Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter are the novel's three central protagonists, also used as first person narrators. Hilly and Celia are two other characters that are developed over the course of the novel and play significant roles in the action of the story, especially Hilly. Hilly is the antagonist of the novel.
Aibileen is a caring, intelligent and somewhat bitter maid living in Jackson, Mississippi. She has lost her only son to a work accident that did not need to be fatal and perhaps would not have been if her son's skin color had been lighter.
Though she has suffered the early death of her only son, Treelore, she is still able to love both white and black people.
Aibileen is a talented writer and, though not one to break the rules openly, she is courageous enough to take risks for positive change in her community.
Minny is a hot-headed maid who speaks her mind.
She has a reputation of having a big mouth, but also being a superb cook.
She does not trust easily and is abused by her husband. Minny is a strong woman, but her strength is repeatedly challenged by the circumstances of her life.
Skeeter is a recent college graduate with aspirations to become a writer. She is part of the upper class of Jackson, but does not identify with the people and values of this group. Skeeter has a troubled relationship with her mother because she does not seem to be pursuing a conventional life (a husband). Skeeter's boldness is fueled in part by her naivete. She takes risks and takes action without fully considering the implications for herself and others.