by Kathryn Stockett
White Ladies' Tools
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
No, white womans like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with them. (14.63)
Several black characters in the novel suggest that the white women in general might be more harmful to them than the white men are – a white man might use violence, but a white woman will ruin your life. Hilly Holbrook, in all her villainy, is the symbol of this type of woman.
Aibileen's chilling passage quoted above dramatizes a certain type of violence. She uses "witches fingernails" and dentist tools to symbolize such violence, which often consists of using power and influence to have people fired, evicted, imprisoned, fined, or even subjected to physical violence. (We discuss this issue more under the "Themes: Gender.")
By contrast, through her relationship with Skeeter, Aibileen learns sees that some white women use nicer tools for nicer purposes. Skeeter uses books, writing, conversation, speech, and pranks to counteract the tools of vicious women like Hilly. Of course, the tools Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, and the women who contribute to Help use also incite Hilly's wrath, and strict penalties are paid. But all of the women seem to feel it's worth this risk.