"'I use my colored bathroom from now on. And then I go on and Clorox the white bathroom again real good.'"
Aibileen says this to Miss Leefolt after she installs a second bathroom for the "colored help," as Hilly had suggested. Miss Leefolt tells Aibileen about the new bathroom, and asks her to go try it out. Aibileen responds with this comment, which exemplifies the paradoxical and contradictory nature of race relations at that time: it is perfectly acceptable for a black woman to clean up after a white family or to care for their children, but it is unacceptable for her to use the same facilities as them.
"Even though I felt miserable, and knew that I was most likely ugly, it was the first time she had ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother's white child. All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice what I could believe."
Skeeter is reduced to tears after a boy calls her ugly when she was thirteen years old. Constantine tells her that true ugliness is being a mean and hurtful person, and that every day Skeeter must ask herself if she will choose to believe the nonsense that other people say about her. This is the critical moment in the relationship between Skeeter and Constantine, and it plants a rebellious streak in Skeeter's heart. She will not be blindly bigoted against colored people, she will not accept that a white woman's only role in life is to get married and have children. Instead, she will work to forge her own path and live by her own values.
"Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else."
Elaine Stein offers this piece of advice in the letter she writes to Skeeter. Skeeter takes this advice to heart, and starts thinking about her bond with Constantine and the ugly harassment of black maids she says every day, ultimately deciding to write her book about the maids. It is also the guiding maxim of The Help itself, which covers many situations (racism, sexism, miscarriages, domestic violence) that are disturbing.
"Mae Mobley," I say cause I got a notion to try something. "You a smart girl?"
She just look at me, like she don't know.
"You a smart girl," I say again.
She say, "Mae Mo smart."
I say, "You a kind little girl?"
She just look at me. She two years old. She don't know what she is yet.
I say, "You a kind girl," and she nod, repeat it back to me. But before I can do another one, sheb get up and chase that poor dog around the yard and laugh and that's when I get to wondering, what would happen if I told her she something good, every day?
Dismayed by how Miss Leefolt only speaks to Mae Mobley in order to scold her, Aibileen decides to tell Mae Mobley that she is smart and kind every day. Aibileen has raised seventeen white children, and she knows that children are shaped by the world around them and the values that they imbibe. This quote is an example of the close and loving relationship between black caregivers and white children.
"'I'd like to write this showing the point of view of the help. The colored women down here.' I tried to picture Constantine's face, Aibileen's. 'They raise a white child and then twenty years later the child becomes the employer. It's that irony, that we love them and they love us, yet...' I swallowed, my voice trembling. 'We don't even allow them to use the toilet in the house.'"
Elaine Stein has phoned Skeeter asking about her ideas, and Skeeter is explaining her interest in writing a book about what it is like to be a black maid in Mississippi. Skeeter is haunted by Constantine's mysterious disappearance, and she is also growing close with Aibileen, who gives her tips for the Miss Myrna cleaning column. This quote reveals Skeeter's more altruistic reasons for writing her book on maids: she wants to use her social privilege to give voice to the black women she has been close to in her life.
"Thirty-five maids done said no and I feel like I'm selling something nobody want to buy. Something big and stinky, like Kiki Brown and her lemon smell-good polish. But what really makes me and Kiki the same is, I'm proud a what I'm selling. I can't help it. We telling stories that need to be told."
Aibileen, who was suspicious of Skeeter's project at first, is now convinced of its importance. Despite the fact that thirty-five women have refused to participate, she's still hopeful that she can drum up some interest in this important project. She compares herself to another woman at the church who tries (mostly unsuccessfully) to sell her homemade cleaning products. This is the moment when we see that Aibileen truly believes in the importance of writing the book about the maids.
"It is 1963. The Space Age they're calling it. A man has circled the earth in a rocketship. They've invented a pill so married women don't have to get pregnant. A can of beer opens with a single finger instead of a can opener. Yet my parents' house is still as hot as it was in 1899, the year my Great-grandfather built it."
