says she keeps thinking of more things to add, forgetting the book has already been sent.
When Skeeter goes in to check on her mother, she is pleased to see she has not been vomiting as she usually does. Mrs. Phelan is appalled at the pants her daughter is wearing and adds them to the “Do Not Wear” list she started...
(The entire section is 1493 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
It is Labor Day and it is hot—so hot that for the first time in forty-one years of service, Aibileen does not wear her stockings to work. Surprisingly, Miss Leefolt tells her that is fine. It is bridge club day, and it is almost too hot for Miss Leefolt to give any orders. Outside, Mae Mobley is playing in the sprinkler with her brother, Ross, who is almost one. Usually Mae Mobley is in preschool every morning, but this is a holiday, so she is home. Both women look out the window with love at the children, and Aibileen wonders if things might be beginning to change. After all, Negroes can now sit at the counter at Walgreens.
Suddenly everything changes. Miss Leefolt starts screaming that the children are going to spoil everything with their water and mud, and she will not have her maid in service without stockings. The book comes out in four days, and Aibileen thinks that is none too soon.
On Thursday, Aibileen gives Baby Girl her snack after school and asks what she learned today. Usually she has something to say, but today she pouts and says “nothing.” Then she asks Aibileen why she is colored. This is not a new question for the maid, but she wants to be sure she says it right. She tells Mae Mobley it is because God made her colored, and that is the only reason. The child says Miss Taylor, her teacher, says colored kids cannot come to their school because they are not smart enough. Aibileen asks if her Baby Girl thinks Aibileen is dumb, and the answer is no—and she says it hard, like she really means it. That means Miss Taylor is not always right, and Mae Mobley hugs the maid and tells her she is “righter than Miss Taylor.”
The next day Aibileen is waiting inside the church. She looks outside and sees a hippie-looking woman with long hair wearing a short white dress and sandals, and Aibileen smiles at the changes in Miss Skeeter. She has not seen her in person for six months, not since they finished the edits and sent in the final draft. Miss Skeeter carries a big brown box to the church steps as if she is dropping off old clothes. Once she leaves, Aibileen brings the box inside. It is a sad way to make the exchange, but it is the safest for all of them.
The book is a beautiful sky blue with a white peace dove stretched across it. The only jarring note is the name under the title: “by Anonymous.” Tomorrow Aibileen will take copies to...
(The entire section is 1148 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
Minny is outraged at the book reviewer who says the book may be about Jackson and flips off the television. Aibileen’s line is busy, and Minny wonders how long it will be before Miss Hilly reads the last chapter of the book, the chapter about her. She had better read it quickly so she can dispel the rumors that the story is actually set in Jackson. Minny knows Miss Celia will not fire her, for their hatred for Miss Hilly is the one thing they have in common. But once she fails to get Minny fired, there is no telling what Miss Hilly will do next. At least it will be a private war; the others should not be involved.
Out the window, Miss Celia is working in the garden; she spends most of her time doing this now. Mister Johnny has hired a yard man, hoping he would act as some kind of protection; however, he is so old and bent over he is not likely to be much help in an emergency. When the phone rings, she runs for it.
Aibileen is shaken at the potential damage the television book review could do to their secret, and Minny is the calm one for once. It probably works in their favor that there is now so much publicity; it is almost a guarantee that Miss Hilly will read the book because she will not want to be left out of everyone’s conversation. Five minutes after Minny hangs up the phone, it rings again. Aibileen whispers that Miss Lou Anne just came home with two copies of the book—one for her and one for her best friend, Hilly Holbrook.
Minny can almost feel Miss Hilly reading the book all night, but she knows she has not gotten to the chapter about her yet because she has not heard any voices screaming in her head. She is actually glad to go to work this morning, after she puts her copy of the book in her winter coat pocket. She has not read a book in her entire married life, and she does not want to raise any suspicions now.
Mister Johnny’s car is still in the driveway. This has never happened this late in the morning, and Minny’s instinct tells her to run. She carefully peeks into dining room where she hears voices. Mister Johnny is pale and shaken and asks for a glass of water. Minny has a bad feeling, but she brings him a glass and sets it down. As she does, he rises and stands right above her. Minny knows this is the end for her.
