The Help Summary
The Help is a novel by Kathryn Stockett about Black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962.
- The maids work with Skeeter Phelan, a young white woman, to create a book depicting their lives.
- The chapters are narrated through the eyes of three main characters: Aibileen, Minnie, and Skeeter.
- Descriptions of historical events from the early civil rights movement are peppered throughout the novel, as are interactions between the maids and their white employers.
Last Updated on April 30, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2662
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a novel about black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962. The black maids work with Skeeter Phelan, a white woman, to create a book depicting their lives. The chapters are narrated through the eyes of three main characters: Aibileen, Minnie, and Skeeter. Descriptions of historical events of the early activities of thecivil rights movement are peppered throughout the novel, as are interactions between the maids and their white employers. The novel is filled with details reminiscent of early-1960s culture in the United States: color televisions replacing black-and-white models, daytime programs with detergent and cleaning product advertisements, and the introduction of the miniskirt and rock-and-roll music add to the authenticity of the background and help make the characters' motivations believable.
Chapter 1 situates the novel in 1962 and is narrated by Aibileen, a black maid working for Mrs. Leefolt by taking care of a toddler, Mae Mobley. Aibileen loves Mae Mobley, as the reader can see by the tenderhearted way she speaks to her, and all the extra care and time she gives to her. Aibileen had a child of her own once, by the name of Treelore, who was accidentally killed at age twenty-four, in an accident at the logging mill. Aibileen shares her story of the logging incident and how she reacted afterward. She was completely devastated by her son's death until her friend Minnie helped her; and she began working with Mrs. Leefolt, taking care of Mae Mobley. This is where the reader learns why Aibileen immersed herself into caring for the child of a white woman; she transferred all her love onto her employer's children.
Aibileen meets Skeeter at Mrs. Leefolt's home, who asks her about cleaning difficult items because she (Skeeter) will be writing a newspaper column on household cleaning. She notices how respectful Skeeter is of her and feels suspicious, but she likes Skeeter and feels she can trust her. In her prayers, she mentions Skeeter. She says:
The thing is though, if I start prayin' for Miss Skeeter, I know that conversation gone continue the next time I see her. And the next..cause that's they way prayer do. It's like electricity, it keeps things going.
Aibileen is very spiritual and her beliefs have kept her hopeful throughout her difficult life. The reader can see that she is a powerful woman.
In chapters 1 and 2, the interactions between the black maids and their white employers are explored. For example, Miss Hilly sits at the head of the Junior League, which represents the high class women in Jackson; she is attempting to institute laws on separate bathrooms for blacks and whites, even in private homes. She wants to go so far as to making it a law so it would be a crime for owners to allow blacks to use white bathrooms. Skeeter thinks this is ridiculous.
Aibileen talks to her friend, Minnie, on the phone who tells her she was fired for stealing but that it is not true. She is worried she will never get another job in Jackson because of Miss Hilly's gossip. The reader can see through the character's dialog and actions how the white women have social power over the black maids by constructing hurtful gossip, to prevent the maids from gaining employment. Most of the white women use their power to control their maids, but Skeeter is different.
Chapters 3 and 4 are narrated by Minnie. She goes for a job interview at Celia Foote's home. She realizes that Celia Foote has not heard the gossip from Hilly about her stealing, so she is relieved. Mrs. Foote...
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is very incompetent as a housekeeper and cook. She wants to hire Minnie but keeps it a secret from his husband so he thinks she is doing the work. Minnie does not like Celia's secrecy but takes the job because it pays $2.00 an hour, which is twice the salary she received at her past position.
Chapters 5 and 6 are narrated by Skeeter. Skeeter is the editor of the Junior League newsletter. She finds herself very different from the other whites her age in Jackson, especially on the civil rights issues. She thinks of the black maids as her equals and believes that the black maid who raised her, Constantine, was more like a mother.
She reminisces a lot about Constantine; it bothers her why Constantine left her household as the maid so abruptly without any explanation. She thinks often about her and even asks Aibilene why Constantine left Jackson unexpectedly. Aibileen says she was fired. Skeeter is confused because her mother told her Constantine left to join her family in Chicago. Skeeter confronts her mother. Her mother gives a lame excuse which Skeeter interprets as prejudice.
