The hypocritical nature of racial segregation is a primary focus of the novel. It is odd to believe that black people are able to clean homes and watch over children, but are not fit to use the same bathroom facilities as whites. This bitter irony is not lost on Aibileen, who says, "I use my colored bathroom from now on. And then I go on and Clorox the white bathroom again real good" (pg. 14).
The poor starving African children
At the same time that she is pushing a policy to have separate bathrooms for the colored help, Hilly spearheads a fundraising initiative in order to benefit the "Poor Starving Children of Africa"; Skeeter notes, "I wait for Hilly to catch the irony of this, that she'll send money to colored people overseas, but not across town" (pg. 331).
Children on a faraway continent are worthy subjects for charity, but African-American children right down the road are not worthy of attention. Likewise, it's an honorable thing to raise a little money, but it's unacceptable to change the social structures that cause such suffering. Part of this is due to the fact that charity allows one to feel superior to those whom one is helping, whereas to participate in social activism one must relate to others who are in very different circumstances.
The Toilets in Hilly's Lawn
Skeeter is angry after her argument with Hilly, who found "Negro activist materials" in Skeeter's purse. Hilly demands that Skeeter print the information about the Home Help Sanitation Initiative in the League newsletter, something that Skeeter has been putting off for months. Skeeter does so... but she makes a little change that has big consequences. She puts the notice about the Home Help Sanitation Initiative right next to an ad about a coat drive, but rather than asking members to drop off their old coats at Hilly's address, Skeeter asks them to drop off their old toilets.
Hilly comes home from a weekend trip to find over thirty old toilets in her yard, a sight so marvelous that it is featured in the New York Times. For a woman who has maintained that toilets used by colored people carry diseases, this is a difficult and ironic situation.
Skeeter having toilets installed for the help
Hilly declares the toilet debacle a blessing in disguise when she has them installed in white homes for the use of the help. Sadly, Skeeter ends up aiding in a cause that she meant to undermine.
The Help Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Help is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.