Bathrooms are one of the recurring motifs in the novel. This begins with Hilly's Home Help Sanitation Initiative, which requires all white families to have a second bathroom for the use of their black maids. This policy creates a number of difficulties for Aibileen and other maids, and prompts Skeeter to start her work on the book about black maids.
The bathroom motif highlights the down-to-earth focus of the novel; everyone uses bathrooms every day, but few of us think very much about it. In the same way, the novel focuses on the daily lives of maids rather than major historical actors.
The history of the period informs this motif: segregated bathrooms and public facilities were major sites of contestation during the Civil Rights movements.
Aibileen's Bitter Seed (Symbol)
After the tragic death of her son Treelore, Aibileen says, "A bitter seed was planted inside a me. And I just didn't feel so accepting anymore" (pg. 3). Later on, when Miss Leefolt gleefully tells her about the home's new segregated bathrooms, and Aibileen notes "I [...] feel that bitter seed grow in my chest, the one planted after Treelore died (pg. 14).
Treelore's death destabilized Aibileen's life, and affected her views on all matters of justice. Though it began with her son's death, this bitterness eventually grew in response to the many other types of injustice and tragedy that Aibileen faces every day. This sense of justice is particular attuned to racial inequalities; Aibileen feels the seed grow after Miss Leefolt tells Mae Mobley that Aibileen is dirty and diseased. As Aibileen assists Skeeter with the book about the maids, she stops mentioning her bitter seed. This symbol is an example of the way that personal suffering can grow into a desire to prevent the pain of others.
Celia's Mimosa Tree (Symbol)
Celia despises the mimosa tree that stands outside her house, and early in the novel she often stares at it with an axe in her hand. It is only after the disaster at the Benefit that Celia chops down the mimosa tree during a rainstorm.
Chopping down the mimosa tree symbolizes the control that Celia takes over her own life. Celia hates the tree and finds it ugly, but she leaves it up for appearance's sake. In a similar way, she tries to ingratiate herself to Jackson society by smoothing over the rough edges in her own personality. In both cases, Celia is more concerned with what other people think than with her own opinions.
After the Benefit, she realizes that Hilly will always hate her and Jackson society will never accept her. There is no longer any reason to keep up such appearances, so she chops down the ugly tree. Rather than being a victim of her circumstances, she takes control and removes what she hates from her life.
Minny is famous for her great skill at cooking, and particularly for her delicious pies. The recurring motif of pies shows the significance of household chores in the novel, as well as the services rendered to white households by the black maids. But the "Terrible Awful," as well as the stories that the maids put into the book, indicate that shocking things might be hidden in sweet and homey treats.
Featured on the cover of the book written by Skeeter and the maids, the dove is described in the book as "a sign of better times to come" (pg. 462). It connects the book with the progressive elements of the sixties, which focused on peace and equality. It also demonstrates how the book itself is a messenger of peace, meant to bridge the great divide between black and white women.
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.