They ain't rich folks. Rich folks don't try so hard. (1.15)
Aibileen observes that the Leefolts are less well-off than their friends and neighbors. Maybe that's why Elizabeth always seems so eager to stay on Hilly's good side.
You see her in the Jitney 14 grocery, you never think she go leave her baby crying in her crib like that. But the help always know. (1.25)
Aibileen makes it clear that Elizabeth is a neglectful, abusive parent. But because of her status, Elizabeth <em>can't</em> be viewed as such. Her status allows her to abuse and neglect her daughter with impunity, and prevents her from getting help for her problem.
I could tell she don't understand why a colored woman can't raise no white-skin baby in Mississippi. It be a hard lonely life, not belonging here nor there. (7.91)
Skeeter is having trouble understanding why Constantine gave her daughter Lulabelle up for adoption. Lulabelle's father was black, but she inherits Constantine's father's light skin. As a result, she just won't fit into the closed-minded Jackson society.
"Shame ain't black, like dirt, like I always thought it was. Shame be the color of a new white uniform your mother ironed all night to pay for, white without a smudge or speck a work-dirt on it." (11.99)
Aibileen remembers the shame she feels when she was fired on the first day of her first job as a maid – for forgetting to inventory the silver she polished.
But I know I'll have to rewrite everything [Aibileen's] written, wasting even more time. (11.82)
At first, Skeeter unwittingly buys into the false stereotype that black women are uneducated and illiterate. She soon learns that Aibileen is a formidable and practiced writer, even though she was forced to leave school in junior high.
"Good. Then get going. Before this civil rights thing blows over." (12.82)
Elaine Stein might be a hip New York City editor, but she doesn't foresee that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s is no passing fancy.
"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)
Hilly has as many misconceptions about African life and tradition as she does about the lives and traditions of the black people in her hometown.
"Say she'd pay her back her back some every week, but Miss Hilly say no. That a true Christian don't give in charity to those who is well and able. Say it's kinder to let them learn to work things out themselves." (19.163)
Hilly's argument is used to justify unkind treatment of her maid, Yule May, who wants to borrow some money to send her sons to college. Hilly is totally ignoring the fact that her society simply doesn't offer Yule May good work opportunities.
"The churches got together though. They gone send both those boys to college." (19.165)
In the society shown in the novel, black and white children do not have equal opportunities to attend college. It takes cooperation and generosity within the community to make Yule May's dreams for her twin sons come true after Hilly has her jailed.
"A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help. I've even notified the surgeon general of Mississippi to see if he'll endorse the idea. I'll pass." (1.32)
Much of the racism in <em>The Help</em> is institutional. Laws like the one Hilly wants passed, which is shown endorsed by the Surgeon General, legalize discriminatory practices and reinforce racist opinions.
I knew he wasn't married to Constantine's mother, because that was against the law. (5.121)
Skeeter remembers when Constantine told her that her father was a white man. From at least 1630 until the mid 1960s, many states in the U.S. forbade interracial marriages (source).
I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty ain't a color, disease ain't the negro side of town. I want to stop that moment from coming – and it come in every white child's life – when they start to think that colored folks are not as good as whites. (7.80)
This passage points out that kids are born with racial prejudices, it's something they're taught from the older generation. Aibileen works hard to keep Mae Mobley's mind from being polluted.
"You know colored folks ain't allowed in that library." (11.21)
Before the novel ends, the library in question will open its doors to black people. Finally, a bit of progress.
Hilly raises her voice about three octaves when talking to black people. Elizabeth smiles like she's talking to a child, although certainly not her own. I'm starting to notice things. (12.57)
Hilly and Elizabeth's belief that black people are of lesser intelligence is apparent in their manner of speaking. Skeeter only notices it once she begins hearing the maids' stories.
"These is white rules. I don't know which ones you following and which ones you ain't. (11.81)
We look at each other for a second. "I'm tired of rules," I say. (12.82)
In Aibileen and Skeeter's early interviews, Aibileen is terrified of saying the wrong thing. In her experience, the friendliest white person can snap and change in a moment's notice if the wrong rule is broken.