Chapter 7 is narrated by Aibileen, who is working at Mrs. Leefolt's home and taking care of Mae Mobley. She and the child are close, almost like mother and daughter. Mrs. Leefolt is strict and judgmental. Aibileen remembers her son Treelore. The anniversary of his death is that day, so she pretends to be sick so she can go home. The next day, Skeeter shows up unexpectedly at Aibileen's house on the poor side of town. She is cautious, wondering why a white woman would come to her neighborhood. Miss Skeeter asks her to help her with the book. She wants Aibileen to tell her about life as a black maid in Jackson. Aibileen politely refuses since blacks are being killed for much less on a daily basis, like using the white's toilet.
Chapters 8 and 9 are narrated by Skeeter. She tells her impressions of Aibileen's neighborhood as she approaches in her Cadillac. The neighbor's are cold and Aibileen only looks down at the ground when she is speaking. Skeeter does not realize why she is so uncomfortable. She returns to her home and receives a phone call from the publisher who likes her idea about a book on the black maids. She is excited. Then she goes to the Wednesday bridge club at Hilly's home; and she goes into the kitchen to talk to Aibileen. She offers Aibileen money in an envelope for helping her with the Miss Myrna letters on housekeeping, but Aibileen thinks it is a bribe to work on the book so she refuses. In chapter 9, it is the day of Skeeter's date. The date begins at 6 p.m. at Hilly's home but since Skeeter has not told her mother, she has to leave in regular work clothes; and she has to take her father's truck with a tractor on it. When she gets to Hilly's, her date, Stuart, has been waiting. He is drunk and sees her truck and tractor and thinks it is the funniest thing he has ever seen. She is humiliated and runs upstairs. Hilly's husband drives him home. Skeeter goes home the next morning and is upset but cannot confide in her mother because she does not even know she had a date the evening before. The phone rings and it is Aibileen. She decides to help her on the book and says she will ask her friend, Minnie, to help her too.
Chapter 10 is narrated by Minnie. Minnie is trying to teach her white employer, Celia Foote, how to bake a pecan pie. That evening she goes to church where she sees Aibileen, who tells her about Miss Skeeter's book. Aibileen asks her to help. She refuses. When she goes to Celia Foote's the next week, she is depressed and there are blood stains on the sheets. The next day Celia Foote is not home when Minnie arrives.Mr. Foote suddenly appears in the afternoon and Minnie is startled. He is very nice to her. He tells Minnie to not tell Celia that he knows about her hiring a maid. He is concerned about Celia's mental health so he gives Minnie his office number to inform him of any problems.
Chapters 11 through 13 are narrated by Skeeter. Skeeter interviews Aibileen at her house. She is too straightforward and Aibileen becomes ill. A week goes by before she hears from Aibileen. While she is at Hilly's, her maid gives Skeeter a note saying, “I know what makes the teapot stop rattling.” This is to let Skeeter know she wants the interviews to continue. Skeeter takes her typewriter to Aibileens several times that week and they write a lot. She meets with both Aibileen and Minnie. The publisher phones telling Skeeter to finish the book sooner; Martin Luther King is marching on Washington and they want to print the book soon. Stuart comes to Skeeter's home unexpectedly to apologize; but she is not angry and they go out on for a relaxing dinner and talk. She goes to the library the next day and steals a book on Jim Crow laws because she does not want the librarian to see what she is reading. She sees Hilly later and accidentally leaves her satchel. Hilly finds it and tells her to come get it.
In chapters 14 to 16, narrated by Aibileen, the interviews continue with her and Minnie. All three of them—Skeeter, Aibileen and Minnie—are afraid of what Hilly has seen and if she will discover the book they are writing. Skeeter is at Minnie's house and they are extra worried because the KKK shot Medgar Evers, secretary of the NAACP. They hold a press conference and Jackson, Mississippi and it is on the cover of Life Magazine. In chapter 15, Hilly confronts Skeeter at the country club about what she discovered in her bag—a booklet containing Jim Crow laws. Skeeter explains that it was just a booklet she wanted to look at. In chapter sixteen, Aibileen goes to the Community Concerns meeting and sees Yule Mae who offers to be interviewed for the book.
Chapters 17 and 18 are narrated by Minnie. She is teaching Celia how to cook fried chicken. Miss Celia is still depressed. She has a miscarriage while Minnie is there and Minnie helps her call Dr. Tate. She cleans up the dead baby and the mess.