Miss Celia whispers that she told him about all the babies, and Mister Johnny thanks Minny for saving his wife’s...
(The entire section is 734 words.)
Chapter 31 Summary
Every day, Aibileen finds an excuse to check Miss Leefolt’s nightstand to see if her bookmark has moved. It has been five days, and she is only on page fourteen; there are two hundred and thirty-five pages to go. Miss Leefolt is a slow reader. Even so, Aibileen wants to tell her that the chapter she is reading right now is about Miss Skeeter and Constantine—and that chapter two will be about her.
All week Aibileen is nervous and jumpy, especially on the day Miss Hilly comes over to work with Miss Leefolt on the Benefit. They occasionally look up and ask her to bring them something, and twice Miss Hilly comes to the kitchen to give further instruction to Ernestine, her one-armed maid, over the phone. After clearing their plates, Aibileen walks back into the dining room and hears Miss Hilly say she is on chapter seven. The maid starts shaking and is even more concerned when Miss Hilly leans over and says the story just feels like it might be Jackson, that they might even know some of these Negro maids. Miss Leefolt has not read far enough to add to the conversation, but Miss Hilly smiles “real sneaky-like” and says she intends to figure out each person in the book.
At the bus stop the next morning, Aibileen begins hyperventilating as she wonders how far Miss Leefolt has gotten in her book. When she arrives at the house, the white woman is reading the book and does not stop to greet her or pay attention to her son. Now that Miss Hilly is interested, so is Miss Leefolt. When she has a chance, Aibileen takes a quick look and sees the bookmark has been moved to chapter six. This means she read her own chapter and is still reading. That scares Aibileen, but she also feels disgusted that Miss Leefolt apparently did not recognize her own story. She probably just shook her head as she read about an awful lady who does not really love her own children. She calls Minny, but Miss Celia reads nothing but “trash,” so Minny has no news. She assures Aibileen something is going to happen soon. It has to.
At the grocery store, Aibileen buys Mae Mobley’s snacks. Her poor Baby Girl came home crying yesterday because of her teacher, Miss Taylor. Her assignment was to draw what they “like about themselves best,” and Mae Mobley drew herself black. Miss Taylor told her that was a bad thing; it means she has a dirty, black face. Aibileen is discouraged that a teacher, someone...
(The entire section is 557 words.)
Chapter 32 Summary
Another day passes, and in her head Minny can hear Miss Hilly reading the lines of her book. The scream is coming. Aibileen told her about the conversation she overheard at the grocery store, but nothing has happened since. Leroy still looks at her as if he knows something, but he has not said anything. Minny is startled when she looks up and sees Aibileen at her screen door; her friend gestures for her to come outside quietly, so Minny extricates herself from her family and joins her at the side of the house. Aibileen is visibly upset.
Miss Hilly’s maid, Ernestine, called Aibileen and said Miss Hilly is telling all the white people she knows to fire their maids based on the stories told in their book—and she is not even making correct guesses. She is on a rampage of spite, and so far at least one maid has been fired. Even Miss Lou Anne is considering firing Louvenia—and possibly even sending her to jail—simply because Miss Hilly told her to. The two women do not know what will happen if Miss Hilly does not finish reading the book soon. Leroy is standing at the door quietly; Minny says good-bye and goes inside.
At five-thirty the next morning, Leroy falls into bed next to a restless Minny and then, in a whisper, asks her what the big secret is. When she does not answer him, he hisses at her that he will find out. Then he falls asleep. Minny is thankful that she has the protection of an unborn baby; without that, he would undoubtedly beat her again. Everyone thinks Minny is strong, and she is; but they would be shocked to see the “pathetic mess” she becomes when her husband is beating her. She asked him once why he hits her, and he told her he was not sure what would become of her if he did not. That is the question Minny is asking herself: what could she become if Leroy did not beat her?
Minny sends everyone to bed early the next night, and she falls into a heavy sleep. This baby is already bigger than any of her others were, and she is only six months pregnant. If it is twins, she does not want to know. Suddenly she sits straight up, afraid, and looks around to see who is there. Then she realizes it is the thing they have all been waiting on—she hears Miss Hilly’s scream.