[…] I'm proud a what I'm selling. I can't help it. We all telling stories that need to be told. (16.3)
Aibileen believes that revealing her perspective, and encouraging the other maids to reveal theirs, will help dissipate some of the racial tension in the town.
"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 that if she tells her secrets, they will only be used against her.
<em>Is this really happening?</em> Is a white woman really beating up a white man to save me? Or did he shake my brain pan loose and I'm over there dead on the ground… (24.95)
Minny begins to understand that Celia Rae Foote is more than just a white lady – she's a tough, big-hearted woman who will do just about anything for Minny.
This one's for the white lady. Tell her we love her like, like she's our own family. (29.107)
Working on <em>Help</em> and going up against Hilly makes Skeeter an outcast in the white community. But it sure earns her acceptance into the black community.
But it wasn't too long before I seen something in me had changed. A bitter seed was planted inside a me. And I just didn't feel so accepting anymore. (1.10)
The senseless death of Aibileen's son Treelore causes Aibileen to focus on the injustices around her and want to do something to create change. Truth-telling becomes the vehicle she uses to do so.
"She telling everybody in town I'm stealing! That's why I can't get no work! That witch done turned me into the Smart-Mouthed Criminal Maid a Hide County!" (2.111)
All Hilly has to do is <em>say</em> Minny is a thief for the other women to judge her as such. It's unthinkable that the word of a proper southern lady like Hilly be called into question. We love how Minny uses humor to express this bitter injustice.
Constantine's the only woman I've ever had to look up to, to look her straight in the eye. (5.105)
Skeeter and Constantine are both very tall women, and this is important to Skeeter. But, she also seems to be referring to Constantine's straightforwardness and honesty, and Skeeter's feelings of pride and equality when in Constantine's presence. This influences Skeeter's ability to empathize with injustices faced by the black community.
No. I couldn't. That would be… crossing the line. (6.230)
Skeeter feels she's being judged harshly for bringing to light the stories of the help. She decides to be her own judge of what's right and what's wrong and act accordingly.
"Look, […] don't say anything about meeting me. I'm going to let her tell me when she's ready." (10.210)
When Johnny and Minny finally meet, Johnny doesn't judge Celia for keeping Minny a secret. His main priority is his wife's comfort and he figures that keeping his knowledge of Minny a secret is one way to do this.
It feels cool, like water washing over my sticky-hot body. Cooling a heat that's been burning me up all my life. (10.77, 10.78)
Aibileen is seduced into Skeeter's plan by the sudden hope of truth, which can be an important part of justice. These lines suggest that she feels like she's been speaking and living a lie for all her life by not talking about the injustices she sees and experiences.
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)
Skeeter is so right. The Jim Crow laws Skeeter is talking about likely began as bills by people very much like Hilly. Skeeter is becoming a better judge of the world she lives in.
The tears roll down. It's all them white peoples that breaks me, standing around the colored neighborhood. White peoples with guns, pointed at colored peoples. Cause who gone protect our peoples? Ain't no colored policeman. (14.163)
The white policemen with guns are in Aibileen's neighborhood because Medgar Evers, a black civil rights leader, was assassinated blocks away and the authorities are afraid the black community will turn violent as a result. Some bitter irony, isn't it?
"But everybody saying the judge wife be good friends with Miss Holbrook and a how regular sentence be six months for petty stealing, but Miss Holbrook, she get it pushed up to four years." (19.151)
Hilly has the legal justice system at her disposal and she uses it to punish the black people who offend her.
My breath feel like fire. "Time to write to every person in Jackson the truth about you." (34.195)
Aibileen dishes out her own justice here by daring to get busy spreading the story printed in <em>Help</em> – the story of Hilly eating Minny's poo-laced chocolate pie. In doing so, Aibileen manages to (rather cleverly, we might add) avoid the prison sentence Hilly was trying to set her up for.