Chapters 19 to 21 are narrated by Skeeter. Stuart visits the house. Pascagoula, Skeeter's mother's maid, tells Skeeter she wants to be interviewed for the book. Pascagoula hands Skeeter an envelope that contains a letter from Yule May explaining why she cannot help with the book; she is in the penitentiary, accused of stealing a ring from her employer, Hilly. Skeeter goes to Aibileen's and many black people are there including the reverend; they are collecting money to pay for Yule May's son's tuition. Every other night Skeeter goes to Aibileen's house to work on the book. Many different colored maids volunteer to be interviewed. Skeeter and her parents go to the Senator's home for dinner. Skeeter works on the book everyday and wonders what Constantine would think about her.
Chapter 22 is narrated by Aibileen. When Abileen is at work she keeps answering the phone that is constantly ringing. Skeeter wrote the wrong thing in the newsletter and everyone is calling Hilly. Her yard is full of toilets of all colors because Skeeter wrote in the newsletter for people to drop them off in her front yard. Aibileen took Mae Mobley outside to look at them. She was trying to use them and many people drove by and were laughing. It makes front page in the Jackson Journal. Hilly is furious and is intent on getting revenge on Skeeter. Aibileen's employer comes home early and tells her not to talk to Skeeter anymore. Martin Luther King is on television everyday.
In chapter 23, Celia Foote goes to Hilly's house in person, to volunteer for the league. Hilly says no but she invites them to the Banquet.
Chapter 24 is narrated by Minnie. A white man stands naked in front of the back door and Minnie tries to chase him away. He attacks and but Miss Celia helps out and stabs him with the fire poker. He manages to creep away. Miss Celia gets ready in a big hot pink dress for the banquet.
Chapter 25 is about the annual Junior League Banquet. Celia Foote arrives at the banquet in a hot pink dress with a plunging neckline. All the men stare at her; the women avoid her. She is totally unaware of the socially appropriate attire in Jackson. She tries desperately to become friends with Hilly at the banquet. Accidentally, she rips off the arm of Hilly's dress and then, in a furry, Hilly threatens her, accusing Celia of trying to humiliate her. Celia throws up all over the floor. The incident was the highlight of the banquet.
Chapter 26 is narrated by Minnie who is helping Celia Foote cope withher reaction to the fiasco at the banquet. She threatens to go back to Sugar Bush where she was raised. Minnie calms her down and tells her she cannot let Hilly win by giving up. Celia regains her strength and takes out her frustration by cutting down the mimosa tree.
Chapters 27 and 28 are narrated by Skeeter. The time period is two weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy. Skeeter, Minnie, and Aibileen decide the title of the book will be The Help. Skeeter confronts her mother, even as she lay dying of cancer in her bed, about why Constantine left. Her mother tells her side of the story but there is no redemptive fact in it. Skeeter says, ”I let my head sink into my hands. There is no redeeming piece of the story. I know why Aibileen hadn't wanted to tell me. A child should never know this about her own mother.”
Chapter 29 is narrated by Aibileen. At the church she receives a large box from the back door, when she opens it she sees the book, The Help. She hands out the copies to Minnie and the other maids who were interviewed in the book.
Chapter 30 is narrated by Minnie. The book has been on talk shows and people are guessing what town it is about. Chapter 31 is narrated by Aibileen. She hears Hilly claim to know one of the black maids in the book. Chapter 32 is narrated by Minnie. Aibileen goes to Minnie's house and says Hilly is gossiping about who she thinks is in the book. Minnie wakes up in the night and hears Hilly scream. Chapter 33 is narrated by Skeeter. She wakes up in the middle of the night, thinking about the future and her career and life beyond the provincialism of Jackson. While at the pharmacy she sees an old friend who encourages her, believing that she wrote the book.
After Skeeter goes home, she sees Hilly's car in the driveway. Hilly threatens to sue her for libel because of what she wrote in the book. She tells Aibileen and Minnie that Hilly knows because of a particular description in the novel: the crack in the table. She tells them she has a job offer in New York. Minnie says she and Aibileen will take care of each other but she should go cause she does not have a friend left in Jackson.
Chapter 34 is narrated by Aibileen. Her employers are angry about the book and how Mae Mobley learned about the civil rights actions. She says her teacher taught her, not Aibileen. Skeeter tells Aibileen that she has the Miss Myrna columnist job at the paper, if she wants it. Aibileen hands Skeeter the book signed by all the black maids. Skeeter is going to New York. Aibileen goes to work and Hilly accuses her of stealing silverware. She says she did not do it. She also says she knows a lot about Hilly; and she can write letters from jail to everyone in Jackson. She was fired and she leaves but she is not sorry. She is looking forward to the writing job at the newspaper. She feels hope that maybe she is not too old to start over.