In The Help, how does Aibileen try to counteract the negative effects of Elizabeth's criticism?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Focusing on both her "Baby Girl" and then herself are ways Aibileen counteracts the negative effects of Elizabeth's criticism.

For the most part, Aibileen pays attention to Mae Mobley to offset Elizabeth's attitudes towards her.  Elizabeth criticizes Aibileen as a mouthpiece for Hilly. As the story progresses, it is clear that Elizabeth does not possess her own voice.  Rather, she echoes what Hilly and Southern society tell her.  Aibileen understands this.  She recognizes that Elizabeth is controlled by external forces.  Appearances are important for Elizabeth.  Aibileen says as much when she notes that, "You see her in the Jitney 14 grocery, you never think she go leave her baby crying in her crib like that. But the help always know."  

In order to compensate for what Aibileen sees as her phoniness and lack of authenticity, she focuses on giving love to Mae Mobley.  Abileen understands that "Baby Girl" is neglected.  In helping her become toilet-trained or even in understanding the precepts of racial equality through instruction about the Civil Rights Movement, Aibileen counteracts Elizabeth's hollow criticisms by focusing attention on the child.  

However, in the end, when Aibileen is accused of theft, she responds to this criticism by simply walking out.  Aibileen recognizes her need to "start over." In thinking of herself, Aibileen responds to what Elizabeth and Hilly spit at her.  She asserts her own voice in the hopes of starting a new life away from degrading treatment.