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapter 33 Summary
Miss Skeeter wakes from her sleep with her heart pounding in her chest. She wonders what she heard that awakened her. She gets out of bed and listens, but it was not her mother. It was a high-pitched scream, like the sound of ripping material. She sits back down and tries to still her beating heart.
Nothing is happening as they planned it—people seem to have figured out quickly that the book is about Jackson. Skeeter knew Hilly was a slow reader, but she forgot. In fact, Hilly is probably lying about how far along she is in her reading. Things seem to have gotten out of control; one maid has been fired, and it is likely that more will be fired yet. Skeeter thinks it is a great irony that she is the one waiting for Hilly to speak when she is also virtually the only person in town who does not care what Hilly has to say. This book may have been a mistake.
Skeeter thinks about her future, about the fifteen resumes she sent all over the country. Elaine Stein said she could use her as a reference, so she did. Her name is the only notable thing on Skeeter’s thin resume. She cannot add “author of Help” anywhere on her resume. Even if she does get a job, she cannot leave Aibileen when things are going so badly. But she really wants to be in New York. As the sun rises, Skeeter realizes that horrible scream was her own.
At the drugstore, Skeeter is waiting for her mother’s prescription. It is becoming clear that the best cure for cancer is a daughter who wears tacky clothes and has frizzy hair, giving her a reason to continue living. Mrs. Phelan was obviously disappointed with Skeeter’s nonengagement, but she rebounded quickly; she even set Skeeter up with a cousin who was obviously a homosexual. She told her mother he was not her type.
Skeeter wants to leave the drugstore before anyone she knows can come in and snub her. She really misses having friends, and it is too dangerous now to even go visit Aibileen, though they do talk occasionally on the phone. Nothing good has come from this book, just gossiping and treating the book as a giant guessing game. She was the one who promised the women they would not be found out, so she is the one responsible for this mess. Elizabeth and Lou Anne come into the drugstore, and Skeeter has to walk by them when she is called to pick up her mother’s prescription. The two ladies turn their backs to her, but...
(The entire section is 1499 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
It is bridge day at Miss Leefolt’s, and everything is ready. Aibileen hears the doorbell. Unprepared to face Miss Hilly after what she said to Miss Skeeter last night, Aibileen goes to her bathroom and sits. She is distressed about what will happen to Mae Mobley if she has to leave; she will grow up in a world where black is a dirty color and her mother is cold and unkind to her. Tomorrow Aibileen will tell her Baby Girl good-bye, just in case.
Aibileen gets home late and stops in to see Minny. The house is quiet, and they talk about a few good things happening because of the book. Aibileen is impatient, but Minny is calm because she thinks “maybe things is happening just how they should.” She is calm, but she is afraid that Leroy might kill or that Miss Hilly will set her house on fire. Aibileen sees Minny jump at the sound of a car door slamming and knows she is hiding her fear. Finally Aibileen understands that Minnie included the pie story to protect them, not herself.
On Saturday, Aibileen has done all the cleaning, washing, and ironing, and now she wanders the house. As she walks by the children’s rooms, she hears Mae Mobley and Ross (Li’l Man) playing. Baby Girl tells Ross he has to sit at the “Woolworf” counter and has to keep sitting no matter what she does to him. Finally Ross gets bored and Mae Mobley starts a new game, “Back-a-the-Bus,” and Ross will be Rosa Parks. Mr. Leefolt has been standing in the doorway. He asks his daughter where she learned these games. She looks up and stares directly at Aibileen; then she tells him it was Miss Taylor. Mister Leefolt goes straight to his wife and tells her to change their daughter’s teacher first thing Monday morning. Inside, Aibileen is cheering.
Monday morning Aibileen returns the silver Miss Leefolt borrowed from Miss Hilly. Ernestine meets her on the porch and tells her about another maid and white employer who have had a row over the book. If Miss Hilly were not telling everyone so adamantly that this book is not set in Jackson, the woman could fire the maid; as it is, the maid will have her job for life. Other stories may not end as well.
That night Miss Skeeter visits Aibileen before leaving for New York tomorrow. The two friends hug, and Miss Skeeter tells her that stores across the country have requested more copies of the book. Another five thousand will be printed—and each...
(The entire section is 1504 words.)