Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1405
It has been difficult having Miss Skeeter and Minny both in her living room talking about Negro women and working for white women. There have been no battles, but it has been close. Miss Skeeter shows Aibileen the list of reasons Miss Hilly gives for colored bathrooms, and it feels to her like something the Ku Klux Klan might have written. When Minny gets upset and is about to leave—for good this time—Aibileen shows her the list. She takes her time reading it, and then she looks at Miss Skeeter “long and heavy.” It is the motivation she needs to continue, but she warns Miss Skeeter to stay out of her personal life.
Aibileen fixes lunch for Miss Leefolt and Mae Mobley, and they sit at the table together. Miss Leefolt has spent the entire morning gossiping on the phone with Miss Hilly. Once the new baby is born, Mae Mobley will get no attention from her mother, so Aibileen likes seeing them spend a few minutes together. After lunch she fills the wading pool for Mae Mobley, and Miss Leefolt invites Hilly’s children to join them. The three children have a great time splashing in the pool on a hot day, and Aibileen again notices that, despite her other flaws, Miss Hilly loves her children. She talks to them, has contact with them, and tells them she loves them all the time—and they adore her.
The women sit in the shade and watch the children play, and Aibileen can see that Miss Hilly is anxious to talk to Miss Leefolt. While she is gone, Miss Hilly takes the opportunity to talk about her bathroom initiative. When Aibileen sits back down, Miss Hilly looks at her and finally asks if she likes having her own toilet. The maid says yes, though she is tired of talking about it. Miss Hilly talks about “separate but equal” and then asks if Aibileen would want to go to a school full of white people. The maid mumbles an obligatory “no, ma’am” and goes to her Baby Girl to fuss with her hair. What she really wants to do is cover the little girl’s ears and keep her from hearing both the questions and her answers.
Then it occurs to Aibileen that she does not have to just agree, so she tells Miss Hilly she would prefer a school where colored and white students are together. Miss Hilly smiles coldly, wrinkles her nose, and says that white and black folks are just so different. Aibileen wants to say that they may be different but they are also just people. It does not matter, though, because Miss Hilly has already moved on, telling Miss Leefolt that she has to be careful about who her friends are now that William is running for office. A storm is approaching as Aibileen hears these words: Miss Skeeter, satchel, read it.
That night Aibileen is feeling bitter again and thinks about calling Miss Skeeter but does not. The bag of clothes Miss Hilly gave her is still sitting on the floor. Every piece of clothing has Miss Hilly’s initials embroidered onto the tag, and wearing them would make her feel as if she were the property of Miss Hilly. Aibileen kicks at the bag and tries to write her prayers, but she is too distracted by what Miss Hilly meant by “read it.” Miss Skeeter did not act like anything was the matter, but the black woman knows what would happen if white women knew the truth was being told. There would be no burning or shooting or beating for women; instead, women would ensure a slow destruction. First a firing, then an eviction, then a repossession, then jail for an unpaid parking ticket. Relatives would lose their jobs, and late at night there would be a knock at the door—and then the burning or cutting or beating would begin. White women “don’t ever forget,” and they “ain’t gone stop till you dead.”
Miss Skeeter comes to Miss Leefolt’s the next morning, but Aibileen has no chance to talk with her. That night Miss Skeeter calls to see if any other maids are willing to talk. Aibileen thinks her voice sounds strained, but Miss Skeeter is walking around in a haze of love so the older woman refrains from asking her questions right away. Miss Skeeter finally says she has to tell her something important—she left her satchel at the League and Miss Hilly picked it up. She thinks the other woman only read the booklet containing the Jim Crow laws, but she cannot say for sure. Miss Skeeter cries and apologizes. Aibileen contains her anger because she knows it was an accident. Both of them are upset, and Miss Skeeter wonders if Yule May has heard anything at Miss Hilly’s house.
Aibileen hates having to tell her, but she explains what she heard Miss Hilly saying yesterday. Miss Skeeter is sure that if Miss Hilly had read any of the interview notes she would have gossiped gleefully about it all over town, ensuring that Minny and Aibileen would never work anywhere in town again. Grudgingly, Aibileen guesses she is right; and when Miss Skeeter offers to stop, she is surprised at how loud she thinks her “No.” If Miss Hilly knows, she says, stopping now will not save any of them.
For two days, Aibileen sees or hears nothing of Miss Hilly, but she knows she must find out what is “inside Miss Hilly’s head.” Miss Leefolt has left three messages for her friend, but Yule May always says her mistress is at Mister Holbrook’s office (and his campaign headquarters). Aibileen works late that night, watching her Baby Girl while the Leefolts go to a late movie. As she rides the bus home late that night, Aibileen sees a roadblock and flashing blue lights ahead. The white driver gets out to see what is happening. When he returns he backs the bus up and tells Aibileen and the other colored passenger to get off the bus. He will get the white passengers as close to their destinations as he can. He tells them a black man has been shot, then he slams the door shut in their faces.
Aibileen is seven blocks from home but feels anxious to get off the street. She goes to Minny’s house because it is closer. Her family is all gathered around a radio where the announcer says that Medgar Evers, field Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has been taken to the hospital after a Ku Klux Klan member shot him in front of his own house. As they listen, the announcer says that Evers is dead. Minny turns to her children and quietly tells them to go to the back bedroom and stay there. Once they are gone, Minny is fuming at the reports that this man was shot in front of his own home and in front of his family. She tells Aibileen things will never change, that they are trapped and their children are trapped. The radio announces that the Mayor will hold a press conference soon, and Aibileen releases her tears.
So many white people with guns in a colored neighborhood frighten her. She wonders who will protect them when there are no black policemen. The women wonder what will happen to them if they are caught, and the possibilities are all horrific. The mayor says he is sorry for the Evers family. Minny says what they are doing with Miss Skeeter is not civil rights; it is just storytelling.
For days afterwards, Jackson, Mississippi, is a boiling cauldron. Three hundred colored people are arrested, according to the television, for marching up High Street the day after Medgar Evers’s funeral. Thousands attend the services, but only a handful of them are white. The police know who did the shooting but are not releasing his name. Evers will be buried in Arlington Cemetery, and President Kennedy tells the Mayor he must do a better job of getting the two races to work together. The Mayor publically refuses, saying he believes in the separation of the races and nothing is going to change. He calls the city “heaven” and says it is going to remain segregated for the “rest of our lives.”