Chapter 21 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 971

Miss Skeeter

A cooling unit has finally been installed at Longleaf. It is located in the relaxing room, and it is there because the doctor recommended it. Skeeter’s mother is tired all the time and her ulcers are getting worse; the doctor says keeping her cool would at least make...

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Miss Skeeter

A cooling unit has finally been installed at Longleaf. It is located in the relaxing room, and it is there because the doctor recommended it. Skeeter’s mother is tired all the time and her ulcers are getting worse; the doctor says keeping her cool would at least make her more comfortable. Skeeter has not told her parents that Stuart broke up with her, and she longs for some relief from the heat to cool her “singed and hurt” heart.

The feel of the cool air is glorious, and all three of the Phelans stand and enjoy the new contraption. Skeeter’s father turns the knob to “3,” the highest setting on the unit. It runs for a moment and then everything goes black. It blows the current. An hour later, after he repairs it, Mr. Phelan says there is only one rule with the new machine: never turn the knob to “3.” Once her parents are sleeping, Skeeter creeps around the house turning off everything that uses electricity except the refrigerator. She stands in front of the air cooling unit with her blouse unbuttoned and turns it up to “3” because she longs to feel nothing, “to be frozen inside.” She wants the icy air to freeze her heart. In about three seconds, the power blows.

Skeeter spends the next few weeks immersed in interviews. She types all day and late into the night, and the women’s stories allow her to escape her own miserable life. Her mother is anxious to have the Whitworths over for dinner, but it is clear she is getting thinner and weaker all the time and Skeeter does not want to tell her about Stuart. She simply says he has been out of town. It is still hot, and even Pascagoula finds reasons to be in the relaxing room where it is cooler. When her mother says she is free on the twenty-fifth, Skeeter tells her she will check with the Whitworths. She continues the charade because her mother seems so frail and in so much pain.

The manuscript is sitting on Aibileen’s table; it is an inch thick, and it is beginning to look like a book. It is nearly August and there is a lot of work yet to do before January, but Skeeter is finished with five chapters, including Minny’s and Aibileen’s. The names have all been changed and the stories are set in the fictional city of Niceville in the very real (and racially divided) state of Mississippi. Aibileen asks if Skeeter thinks it will get published. She responds with false confidence and says Elaine Stein did seem interested and the march will be happening soon. Skeeter has no idea if the book will ever get published, but she is well aware that the responsibility for the project is hers alone.

She can see in the faces of the women she interviews that they are counting on her to tell their stories, to be their voice. The risk they are taking is evidence of their desire to be heard. Skeeter knows she is now a threat to every white family in town. Although many of the stories are positive and celebratory of family and love, the bad stories will inflame the anger of the white women—and they will fight back. They must all keep this “a perfect secret.”

Skeeter deliberately arrives five minutes late to the League meeting. The meeting drags on for two hours. Skeeter sees seven women in the room who are related to characters or are themselves characters in the book, and she wants to escape before she has to talk to anyone. Elizabeth sees her; she has not seen her friend in some time, so Skeeter stops to visit. Elizabeth is six months pregnant and miserable in every way. Quietly, Elizabeth says she is sorry to hear about Stuart, and Skeeter is frankly surprised that it has taken this long for word to get out. She sees Hilly coming her way and tries to escape, but she does not make it.

Hilly is holding the most recent newsletter and wants to discuss why her Bathroom Initiative is not in it—again. Hilly points out that it has been five months. Skeeter finally says she will never print it. In a face-off, Hilly tells Skeeter she wants it printed before election time or she will call “upstairs” and have her thrown out of the League. Skeeter counters with a threat to call Genevieve von Hapsburg in New York City, the youngest national League president in history and the only person Hilly might be afraid of. Hilly does not even blink.

Hilly is determined there will be no scandal in her League brought on by harboring a racial integrationist. Skeeter asks whom the League is working to help, but Hilly fails to see the irony of her willingness to feed black children halfway around the world but not across town. She threatens to call Genevieve and tell her Hilly is a hypocrite, and she thinks she may have struck a nerve. Again Hilly remains unmoved and slowly says it is no wonder that Stuart Whitworth dumped her. Skeeter remains composed on the outside, but inside she is slipping to the floor; she tells Hilly she wants the booklet of laws back. Hilly tells her she can have it if she prints the initiative, and Skeeter turns and walks out the door.

At home, Skeeter quietly makes her way to the back porch and her typewriter, trying not to hear the sounds of her mother’s retching sickness. Slowly, she begins to type the initiative on page two of the League newsletter, where everyone will be certain to see it. As she types, the only thing she thinks about is what Constantine would think of her.

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