Miss Skeeter, she frowning at Miss Hilly. She set her cards down face up and say real matter-a-fact, "Maybe we ought to just build you a bathroom outside, Hilly" (1.69)
The Skeeter-Hilly toilet wars have just begun. Here, Skeeter takes a minor stand for justice, and Hilly instantly responds with a threat to fire Skeeter from her post as editor of the Junior League.
[Treelore] even start writing his own book, bout being a colored man living and working in Mississippi. (1.8)
Like Aibileen, Treelore was a dedicated writer. Unlike Aibileen, he's killed before he can use his writing to make a difference in the world around him.
I been writing my prayers since junior high. (2.125)
<em>The Help</em> celebrates writing as a powerful way to create change. This point is subtly reinforced by the fact that Aibileen's <em>written</em> prayers are especially effective. This line also shows us that Aibileen is a practiced and disciplined writer well before she starts working on <em>Help</em>.
<em>Don't waste your time on obvious things. Write about what disturbs you; particularly if it seems to bother no one else.</em> (6.8)
Skeeter takes Elaine Stein's advice extremely seriously and hits on a taboo topic – the experiences of the black women who work for the white families in town, in (mostly) their own words.
"He read this book called Invisible Man. When he done, he says he gone write down what it was like to be colored working for a white man in Mississippi." (6.181)
Treelore was inspired to write by Ralph Ellison's classic novel, Invisible Man. Skeeter gets the idea for the book that eventually becomes Help after hearing about his book from Aibileen.
We all know about these laws, but we don't talk about them. This is the first time I've ever seen them written down. (13.89)
The Jim Crow laws Skeeter pilfers from the library show the darker side of the written word.
"We ain't… we ain't doing civil rights here. We just telling stories like they really happen." (14.169)
Although Aibileen herself finds writing the most effective way to tell stories, she's also alluding to the importance of oral storytelling.
"I'll write it down. Give me a few days. I'll tell you everything that happened to Constantine." (27.69)
Aibileen first works the story out in writing. She delivers the first part of the story of Constantine orally, but she can only deliver the worst parts to Skeeter in written form. Writing is way for Aibileen to "speak" the unspeakable.
Be the prettiest book I ever seen. The cover is pale blue, color a the sky. And a big white bird – a peace dove – spreads its wings from end to end. (29.49)
<em>The Help</em> argues that books can bring peace in society. Do you agree?
Me? Working for the white newspaper? I go to the sofa and open the notebook, see them letters and articles from past times. Miss Skeeter set beside me. (34.108)
We love this moment from the end of the novel. Since Aibileen has been answering the Miss Myrna letters all along, it's particularly sweet to see her be officially hired for the job – at the same pay rate as Skeeter.
"You're the smartest one in my class, Aibileen," she say. "And the only way you're going to stay sharp is to <em>and write</em> every day."
So I start writing my prayers down instead a sayin em. But nobody call me smart since. (2.126, 2.127)
Aibileen doesn't get another chance to demonstrate her intellectual prowess again until she's in her fifties.
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. <em>Why I got to be like that? I know how to stand up to people.</em> (3.130)
Minny's mother tries to teach Minny that a non-confrontational, super-polite attitude toward white people is the best way to survive. But, instead, Minny believes in standing up for herself, sometimes at great cost.
All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice about what to believe. (5.84)
The lessons about love, kindness, and self-worth that Skeeter learns from Constantine give her the courage to challenge the injustices she sees in her community. We imagine that Mae Mobley would voice similar feelings about Aibileen when she gets older.
Mrs. Charlotte Phelan's guide to Husband-Hunting, Rule Number One: a pretty, petite girl should accentuate with makeup and good posture. A tall plain one, with a trust fund. (5.36)
Like Minny, Skeeter Phelan resists aspects of the education she gets from her mother.
