The Help

The Help Literary Elements


Historical fiction

Setting and Context

Jackson, Mississippi, early 1960s

Narrator and Point of View

The novel uses rotating narration: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter take turns describing the events of the book in the first person. This allows us to see the same scene through very different eyes, which is useful in creating a well-rounded narrative since Minny and Aibileen have different experiences than Skeeter due to their race. This also allows the reader to sympathize with each of the main characters equally.

Tone and Mood

Even when the novel is dealing with serious issues, the tone generally remains light; the tone does not become melodramatic or tragic. This is made clear through the numerous humorous comments made throughout the book. For example, after Aibileen thanks Minny for her courage in contributing to the book about the maid, "[Minny] roll her eyes and stick out her tongue like I handed her a plate a dog biscuits. 'I knew you was getting senile,' she say."' Even in this serious time, the author keeps the tone humorous.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The three narrators (Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter) are the protagonists. Hilly is the primary antagonist.

Major Conflict

The overarching conflict is that of human beings versus social norms - more specifically, versus racism and sexism.

Each of the primary characters brings a distinct set of conflicts. Aibileen is trying to cope with her son's untimely death, support Mae Mobley despite her mother's neglectful ways, and deal with the oppressive social norms for people of color in her community. Minny is trying to hold down a job so that she can provide for her family, and find ways to deal with the violence committed against her by her husband; later, she tries to unravel the mystery of Celia's life.


The climax occurs when "Help" is finally published; the consequent conclusion of the plot is the various characters and Jackson at large dealing with the fallout from the publication.


In the early parts of the novel, Minny makes frequent reference to the "Terrible Awful" that she did to Hilly. On page 53, shortly after she starts working for Celia Foote, Minny worries that Hilly will try to have her fired for "the Terrible Awful Thing" she did. Later, Minny refuses to make a chocolate pie for Celia, promising herself that she will never make one again after Hilly (pg. 146). This foreshadows the moment after the Benefit when Minny finally reveals to Celia that she baked her own feces into a pie and fed it to Hilly.




The book alludes to the real-life vigilante violence perpetuated against black people by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. In describing her fears about the consequences for writing the book about the maid, Aibileen describes the following scenario: "[...] That knock on the door, late at night. That there are white men out there hungry to hear about a colored person crossing whites, ready with they wooden bats, matchsticks. Any little thing'll do" (pg. 224).




Minny includes the "Terrible Awful" in her narrative as a type of insurance, a way to protect the other women. Hilly will likely recognize the events and people described in the book and plot revenge against the maids, but she will also be motivated to hide the fact that the book is about Jackson so that people do not realize she was the one to eat the feces pie. Hilly is caught in a paradox, torn between her desire to harm those who offend her and her wish to keep the Terrible Awful a secret.


The differing reactions of the white and black population to the murder of Medgar Evers show parallels. The black population is terrified about this outbreak of violence against a deeply respected member of their community; this is illustrated by Minny's horrified comment to Aibileen: "'Things ain't ever going to change in this town, Aibileen. We living in hell, we trapped. Our kids is trapped'" (pg. 230).

The white establishment, on the other hand, sees the vigilante murder of Evers as simply returning things to business as usual. On the radio, the white mayor of Jackson publicly refuses President Kennedy's directive to put together a biracial commission. "'Jackson, Mississippi, is the closest place to heaven there is,' he say. "And it's going to be like that for the rest of our lives'" (pg. 231).

These comments are united by the comment sentiment that nothing will change in Jackson Mississippi. For white people, this constitutes a heavenly existence, but for black people this means trying to survive in hell.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The title of the book ("The Help") is an example of metonymy. "The help" is a term for the black maids who perform work for white households; one of their attributes is used to signify their whole person. This particular attribute references the services they render to white households, which demonstrates the subordinate role of the black maids - they are valuable only for "the help" that they offer white women.


While Minny cleans Celia's home, she takes special care to clean a giant taxidermied bear, and imagines that this object is glaring at her. "I dust the shelves in the hunting room, vacuum the bear while he stares at me like I'm a snack. 'Just you and me today,' I tell him" (pg. 159). This demonstrates Minny's feeling that she is constantly being watched as she goes about her work.