The Help focuses on three women in 1960s Jackson Mississippi: Aibileen, who works as a nanny and housekeeper for the Leefolt family; Minny, an outspoken maid; and Skeeter, a recent college graduate. Skeeter longs to pursue a career in writing that will take her beyond the stifling confines of her refined white southern society. Dismayed by the racist Home Help Sanitation Initiative started by her childhood friend Hilly Holbrook, Skeeter starts to think about what it might mean to change attitudes about race in Jackson Mississippi. On the suggestion of Harper and Row editor Elaine Stein, Skeeter starts a dangerous new project: interviewing the maids about what it is like to work as a black maid for a white family. Aibileen and Minny are initially skeptical of this idea, but soon realize that this is an important chance to tell their stories.
Spurred by Hilly's cruel and racist initiatives, the maids of Jackson Mississippi share their stories with Skeeter. Concerned that people will recognize themselves in the book, Minny adds a dark secret about Hilly to the book so that Hilly will stay quiet about the identity of the maids. The book is a surprise hit, generating a great deal of discussion between black and white women. After the success of the novel, Skeeter moves to New York to work in publishing. Aibileen is fired from her job and embarks on a writing career of her own, and Minny leaves her abusive husband.