"You a <em>smart</em> girl. You a <em>kind</em> girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me?" And I keep saying it till she repeat it back to me. (7.27)
By teaching Mae Mobley to love herself, Aibileen also teaches her that love doesn't know skin color.
She tells me that I once said colored people attend too much church. I cringe, wondering what else I've said, never suspecting the help was listening or cared. (12.16)
Skeeter's journey is a journey to un-learn many of the things she's been taught.
But truth 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, of in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing the silver. (17.69)
Minny wants to see practical, rather than symbolic, change. To her, voting and where to eat are symbolic things that might not translate into better lives for her kids, or how they are truly regarded.
Mae Mobley make an ugly face at me and then she rear back and <em>bowp</em>. She wack me right on the ear. (2.81)
After Elizabeth hits Mae Mobley, Mae Mobley hits Aibileen, whom she loves. Aibileen helps break this cycle of violence by responding to Mae Mobley's aggression with love and empathy. By the end of the book, Mae Mobley loves Aibileen so much she'd never dream of hurting her.
"I ain't telling, I ain't telling nobody about that pie. But I give her what she deserve! […] I ain't never gone get no work again, Leroy gone kill me… (2.119)
This line contains one of the first hints that Minny's husband Leroy beats her.
And my cousin Shinelle in Cauter County? They burn up her car cause she went <em>down</em> to the voting station. (7.156)
Black men have had the legal right to vote since the 1870s and black women since the 1920s. In the 1960s, when the novel takes place, violence is used to stop black voters from exercising this right.
"Use the white bathroom at Pinchman Lawn and Garden. Say they wasn't no sign up saying so. Two white men chase him and beat him. […] He up at the hospital. I heard he blind" (7.126, 7.128)
Odd as it sounds, bathrooms and violence are intimately connected in <em>The Help.</em> You can read more about this in "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory."
"But what would they do? Hitch us to a pickup and drag us behind? Shoot me in my yard? Or just starve us to death?" (14.167)
After civil rights leader Medgar Evers is assassinated minutes from Minny's house, Minny's only worries more about what will happen if their storytelling project is discovered.
She don't know about them sharp, shiny utensils a white lady use. About that knock on the door, late at night. That there are white men out there <em>hungry</em> to hear about a colored person crossing whites, ready with wooden bats, matchsticks. Any little thing'll do. (14.113)
Here, Aibileen is worried that Skeeter doesn't know how much danger she's in or how much danger she might be putting Aibileen and her friends in, after she decorates Hilly's yard with used toilets.
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)
Aibileen and some of the other women in the novel express the sentiment that a white woman's way of getting even is as bad or worse as a white man's.
"It makes me sick to hear about that kind of brutality." Daddy sets his fork down silently. […] "I'm ashamed sometimes, Senator, ashamed of what goes on in Mississippi." (20.79)
Skeeter, apparently, has never heard her father voice his political opinions before, and is proud of what she hears.
I wait for her to catch the irony of this, that she'll send money to colored people overseas, but not across town. (22.58)
Hilly doesn't catch the irony. She collects money for The Poor Starving Children of Africa as proof she isn't a racist. In all, she seems to do more harm than good, even in her so-called charity work.
"If I didn't hit you, Minny, who knows what you'd become." (32.30)
Who knows what I could become if Leroy would stop goddamn hitting me. (32.32)
Minny comes to realize that she can only grow and reach all she's capable of if she escapes the constant physical abuse she suffers at the hands of her husband.
Problem is, much as I love the Lord, churchgoing man never do all that much for me. Kind a man I like ain't the kind that stays around after he done spending all you money. (2.124)
Aibileen has romantic dreams, but feels safer focusing on her prayers and her work.
I already had the rope tied when Minny found it. […] I don't know if I's gonna use it […]. Minny, though, she don't ask no questions about it, just pull it out from under the bed, put it in the can, take it to the street. (2.190)
When Aibileen considers suicide after Treelore's death, Minny shows her love for Aibileen by throwing out the noose.
