What are the conflicts in The Help?

Expert Answers
e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a number of conflicts in Stockett's novel. We can identify four main conflicts relating to the four central figures of the novel.

Beginning with Aibileen, we see a conflict relating to perception and caring and how people treat one another. This conflict is embodied in the ways Elizabeth sees and treats both Aibileen and Mae Mobley.

While Aibileen struggles to instill a positive self-image in Mae Mobley and tries to teach her to see past skin color, Elizabeth reprimands and diminishes both Mae Mobley and Aibileen. The loss of her son is also part of Aibileen's conflict as she strives to change the way people see one another in Jackson. 

Minny's conflict is two-fold. She is challenged to learn to be understanding and compassionate and to let her guard down. Initially, Minny takes no chances with people she does not know, but as her character grows through the story, Minny learns to trust Celia and Skeeter. Minny's other conflict is one of confidence and abuse.

While she is a strong person, she also suffers from low self-esteem; and her husband beats her regularly.

She has to find a way to escape the abusive treatment from her husband and learn to trust herself to be alright on her own. 

Skeeter has two conflicts as well and, like Minny, one conflict is internal and the other external. Skeeter has an identity conflict that drives many of her decisions in the novel. She is attempting to navigate her mother's expectations for her as well as her own. This leads her to get a job as a journalist, to write to New York about publishing jobs there, and to undertake the book project with Aibileen.

She perceives herself as different than the other white women in her social group in Jackson. She feels like an outcast.

She does not belong in Jackson, but she tries to fit in. This is her internal conflict. 

Externally, Skeeter is in conflict with Hilly. Hilly's antagonism represents the fourth major conflict in the novel. Not only is Hilly in conflict with Skeeter, she is also in conflict with Minny, Celia, and Aibileen. Hilly's opinions are the force, symobolic and actual, that Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny fight against with their book project. She is a bigot, a hypocrite, and a local power. She is the negative voice of the community that the book project seeks to expose and to temper. 

laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several types of conflicts in The Help, including racial discrimination, social divides, and how secrets can damage families. 

Racial and social divides are the primary conflicts in The Help. The black maids are mistreated by their white employers. Minnie, for example, is fired for stealing -- when she never stole anything. It's a convenient lie to push the blame onto her instead of her former employers. White people with black servants in The Help are prone to using this kind of gossip to tarnish their servants and keep them from finding new jobs if they leave. But the danger to black people in the novel is far worse than that. Aibileen is even reluctant to help Skeeter at first because she knows discussing how the maids are treated could result in someone attacking and killing her.

The unjust attitudes of well-off white women are personified in Hilly, who's working to make sure that bathrooms are extensively segregated, even in private homes. She also jailed a former servant -- supposedly for stealing a ring. The community band together to collect tuition money for the son of that servant. This attitude is also reflected in Skeeter's fiance. Skeeter writing a book about the conditions of the maids causes him to break up with her; he says she's just creating trouble where everything is fine.

The last conflict in The Help focuses on how secrets can break down families. When Skeeter returns home to Jackson, Mississippi, the maid who practically raised her is missing -- and she knows her mother isn't telling her the truth about her departure. She knows from Aibileen that her mother isn't being honest and that something bad happened when Constantine left. It's not until her mother is honest with her that Skeeter is able to know that not only did Constantine leave because of her mother's racism, but that she died after moving away. 

The couple Minnie works for also keep secrets from each other. She hires Minnie without her husband's knowledge; he doesn't want her to know he knows. They both act out of concern for the other, but nothing gets better until the truth is revealed.