Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2168
Longleaf is quiet all the time now. No one calls and Skeeter’s mother is much worse. President Kennedy was assassinated two weeks ago, and Skeeter feels that it has been long enough to call Elaine Stein. The editor answers her own phone but sounds as if she regrets doing so when she hears who it is. Skeeter tells her the book will be ready to send by the second week in January, but there is no response at the other end of the line. The editor finally speaks and tells her January is too late, that the final editor’s meeting of the year is on December twenty-first and the manuscript must arrive before then. If not, it will go into “The Pile”—a place no author wants a book to go. She must also include a section about her own maid, to make it more personal. Skeeter hangs up and wonders how she will ever finish in time.
Skeeter kisses her mother good-bye, noting how much worse she is now than she was three months ago. She is forced to lie—again—when her mother asks if she is going to bridge club. Her mother knows Stuart broke up with her but she does not know her tennis partner replaced her, that she was kicked out of bridge club, or that she is never invited to baby showers or cocktail parties—anyplace where Hilly will be in attendance. Her only remaining activity is League meetings, and even there no one is more than polite to her. Skeeter reminds herself this is the price of putting thirty-one toilets on “the most popular girl’s front yard,” but it was not planned. As she typed the newsletter, the idea just came to her. She hired Pascagoula’s brothers to get the toilets from the junkyard and place them on Hilly’s lawn; they were scared but willing to do it. Hilly probably also blames her for William’s losing his senate race, too.
That evening Skeeter kisses her mother goodnight and goes to Aibileen’s house to tell her about the revised deadline. There is a lot of work yet to do, but Skeeter is most concerned about finding out what happened to Constantine. Aibileen sighs and says she would rather Miss Skeeter hear it from her than a stranger and promises to write the story out for her.
When Skeeter attends the Thursday night League meeting, even Elizabeth will not speak to her. After Hilly drones through the list of upcoming drives and the “trouble list” (a place Skeeter always finds herself now), she announces that the committee has decided to make some changes in the League newsletter—renamed The Tattler. She then takes nominations for editor of the new publication, and of course the only nominee is Hilly. Before Skeeter quite realizes what is happening, Hilly Holbrook has usurped her position. As Skeeter leaves, Elizabeth makes a comforting gesture but then looks away.
Skeeter drives and thinks about everything in her life, including her very sick mother, and she realizes that everything is changing. She stops at a phone booth to check on her mother, and her father—who is never up at 8:15 at night—tells her she has to come home. Skeeter assumes it is about her mother, but her father tells her Stuart has been sitting on the porch for two hours waiting for her.
Alone in the dark on the front porch steps, the two of them are like strangers. Stuart tells her he finally confronted Patricia and she is now “out of his head.” Skeeter is sickened by the smell of bourbon on his breath and will not look at him—yet she wishes she could wrap herself up in his arms. She both loves him and hates him as she tells him to go home. He wants to come back and talk to her; she says she does not care what he does. Skeeter cannot risk being “thrown away” again; it has happened too often lately and she would be “stupid” to let it happen one more time.
Skeeter is up early and late working on the book, for she only has seventeen days left—until she remembers she also has to allow for mailing time. Ten days is not long enough. Stuart comes by again; she is polite but firm in her refusal to spend time with him. That night, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter decide on a title for the book: Help. (Skeeter’s first choice was Colored Domestics and the Southern Families for Which They Work.)
On Sunday afternoon with only eight days left, Stuart stops by again to tell Skeeter he will be out of town for three days. Skeeter is indifferent to the news on the outside, but she does miss him. Surprisingly, her mother is aloof to him. After he leaves, she tells her daughter not to let him “cheapen” her; if he does not have the sense to recognize what a kind and intelligent person she is, he does not deserve to have her. The words stay sweetly with Skeeter.
After two straight days of typing, Skeeter is irritable. With only six days left, today she goes to see Aibileen (who has taken the day off) and find out about Constantine. Constantine has a daughter, Lulabelle, who was born “pale as snow” with straight blond hair. When the girl was four, Constantine sent her to an orphanage in Chicago. Skeeter is shocked because she is sure the woman loved her daughter even more than she loved her. Aibileen has a hard look in her eye as she explains that it was too hard for a black woman to raise a white child in Jackson. People always questioned her and policemen would stop her, thinking she had taken someone’s child. A Negro with white skin will never feel like she belongs here; even colored people did not accept the child.
