Study Guide

Hilly Holbrook in The Help

By Kathryn Stockett

Hilly Holbrook

Hilly is the novel's most dastardly villain. She's married to William Holbrook and has two children, Heather and William, Jr. According to Aibileen, one of her few redeeming qualities is the love and kindness she shows her two children. Hilly is one of the few characters analyzed in depth by all three of The Help's narrators – Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter – and her conflicts with these characters unite them.

On the surface, Hilly's no mustache-twirling villain. In fact, she appears to be totally respectable. She's president of the Jackson Junior League and active in all sorts of charity, including collecting canned goods for The Poor Starving Children of Africa. To give you an idea of Hilly's motives, check out her response when a woman asks why they don't send money instead of cans:

"You cannot give these tribal people money […]. There is no Jitney 14 Grocery in the Ogaden Desert. And how would we even know if they're even feeding their kids with it? They're likely to go to the local voodoo tent and get a satanic tattoo with our money." (13.99)

Uh, right… This passage helps us see the limits of Hilly's world and vision – her ignorance about the lives and traditions of African people, and her patronizing attitude toward them, mirrors her ideas about the black people in her own community. Yet, she believes that the black people in Jackson are poor because they are lazy and don't spend money wisely, and therefore don't even deserve a living wage. Hilly is simply using The Poor Starving Children of Africa to try to paint a picture of herself as a non-racist person.

But, this "charity" work is just the tip of the iceberg of Hilly's villainy. If you cross her, she can have you arrested and imprisoned for stealing, have your friends and family fired from their jobs, have you evicted, have your car repossessed, incite violence against you, and basically run you out of town, all without getting her hands dirty.

Hilly's story revolves around her attempts to pass a bill she calls The Home Help Sanitation Initiative. It would require all Mississippi families to build outdoor bathrooms for their black employees. Hilly seems to truly believe that black people carry diseases that can harm white people. Apparently these diseases can only be passed through toilet seats, because black hands touch almost every piece of food Hilly eats, every fork her lips touch, and the pillowcases she lays her head on. Author Kathryn Stockett is merciless here and bursting with wicked irony. Hilly, quite literally, as Hilly's mom points out, "ate two slices of Minny's s***" (26.91) (poo-laced chocolate pie), and winds up with dozens of toilets decorating her front yard, courtesy of Skeeter. Brilliant.

Since we don't ever see things from Hilly's point of view, it's hard for us to understand why she goes to such lengths to make life miserable for the black community. The Help, however, makes clear in the section on "white lady's tools" that Hilly is, unfortunately, not the exception, but the rule, among the high-society women in Jackson.

Although Hilly is foiled in many ways in the novel, she hasn't changed by the end, at least not from what we can see. It's chilling to notice that even though things have turned out nicely for Aibileen and Minny, Hilly, who is only in her early twenties, will probably be in Jackson wreaking havoc on the lives of its black citizens for decades to come.