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Chapter 12 Summary

Miss Skeeter

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 she is not welcome at the white library. Again, Skeeter is reminded of the great risk this woman is taking to tell her this story. When she offers to get some books for her, Aibileen goes in and gets a list she has made, marking the ones she would like to read first. The list is impressive: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well as books by W. E. B. Du Bois, Emily Dickinson, and Sigmund Freud. Skeeter asks how long she has wanted to ask this favor, and Aibileen tells her it has been a while but she was afraid to mention it since she is not clear which “white rules” Miss Skeeter is following and which she is not. Skeeter says she is “tired of the rules,” something she knows must sound pretty weak to this black woman.

For four days, Skeeter types nonstop. Her twenty pages of typed notes become twenty-seven pages of a manuscript. Aibileen reads her own words, smiling at the good parts but hesitant at including the negative things. Skeeter assures her she must include those; but she, too, is surprised at the stories of separate refrigerators, temper tantrums over wrinkled napkins, and white babies calling their black maids “Mama.” She finally slips the pages into an envelope and mails the package to New York. Skeeter calls Elaine Stein’s office to tell her the interview is on its way and her secretary, Ruth, takes the message. No one returns her call. In her exhaustion, Skeeter begins to worry about what might happen if Hilly or Elizabeth discovers their secret. She wonders if Aibileen would be fired or sent to jail or...

(The entire section is 1,485 words.)