by Kathryn Stockett
Minny and Aibileen are the two primary women representing "the help" – the black women who make life so nice and comfy for their white employers. In many ways, these two women are not alike, and as a result, they hint at the diversity of women who do serve as "the help" in Jackson.
Minny was inspired by Alabama-born actress Octavia Spencer, who also plays Minny in the movie (source). She's a complex mix of extreme strength and extreme vulnerability. When Aibileen is with Minny on the bus ride home to their neighborhood, she thinks, "Minny could probably lift this bus up over her head if she wanted to. Old lady like me lucky to have her as a friend" (2.6).
When Celia Rae Foote tells Minny she's afraid the house is too much for her to clean, Minny can't believe it. She tells us, "I look down at hundred-and-sixty-five pound, five-foot-zero self practically busting out of this uniform" (3.64). She says, "Too much for me?" (2.64). This superwoman works all day outside her home, cooking and cleaning for white families. She's married to Leroy and they have five children, Leroy Junior, Benny, Felicia, Sugar, and Kindra. She's widely known as Jackson's premier chef extraordinaire. Johnny Foote (whose opinion we trust) tells her, "You're the best cook I've ever known" (10.191).
Yet, she is easy prey for the white women in town she offends, especially the villainous Hilly Holbrook. Unfortunately, she is also easy prey for her husband, who beats her on a regular basis. She's a nervous wreck, waiting for the next white person to betray her, or the next thing to go wrong. At the end of The Help, Minny, like her co-narrators Aibileen and Skeeter, starts a new (and hopefully better) life, away from her abusive husband and away from Hilly Holbrook. Minny narrates nine chapters of The Help.
Minny and Help
Minny is crucial to the writing of Help. It takes Minny to persuade the other maids to help Skeeter and Aibileen, for one. And her chapter in Help, under the pseudonym Gertrude, is also critical to the safety of the other maids who tell their stories in it. Minny's revelation that Hilly Holbrook ate two slices of a chocolate pie that included a special ingredient – Minny's poop – is perfect blackmail for Hilly. (Read more about Minny and her one-of-a-kind chocolate pie in "Symbolism, Imagery and Allegory.")
This doesn't actually protect Minny from Hilly, but it does offer some protection to the other maids. If Hilly publicly declares that any Jackson maids are in the book, she admits to eating Minny's poop, which is the last thing she wants to have people know about her (though many have figured it out anyway). If Minny had left that juicy bit out, there would be nothing to stop Hilly from openly persecuting the other maids in the book. Aibileen observes,
Minny made us put that pie story in to protect us. Not to protect herself but to protect me and the other maids. She knew it would only make it worse for herself with Hilly. But she did it anyway for everybody else. She didn't want us to see how scared she is. (33.41)
No wonder the book's editor, Elaine Stein, says that Minny is "every Southern white woman's nightmare. I adore her" (28.213). She's every Southern woman's nightmare because she fights back, even though she's well aware of the risks, and because she protects and empowers her friends, making it that much harder to preserve the status quo.
Revenge against Hilly and people like her certainly motivates Minny to lend her support and voice to Help, but something deeper drives her too. During a conversation with Aibileen about the blossoming Civil Rights Movement, Minny thinks,
[T]ruth is, I don't care that much about voting. I don't care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing the silver. (17.69)
Minny, though skeptical at first, comes to see the book as a way to effect positive change for the future, for her children. Of course, the right to voting and the right to eat where one pleases are necessary for people to participate meaningfully in US democracy too. But Minny realizes that these rights don't necessarily translate into practical change that will really benefit her daughters. Telling stories – true stories – on the other hand, is a power she can believe in. Selfless and brave, Minny Jackson is the person working behind the scenes of Help to make it a success.
Tuck it in Minny. Tuck in whatever might fly out my mouth and tuck in my behind to. Look like a maid who does what she's told. (3.1)
Minny is definitely not a maid who does what she's told. She's a maid who tells it like it is. Like Skeeter, Minny says unpopular things – things that can and do get her into trouble. Unlike Aibileen, who sometimes says things she doesn't want to, just to keep out of trouble, Minny refuses to be treated like an object. She asserts herself continually as a person with views, preferences, and a strong voice to make them known. This attitude clashes with what her mother tried to teach her. She remembers,
I saw the way my mama acted when Miss Woodra brought her home, all yes Ma'aming, No Ma'aming. I sure do thank you Ma'aming. Why I got to be like that? I know how to stand up to people. (3.130)
At first Minny views telling her story to Skeeter as being in opposition to her free speech. She says, "What am I doing? I must be crazy, giving a white woman the sworn secrets of the colored race to a white lady. […] Feel like I'm talking behind my own back" (17.50). Minny is afraid, and not without reason, that the facts revealed will simply provide information that can be used against her and the others.
But it's implied that she eventually comes to realize that the book can be the ultimate act of speaking out, her opportunity to let it all out. She also realizes the danger involved in this. If The Help were a tragedy, Minny's mouth would be her tragic flaw. But The Help ends happily. Although Hilly incites Leroy to attack Minny by making sure he knows he was fired because of his wife, Minny escapes and finally decides to leave him for good.
Minny and Celia
The relationship between Minny and her employer Celia Rae Foote is pretty important. Working for Celia, after all the kinks are ironed out, shows Minny that there are white people out there who aren't mean and abusive. Celia pays Minny double what she was getting before, she gets weekends off, and she gets to leaves early in the day. Celia sees nothing wrong with eating at the same table as Minny and using the same dishes.
Minny herself isn't down with this at first. Unlike Aibileen, she doesn't have a problem with white people and black people living separately and differently from one another. She sees Celia's friendliness as something fake, crazy, or just plain stupid. But by the end of the novel, we can only describe the two women as friends. Minny and Celia have both saved each other's lives and earned each other's trust.