These musings begin one of Skeeter's chapters, highlighting two aspects of life in the south: the adherence to tradition and the sweltering heat. The quote points to one of the central contradictions of the 1960s: the United States was making enormous technological strides, but race relations had remained largely unchanged for nearly a century. Even though rocket ships circled the earth, there were still separate bathrooms for whites and people of color. The point also hints at another aspect of the conflict between Skeeter (who desperately wants air-conditioning in the house) and her mother (who finds such equipment to be tacky).
"My boys are equally as smart, equally eager for an education. But we only had the money for one and I ask you, how do you choose which of your twin sons should go to college and which should take a job spreading tar? How do you tell one that you love him just as much as the other, but you've decided he won't be the one to get a chance in life? You don't. You find a way to make it happen. Any way at all."
After she is imprisoned for stealing Hilly's ring, Yule May writes this letter to Skeeter to explaining her motivations. This quote demonstrates the impossible and agonizing situation for black mothers in this time and place, many of whom had multiple children and could not afford to send them all to school. The letter also leads Skeeter to conclude it was more wrong for Hilly to send Yule May to prison than it was for Yule May was to steal Hilly's ring, which eventually leads to the end of the friendship between Hilly and Skeeter.
There is undisguised hate for white women, there is inexplicable love. Faye Belle, palsied and gray-skinned, cannot remember her own age. Her stories unfold like soft linen. She remembers hiding in a steamer trunk with a little white girl while Yankee soldiers stomped through the house. Twenty years ago, she held that same white girl, by then an old woman, in her arms while she died. Each proclaimed their love as best friends. Swore that death would not change this. That color meant nothing. The white woman's grandson still pays Faye Belle's rent. When she's feeling strong, Faye Belle sometimes goes over and cleans up his kitchen.
Though this story comes from an elderly black maid, we hear it through the voice of Skeeter (who at this point is wise enough to describe the love between a black and white woman as inexplicable). Examples of white women being rude, discriminatory, or exploitative of their black maids are not difficult to find in the pages of The Help, but this is a potent example of a close and loving relationship between a black woman and a white one. It is a hint that friendship can flourish despite color divide, and that such friendship can forge ties between the generations; the woman's grandson still makes sure that Faye Belle lives comfortably.
"'I used to be a good fighter.' She looks out along the boxwoods, wipes off her sweat with her palm. 'If you'd known me ten years ago....'
She's got no goo on her face, her hair's not sprayed, her nightgown's like an old prairie dress. She takes a deep breath through her nose and I see it. I see the white-trash girl she was ten years ago. She was strong. She didn't take no shit from nobody.
This quote comes from Minny, who makes this observation immediately after Celia drives away the crazed naked man who tried to attack them both. It offers us a view of Celia quite different than the passive, pink-clad, empty-headed one we've known, showcasing her strength and her difficult past. It also marks the moment when Minny truly comes to respect and like Celia. She notes that Celia has the same personality characteristics that she prides in herself: strength and a refusal to take 'shit' from anyone else.
"'Well, Hilly's that what you get, I guess. And I wouldn't go tattling on Minny either, or you'll be known all over town as the lady who ate two slices of Minny's shit."'
This quote is spoken by Miss Walters (Hilly's mother) immediately after the Terrible Awful, summing up the act itself. It is significant that Miss Walter's relationship with her daughter Hilly is so strained that she isn't even concerned about her daughter when she eats a pie containing feces.
Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.
Skeeter thinks this after her meeting with Lou Anne in the drugstore. Lou Anne has figured out which chapter was Louvenia speaking about her, and she is deeply touched by the kind things Louvenia said about her. Despite pressure from Hilly, Lou Anne swears that she will never fire Louvenia, who has supported her through her depression. Skeeter is surprised to hear these fierce words from Lou Anne, whom she has always considered rather dull. This prompts Skeeter to consider how much she had underestimated not only Lou Anne, but also the many women she spoke to over the course of writing the book. Kathryn Stockett has cited this quote as the central message of The Help.
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.
Aibileen is embittered by the treatment blacks receive by white society. An example of this would be the misconceptions of blacks.... changing toilets or installing new toilets because blacks cause disease. Another example would be Mrs. Leefolt's...