"Hi, Aibee. I love you, Aibee," and I feel a tickly soft feeling, soft like the flap of butterfly wings, watching her play out there. (7.26)
Mae Mobley's love for Aibileen is touching, and much deserved.
"Your coat smells like –" He leans down and sniffs it, grimacing. "<em>Fertilizer.</em>" (9.93)
Stuart's initial pickup line doesn't impress Skeeter much.
[…] he kissed me so slowly with an open mouth and every single thing in my body – my skin, my collarbone, the hollow backs of my knees, everything inside me filled up with light. (13.27)
Looks like Skeeter's gotten over Stuart's fertilizer faux pas.
One thing I got to say about Miss Hilly, she love her children. […] That kind of love always make me want to cry. Even when it going to Miss Hilly. (14.29)
Hilly's sole redeeming quality seems to be her love for her children, as Aibileen observes. This is a marked contrast to Elizabeth's treatment of Mae Mobley.
"Yes'm. He tell me not to tell you so you go right on thinking he proud a you. He love you so much, Miss Celia. I seen it on his face how much." (18.78)
Minny works hard to convince Celia that her husband, Johnny, loves her for herself, not for how many babies she might produce or how well she fits into high society.
There is undisguised hate for white woman, there is inexplicable love. (19.223)
Skeeter discovers that the relationships between the help and their employers are anything but simple.
Who knew heartbreak would be so goddamn hot? (21.20)
This is Skeeter after her first breakup with Stuart, before their temporary reconciliation.
The more I look, the more I start to understand what's going on here. I don't know why I'm just now getting this. Minny made us put that pie story in to protect us. Not to protect herself, but to protect me and the other maids. (34.36)
It's not often that somebody can show love and hate in the same moment by pooping in a pie and then writing about it.
"Oh, we're gonna have some kids. […] I mean, kids is the only thing worth living for." (3.38)
For the white women in the novel, being a successful married woman (read: successful woman) means be able to have children. The pressure of this almost destroys Celia Rae Foote, who has several miscarriages before she understands that her husband loves her for herself, whether she has babies or not.
My eyes drift down to HELP WANTED: MALE. There are at least four columns filled with bank managers, accountants, loan officers, cotton collate operators. On this side of the page, Percy and Gray, LP, is offering Jr. Stenographers fifty cents more an hour. (5.47)
As Skeeter observes, in the early 1960s employers were totally allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, and national origin.
"Are you…do you…find men attractive? Are you having unnatural thoughts about…[…] girls or women? […] Because it says in this article there's a cure, a special root tea —" (6.66)
Since Skeeter hasn't married early enough by her mother's timetable, she fears that Skeeter is a lesbian. We can see how sharply defined the rules of what a "normal" woman should be like are in Skeeter's community.
"He gone get over it, that's what. He gone forget these babies cause mens is real good at that. Get to hoping for the next one." (18.86)
Minny is dead-on, at least where Johnny's concerned. He loves Celia for herself, not for her baby-making capacities. Although the novel has its share of nasty men, its focus is more on the nastiness of women. Through characters like Skeeter's dad and Johnny Foote, <em>The Help</em> takes pains to provide sympathetic white male characters in addition to nasty pieces of work like Raleigh Leefolt, Elizabeth's husband.
I wish to God I'd told John Dudley Green he ain't going to hell. That he ain't no sideshow freak cause he like boys. God I wish I'd fill his ear with good things like I'm trying to do with Mae Mobley. (22.45)
One of Aibileen's deepest regrets is that she didn't do more for John Green, who was beaten daily by his father with a stovepipe because he seemed to be attracted to boys and cross-dressed. This detail helps us understand the rigid gender roles for both men and women.
The rain is pouring down all over Miss Celia, but she doesn't care. She starts chopping at that tree. (27.111)
We aren't sure why Celia has always been so disturbed by the mimosa tree – likely it's linked to something bad from her past. When she begins to see that she's valuable even if she can't have children and doesn't fit into the social scene, she is able to chop down that tree.
