Chapter 20 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1133

Miss Skeeter

The Phelans are on the steps of State Senator Whitworth’s house, and Skeeter is begging her mother to remember what they talked about. Her mother agrees not to mention her cotton trust fund—“unless it’s appropriate.” Skeeter looks at her parents and thinks they must look like “country bumpkins.”...

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Miss Skeeter

The Phelans are on the steps of State Senator Whitworth’s house, and Skeeter is begging her mother to remember what they talked about. Her mother agrees not to mention her cotton trust fund—“unless it’s appropriate.” Skeeter looks at her parents and thinks they must look like “country bumpkins.” But the door opens and it is too late to do anything about it. Mrs. Whitworth is dressed in a suit similar to Skeeter’s and says she is delighted to meet them all. She meet’s Skeeter’s gaze directly; her eyes are blue and beautiful, like cold water. When she smiles and slides her hand down Skeeter’s arm, a prong of her ring scratches the younger woman’s skin and Skeeter gasps.

The Senator is loud and a bit rough, though he is as friendly as his wife is cold. He tells them to call him Stooley, since everyone else does, and he and Mr. Phelan begin talking farming and politics. They head to the formal living room, and Skeeter catches the maid’s eye; Skeeter smiles and the woman drops her eyes and nods. It occurs to Skeeter that she must know, and she realizes how “duplicitous her life has become.” She tries not to be nervous, to act like she is not worried and has met many boyfriends’ parents before.

Stuart is still on his way, driving from Shreveport. The Senator asks what they want to drink and seems disappointed when his guests ask for coffee and iced tea. As they share polite conversation, Patricia van Devender’s name comes up more than once, and Skeeter hopes Stuart will arrive soon. Although Mrs. Whitworth is ten years younger than Skeeter’s mother, she looks older because her face has turned “long and prudish.” She asks what Eugenia (she, too, uses Skeeter’s given name) is writing, and Skeeter does not quite know what to say. There are maids in the room and she could never tell the truth anyway. Mrs. Phelan finally says she is writing a book about Jesus (assuming all those nights her daughter has been going to church have been research for her book). Stuart finally walks in the door.

He heads straight to Skeeter and kisses her cheek, and she relaxes just a bit. When she turns, though, she sees his mother smiling at her as if she just wiped her dirty hands on her best guest towel. After Stuart gets a drink, he settles in next to Skeeter and holds her hand. When she notices the gesture, Missus Whitworth takes her two female guests on a tour of the house. They see much Confederate history in every room, but Skeeter is drawn to the family photos and Stuart’s face as a young boy. She sees him in the arms of a black maid in one picture, and there is a slightly discolored space on the wall where a photo has recently been taken off the wall. As they return to the living room, Skeeter hears Stuart tell his father he should stop talking about something. As the seating for dinner begins, the Senator stays behind and downs two more drinks before being seated.

The food is delicious, according to Skeeter’s mother, though she is unable to eat much of it due to her stomach problem. Mrs. Phelan sees this as an important moment in her strategy to help her daughter catch a man. After noting that Stuart is at their house twice a week and the two young people so enjoy one another’s company, she invites the Whitworths to Longleaf. Stuart’s stiffens and says she had no idea her son visited that often. They are so young, she says, and there is certainly no rush to get serious. The Senator thinks this is ironic, considering his wife practically proposed to Patricia herself, she was so anxious for a wedding. Silence reigns at the table, and Stuart is visibly angry with his father.

The Senator leans back and asks Skeeter if she has heard about Carl Roberts, “the one” before Medgar Evers, who was killed. She responds weakly that she has seen the article, and the Senator turns to her father after that. Skeeter is nervous, for she and Stuart have never spoken of their positions on civil rights. Stuart is still angry about his father’s previous comments. Mr. Phelan says the senseless killings make him sad, and he feels ashamed of what has been happening in Mississippi. This is a surprise to Skeeter because the subject is simply never discussed in their home; however, she is proud of her father and his willingness to speak up in front of a politician. She even sees a hint of agreement in her mother’s eyes, beneath her fear that all is lost for her daughter’s future. Stuart looks concerned, but Skeeter is unsure of the cause.

The Senator says the teacher was unwise to have said insulting things about the governor, but he is beginning to wonder lately if what the man said is true. His wife tries to stop him from talking, but he admonishes her and says he cannot speak his mind during work hours but he should certainly be free to do so in his own home. The table is silent and Stuart still glares at his plate with “the same cold anger as before.” Someone finally changes the subject.

After dinner, the Senator catches Skeeter alone and tells her she has no idea how bad it got after Patricia. Stuart would not speak to his parents for months. He asks her if his son is doing okay now, and she answers honestly that she does not really know. When she is able to pull Stuart aside, she tells him they are going to have to talk about what happened sometime when he is ready. Patricia slept with someone else, he says, but Skeeter can see there was more than a simple betrayal. He finally admits that the man she slept with was a Yankee civil rights activist. He could have forgiven her when she apologized, but he understood what this would mean to his father’s political career and chose not to take her back. He broke up with her because she cheated on him; he did not take her back because of his father.

Skeeter can see that Stuart still loves Patricia. When she asks him, he protests but says he thinks they need to “quit for a while.” Skeeter does not know what to say, but she hears her parents getting ready to leave. She thanks her hosts and tells them all good-bye. She and Stuart smile at one another so that their parents will not realize everything has changed.

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