Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1402
One hot September morning, Skeeter treks to the mailbox at the end of their drive and finds a letter addressed to Miss Eugenia Phelan. It is from the senior editor at Harper & Row Publishers, Elaine Stein. She tells Skeeter she is impressed at her ambition at wanting to...
(The entire section contains 1402 words.)
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One hot September morning, Skeeter treks to the mailbox at the end of their drive and finds a letter addressed to Miss Eugenia Phelan. It is from the senior editor at Harper & Row Publishers, Elaine Stein. She tells Skeeter she is impressed at her ambition at wanting to work for such a prestigious company with absolutely no experience. She recommends that Skeeter take whatever job she can find at her local newspaper and, in her free time, write about anything that disturbs her—“particularly if it bothers no one else.” Underneath the typed letter is a handwritten note offering to look at her writing and give her advice because someone once did the same for her. Skeeter runs back to the house and is immediately inspired to begin typing a list of things she finds disturbing. After she mails the letter the next day, she realizes she probably wrote things she thought the editor would like more than injustices that truly interest her.
Two days after she received the letter, Skeeter enters the door to the Jackson Journal building for an appointment with Mr. Golden. When she called, she said she was interested in any available position and was surprised at how quickly they asked to see her. The receptionist is less than professional, and Mr. Golden looks in every way like a small, mean man. After Skeeter hands him her resume and sample articles from school, Mr. Golden edits her work with a red pencil as they talk. In between making “violent red marks” on her work and telling her she should have had more fun at college, Mr. Golden tells her he guesses “she’ll do.” He hands her a thick file of papers and tells her Miss Myrna has gone crazy; all Skeeter has to do is write the answers like she does and no one will know the difference. Confused, Skeeter has no idea who Miss Myrna is and asks the only question she can think to ask—how much the job pays. He tells her eight dollars a week. She is still dazed at it all, but Mr. Gordon thinks she is holding out for more money and increases the amount to ten dollars. He will give her nothing if he does not like her writing style, and copy is due on Thursdays. Skeeter has just gotten her first job.
Her mother is less than pleased (which confirms Skeeter’s instinct that she should not have told her about it) and asks Skeeter how she will manage to give advice about cleaning when she has never done it herself. She adds that Skeeter will never meet anybody sitting behind a typewriter. Skeeter makes it clear she does not want to be living here, with her; Mrs. Phelan is embarrassed to ask but wonders if Skeeter prefers women to men. If so, she has heard about a “special root tea”—Skeeter interrupts and assures her she does not “want to be with girls” as she storms up the stairs.
Skeeter decides she needs a professional to help her with this column (the first of which is due tomorrow), and she chooses Aibileen, Elizabeth’s maid. After lying to her mother about where she is going, Skeeter drives her mother’s Cadillac to her friend’s house. Hilly comes out of the bathroom, relieved to know that she is not sharing the room with a black person anymore. Skeeter assumes Aibileen now has her own bathroom in the garage. Hilly asks if either of them has heard where Minny Jackson is working; they both say no, and Hilly is complacent, believing her lies have kept the woman from being hired anywhere in town. Skeeter announces she has gotten a job at the Jackson Journal and her friends are thrilled for her.
Neither of them has ever read Miss Myrna’s column either. Elizabeth is surprised when Skeeter asks if she can speak with Aibileen. She finally approves as long as it does not interfere with her work. Right now, though, Mae Mobley is about to get up, and she does not want to take care of her daughter herself—and tomorrow is silver-polishing day. Elizabeth begrudgingly says she can talk to Aibileen for a few minutes in the morning.
Skeeter talks with Aibileen the next morning, and the maid is able to answer four or five of the letters to Myrna in a very short time, though Skeeter says it is unfair of her to claim the maid’s expertise as her own. Aibileen says she does not mind as long as Miss Leefolt allows it. When Skeeter asks about Constantine, Aibileen eventually tells her she was fired. Skeeter is incredulous and Aibileen says she probably just “misremembered.” Mae Mobley wakes up and saves them both from further conversation.
As soon as Skeeter arrives home, she demands the truth from her mother, who explains that Eugenia could not understand having to fire the help. “It was nothing but a colored thing,” she says and then refuses to say more. Skeeter is furious at her mother for so easily casting off someone who raised her children for her, taught them “kindness and self-respect,” and was part of their family for twenty-nine years.
When Skeeter finally has a chance to ask her father what happened to Constantine, he clearly believes what he was told—that she quit. Every week when Skeeter visits Aibileen for cleaning tips, she asks the maid again about Constantine and gets nothing but a shrug in reply. Elizabeth is acting warier about Skeeter’s visits, which makes Aibileen nervous as well. The columns have been well received by Mr. Golden, and Skeeter is ahead of her copy deadlines. One afternoon, Skeeter sees Pascagoula mesmerized in front of the television. Ole Miss is on the national news for admitting its first Negro student, a boy who is standing face-to-face with the governor and a state senator; the announcer says President Kennedy has ordered the governor to stand aside. Skeeter is surprised but not thrilled or disappointed at the news; Pascagoula stands holding her breath, unaware of anything around her. Mrs. Phelan walks by and orders them to turn off the set and admonishes Skeeter for “encouraging them.”
Late in September, Skeeter’s father brings home a color television and her parents settle in to watch the Ole Miss vs. LSU football game. Skeeter takes the Cadillac and goes to see Aibileen; she knows Elizabeth is at Hilly’s and is hoping Aibileen will speak more freely when her employer is not there. The maid lets her in and answers a few questions; they laugh good-naturedly about Skeeter’s writing a cleaning column without ever having cleaned anything. Skeeter tells her about her publishing ambitions, and Aibileen tells her that Treelore wanted to write a book about being colored and working for a white man in Mississippi. In this moment of sharing, Aibileen tells Skeeter it is not fair that she does not know what happened to Constantine. She says it had to do with her daughter. Although she knew Constantine for twenty-three years, Skeeter never knew she had a daughter. The girl was born “high yellow,” something that happens with mixed-race parents. Aibileen knows more but will say no more for now.
Skeeter stops at Hilly’s, where a crowd is gathered to watch the game. Hilly tells her Stuart, the man with whom she wants to set her up (son of the senator who wanted to prevent the Negro student’s attendance at Ole Miss), is coming to town in three weeks. Both of Skeeter’s friends are determined this is going to work. In the mailbox that day is a short note from Elaine Stein telling her that the topics she sent are fine for her to write about, but Skeeter is not to write her again until she finds something of some significance, something original. Skeeter is embarrassed but has no better ideas than the mundane ones she already sent.
She sits down to write her columns and work on the League newsletter (without Hilly’s bathroom initiative for the second week in a row). Just when she is wondering if she will ever write anything substantive, Pascagoula knocks on her door. That is when the idea occurs to her—an idea that would be “crossing the line” but will not go away.