Missus Phelan knew about the child, and Skeeter asks about the orphanage. It was a facility for black children; the white orphanage would not take her. It was an awful parting, with Lula “screaming and thrashing,” but Constantine left her. Later, when she wanted her daughter back, she discovered Lula had been adopted. It was the worst mistake Constantine ever made, and if she had her daughter back she would never let her go. About two years ago, Constantine received a letter from Lulabelle. She was about twenty-five by then, and they began a correspondence. Soon a visit was planned, but Constantine felt as nervous as she was excited. She made elaborate preparations for the visit and told Aibileen she could not wait for Skeeter to meet her daughter (at the time, Aibileen did not even know who Skeeter was). This, Skeeter realizes, is the surprise Constantine had for her. The rest of the story is in writing, and Aibileen tells her she should read it at home.
Skeeter reads the letter and stares at the eight pages she has already typed about her life with Constantine. Now she spends the next two days writing about the woman who loved her even more because she had lost her own daughter—and about the white girl who longed for her own mother not to be “disappointed” in her. She writes about going away to college and their weekly correspondence. But she cannot write about Aibileen’s letter. When Skeeter calls to tell her so, she is apologetic about not risking as much as the other women but must spare her mother. Aibileen understands and says she would not think “real high” of her if she had written it.
The next evening Skeeter seeks out her mother. Part of her understands why she acted the way she did; anyone would be angry about what Lulabelle did. Now she wants to hear the other side of the story, to see if there is anything redeeming about her mother’s part in it. Missus Phelan is dismissive, saying it was two years ago. But when Skeeter asks what happened with Constantine’s daughter, her mother is surprised. She is frail, but her intensity and will to survive are still in evidence as she tells the story.
Ninety-five people were gathered in her living room for a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) meeting. While she was in the kitchen with Constantine, Lulabelle waltzed right in—socializing, drinking coffee, eating cake, and even filling out a membership form. The young woman fit right in and she knew it, so when Skeeter’s mother asked who she was, she laughed and told her before going for another piece of cake. Nobody else heard her, but when she started talking to the president of the Southern States of the DAR, Missus Phelan pulled the girl into the kitchen. Haughtily Lulabelle taunted the older woman about only allowing colored women in her living room to clean, and then Constantine walked in and was as shocked as her employer was. Lulabelle announced that she was part of an underground group up in Chicago and would not budge when asked to leave. Constantine told her to leave, and her daughter headed for the dining room to go out the front door.
Skeeter’s mother stopped her and told her she was to leave through the back door and would never be allowed at Longleaf again. That is when Lulabelle Bates, a Negro pretending to be white, spit in Missus Phelan’s face. Constantine was forbidden to have her daughter in the house on which Mister Phelan was paying rent. Constantine had to choose, and she chose her daughter.
Skeeter tells her mother it was an impossible choice, one she should not have asked Constantine to make. Missus Phelan is adamant that she had no choice. Lulabelle berated the white woman and said her father died and her mother was too sick to keep her so she had to give her away, but now nothing would keep them apart. Skeeter’s mother was sick with shame for the lies Constantine told her daughter and had to tell her the truth: her father left the day after she was born, and her mother was never sick; she simply did not want her because she was high yellow.
Skeeter wanted to know why she could not have simply let Lula believe the best of her mother. Constantine only told her those lies so her daughter would not hate her. Her mother contends that Lulabelle “needed to know the truth” and go back to Chicago where she belonged. Skeeter now knows there is no redemption for her mother in this story. Missus Phelan never wanted Constantine to leave and never thought she would go, but she did. Three weeks after moving to Chicago, she died. Missus Phelan did not tell Skeeter because she knew Skeeter would blame her when it was not her fault.
The 266-page manuscript is finished, and Skeeter shows it to Aibileen the night before she is going to mail it. She, Aibileen, and Minny again discuss the consequences of what they are doing, and they feel some fear—but the book has become more important than what might happen. Skeeter is more scared for them than for herself, and when she sees Minny with a bandage on her arm, she knows Minny is the one who most understands what could happen to them. Minny is thinking and finally says they need some insurance, something that would keep anyone from finding out the story is about these women in Jackson, Mississippi. She has an idea.
Minny wants to include the Terrible Awful in the book, reasoning that then Hilly will never let anyone find out that the story was about her. She is the key to everyone else’s identities, so keeping her quiet must be the goal. Aibileen is the swing vote, and finally she decides: it might work, but if it does not, Minny will be in so much trouble “there ain’t even a name for it.” Minny is willing to take the risk and says to add the story or take her part out altogether. Hers is the last chapter of the book, and it must stay, so Minny shares her story.
Skeeter wonders all the way home if they would be safer leaving this story out or putting it in—and she has to write it quickly to make tomorrow’s mailing deadline. Hilly will be their most ardent enemy either way if they are found out, so Minny is right. Skeeter writes all night and day; at the post office she discovers she just missed the out-of-town truck. What usually takes seven or eight days now miraculously has to take six. When Skeeter calls Missus Stein and tells her it has been mailed, the editor does not sound hopeful. It has to arrive and she has to read it before the final editor’s meeting in six days.