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The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi. This first chapter begins in August 1962, and is narrated by 53-year-old Aibileen, a black maid who takes care of "white babies" and does the "cooking and cleaning" for a living (1.1).
She's "raised seventeen kids in [her] lifetime" (1.1). Now she takes care of two-year-old Mae Mobley Leefolt.
Mae Mobley's mother, 23-year-old Elizabeth Leefolt, doesn't like her daughter (excuse me?) and resents Mae Mobley's love for Aibileen.
Mae Mobley is Aibileen's "special baby" (1.6).
Aibileen has a quick flashback of her son, Treelore.
Treelore dies when he's 24, while working at the Scanlon-Taylor mill late at night, in the rain.
He slips off the loading dock into the driveway and gets run over by a tractor.
Aibileen stays in bed for months. She comes to work for the Leefolts after Mae Mobley is born. At first, she works as usual. Soon, though, she begins resenting her work situation.
OK, back to the present.
Today, the ladies are playing bridge at the Leefolts'. Elizabeth uses a tablecloth to cover the "L-shaped crack" in her table (1.15) – yeah, we've tried that technique as well.
Skeeter Phelan and Hilly Holbrook show up for the bridge game; they are about the same age as Elizabeth. Miss Walter, Hilly's mother, is also at the game.
While serving food and drinks, Aibileen hears Hilly hinting that Miss Walter's maid, Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is stealing from Miss Walter.
Soon, the topic turns to bathrooms. (Doesn't it always?)
Hilly thinks black people "carry different […] diseases" (1.62) that white people can catch.
She wants a law requiring white people to build outside bathrooms that their black employees must use.
Skeeter says, "Maybe we ought to just build you a bathroom outside, Hilly" (1.69). Five points, Skeeter!
The best Hilly can do is threaten to fire Skeeter from her post as editor of the Junior League newsletter.
After Hilly and Miss Walters leave, Skeeter tries to talk to Aibileen in the kitchen. Elizabeth doesn't like Aibileen talking to her friends, though, and Aibileen is nervous.
Skeeter brings up the bathroom conversation and asks Aibileen, "Do you ever wish you could…change things?" (1.88).