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Chapter 19 Summary

Miss Skeeter

It is 1963 and Longleaf still has no air conditioning, so Skeeter sleeps on a cot on the back porch. She remembers sleeping out here when Constantine stayed with them, and again Skeeter misses her terribly. She has no writing to do because she is caught up on Minny’s stories and Yule May is not quite ready to talk to her. The heat and racial tension are making things uneasy for everyone. The Life magazine in front of her tells the story of a black teacher’s death. He was a Mississippi man who dared to speak out against their racist governor. She realizes how foolish she had been three months ago; she had not realized the risk the maids would be taking by talking to her.

The only cool place on the plantation is the car, so she gets in and starts the ignition. Suddenly the passenger door opens. Stuart slides in and gives her a quick kiss. He has to go to Biloxi for three days and invites her to come with him. He has lodgings on the beach where it is cool, and Skeeter is tempted to go despite the scandal of sharing a room with a man before marriage. Her friends would all tell her not to even consider it, but she does. He tempts her with kisses, but she cannot lie to her mother. Before he leaves, he invites Skeeter and her parents to his parents’ home for dinner in a few weeks. After he leaves, Skeeter is left to worry about sharing a meal with a state senator—and with her mother asking a multitude of questions, looking desperate on behalf of her daughter, and mentioning cotton trust funds.

When Stuart returns, he comes directly to Longleaf. Mrs. Phelan assures him they would be delighted to have dinner with his parents, and Stuart is polite to her in every way. Skeeter loves so many things about this man, including his callused palms and neat nails, being able to look him in the eyes when they talk, and having someone with whom to go to events. As important as anything to her is the protection he affords her in her own home; when he is here, her mother leaves off her nagging and criticizing. Finally Mrs. Phelan goes to bed and they sit on the sofa. Stuart only wants to kiss her, but Skeeter is troubled about his former relationship and needs to have some questions answered. She must find out what “constitutes breaking up forever,” what the rules of a permanent relationship are, and how many of them can be broken before it is too many. She knows none of these things.

Stuart asks for a drink before they talk. His mother will probably be making some comparisons between Skeeter and Patricia. His father knows part of what happened, but his mother knows the “real story,” as do Patricia’s parents. Although she asks, Stuart will not tell her what happened, not even when she says she simply does not want to repeat the same mistake. Stuart assures her she could never do what Patricia did.

Skeeter and her mother are going clothes shopping for their upcoming dinner with Stuart’s family. Pascagoula brings her breakfast, and for the first time Skeeter wonders what it is like to always have to remember other people’s food preferences. She sincerely thanks the maid for the first time. Pascagoula seems uncomfortable with the sentiment; soon, though, she stands quietly next to Skeeter and says she needs to tell her something. She gets no further because Mrs. Phelan marches in and tells Skeeter she cannot wear dungarees to go shopping. When Skeeter’s mother breezes back out, Skeeter asks the maid what she wanted to tell her. Yule May is Pascagoula’s cousin, and she has decided to tell her stories for the book. Skeeter is so thrilled she asks Pascagoula if she, too, wants to tell her stories.

Both women understand how uncomfortable it would be for both of them, so Skeeter says she can talk about her other domestic jobs. Pascagoula explains that this is her first domestic job. Skeeter feels surprised her mother hired someone with no experience, but Pascagoula explains that no one else would work for her after what...

(The entire section is 1,495 words.)