by Kathryn Stockett
Toilets and Bathrooms
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
But then I realize, like a shell cracking open in my head, there's no difference between those government laws and Hilly building Aibileen a bathroom in the garage, except ten minutes' worth of signatures in the state capitol. (13.92)
You can hardly find a page in this book without some reference to toilets and bathrooms. In some ways, toilets and bathrooms symbolize all that is wrong with the society depicted in the novel. The prevailing belief among most white people here is that black people carry diseases. Apparently the main way to get one of these diseases is to use a toilet a black person has used.
This obviously false claim is used to justify segregated bathrooms, which become a huge issue in the novel. Robert Brown is beaten and blinded when he accidentally uses a white bathroom. Her mother beats Mae Mobley when she uses Aibileen's bathroom. Hilly Holbrook's major project is to have a law passed requiring white families to build outside bathrooms for their black employees to use.
When Skeeter encounters the Jim Crow laws in the public library, she begins to grasp all these different discriminatory and racist practices she sees. Kathryn Stockett uses toilets and bathrooms to symbolize the dirtiness of the tactics used to maintain a racist status quo in this Mississippi community in the early 1960s, and to inject wicked comic relief into a sometimes heartbreaking book.