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Chapter 25 Summary

The Benefit

The Jackson Junior League Annual Ball and Benefit (“the Benefit”) begins with cocktails at seven o’clock at the Robert E. Lee Hotel. The doors of the banquet hall will open at eight o’clock and dinner will begin at nine. The proceeds from the auction will go to the Poor Starving Children of Africa, and the dance floor and bandstand are opposite the podium from which Miss Hilly Holbrook will give her speech. The husbands may get drunk but none of the wives will do so. They are all hostesses this night, and they know Hilly is the shining star.

Hilly is dressed in a maroon taffeta gown, and everything but her fingers and face are covered. All the ladies show no more than a few inches of skin; those who show more are not members, they are “those kind.” The Footes do not arrive until 7:25. (When Mister Johnny arrived home from work and saw his wife, he asked if she should be quite so bare at the top. She laughed and said he knew nothing about fashion, and Johnny gave up because they were already late.) At the Benefit, there is a moment when Celia is alone, sparkling in the entryway, and the entire room grows still. It takes a moment for the sight to register, and then the men all smile and say to themselves “at last.” William Holbrook spills his drink on the shoes of one of his largest political contributors, but neither of the men notice. Hilly finally sees what everyone is looking at and her neck muscles grow taut.

Reactions to the dazzling display of bosom and sequins are mixed. One old man feels younger just seeing Celia; his wife says bosoms are for “bedrooms and breastfeeding” and she should cover them up in public. The Footes enter the room, and Celia asks Johnny in a whisper if she is overdressed because the women in the room seem dressed for church. He tells her she looks beautiful and offers his jacket if she is cold. He leaves to get her a drink (her fifth of the day, though he does not know it) and Celia looks around for Hilly. She sees her across the room and “yoo-hoos” at her. As she heads toward her, Hilly disappears into the crowd. No one speaks to Celia unless they cannot avoid it. Near the food, Minny points Celia out to Aibileen; her only response is that the women better watch their men tonight.

Skeeter arrives wearing black, looking bored, and taking a few notes for the next League newsletter. She sees Elizabeth Leefolt (who looks exhausted after giving birth a month before) a few feet away and is amused to see the panic in her face as she sees Celia Foote approaching her from the other side. Her former friend looks trapped before she rushes away with Celia following after her. Skeeter knows the biggest story of the Benefit will be Celia Foote’s fashion disaster.

Neither the Footes nor Skeeter are seated for dinner near anyone who matters. After dinner Hilly begins her speech. She thanks all the nonmembers, and the members all pity them for not being good enough to belong. She thanks all those who donated to the evening’s festivities and auction, and she thanks the “anonymous contributor” of toilets to help the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. Hilly invites whomever was responsible to “step up and accept our gratitude,” but there is no movement. Skeeter shows no reaction at all but keeps her face “stoic and unyielding.” Finally Hilly makes a pitch for her husband’s senate campaign, teasing any congressmen in the room to get the separate schools issue straightened out or she might just come do it herself. There is plenty of laughter in the room.

The dancing begins, as does the auction. Johnny is ready to go home, but Celia is upset that some nonmembers were able to help while she was not. She spots Hilly across the room and heads over to her. She almost makes it before Hilly slips behind the podium. When Celia goes to the ladies’ room, Hilly heads to Johnny. She hooks her hand in the crook of his elbow and begins teasing him about several things—including his...

(The entire section is 1,363 words.)