"Gertrude is every Southern woman's nightmare. I adore her." (28.213)
Gertrude is Minny's pseudonym. The quote is from Elaine Stein, editor of <em>Help</em>. Minny takes this as a high compliment. What does Stein mean? Well, Minny, because she is a Southern black woman, is expected to bow her head and stay in her place. But she defies expectations of how a black woman is expected to act toward white women, <em>and</em> how women in general are expected to act.
"Miss Taylor said to draw what we like about ourselves best." I saw then a wrinkled sad looking paper in her hand. I turned it over and sure enough, there's my baby girl done colored herself black. (31.24)
Mae Mobley's racist teacher isn't happy about this. But Mae Mobley has herself transferred right out of that class by letting her dad hear her telling Aibileen's civil rights stories to her brother, then blaming them on the racist teacher – pretty clever for a kid. Already, Mae Mobley is an intelligent young lady, learning to survive in a society that is already treating her like she doesn't belong, because she doesn't fit the ideals of beauty and cuteness.
And then she say it, just like I need her to. "You is kind," she say. "You is smart. You is important." (34.219)
Aibileen wants to hear that Mae Mobley remembers that she is a valuable person. Slyly, Mae Mobley complies, but turns the praise on Aibileen. Aibileen, we suspect, will remain Mae Mobley's female role model for a long time to come.
"Please, I want him to think I can do it on my own. I want him to think I'm…worth it." (3.99)
We aren't exactly sure why Celia can't cook and clean. Since she was raised poor, it's doubtful she had servants. Unlike the other women with maids, she wants someone to teach her to do things for herself, rather than wait on her.
Three years ago today, Treelore died. But by Miss Leefolt's book it's still floor cleaning day. (7.100)
Aibileen has to go to work as though it's just business-as-usual on the anniversary of her son's death. It's unlikely Elizabeth would know this, or care even if she did know.
"Minny, do you and Leroy ever talk about civil rights," Miss Skeeter asks. "When he comes home from work?" (14.7)
Leroy and Minny do, in fact, talk about civil rights in their home, but you can bet Minny would never reveal this to Skeeter. Ironically, she does reveal it to us, the readers of her narrative.
Minny had that big bruise on her arm cause that's what Leroy do when he come home from work. (14.8)
Skeeter, who doesn't always know when to stop, tries to pry into Minny's home life, which almost makes Minny drop out of the project. In the essay in the back of <em>The Help</em>, Stockett says that Demetrie (the person the character of Aibileen is based on) was, like Minny, physically abused by her husband (Skeeter doesn't know this about Minny at this point). Demetrie was also closed-mouthed on the subject.
I go on home. I don't tell Leroy what's bothering me, but I think about it all weekend long. I've been fired more times than I have fingers. I pray to god I can get my job back on Monday. (17.188)
Minny is never really, truly at home. When she's actually at her own house, she's often either worrying about something she did or said on the job, or trying to survive her husband's abuse. Maybe things will be different after she and the kids have moved out.
"A lot of colored womans got to give their children up, Skeeter. Send they kids off cause they got to tend to a white family." (27.187)
Skeeter finds it hard not to judge Constantine for giving up her daughter for adoption. The exact reasons behind the adoption aren't given, but it's clear Constantine did it as a last resort.
"They fired Leroy last night. And when Leroy ask why, his boss say Mister William <em>Holbrook</em> tell him to do it. Holbrook told him it's Leroy's nigger <em>wife</em> the reason and Leroy come home and try to kill me." (34.135)
Hilly sees to it that Minny's home becomes a very dangerous place. There really are no boundaries between "work life" and "home life" here.
"I ain't gone kill him, Aibileen. I promise. We gone go stay with Octavia till we find a place a out own." (34.155)
Minny decides to try to find a new home for herself and her children – one without the constant threat of violence looming over them.
It was every day from 1941 to 1947 waiting for them beatings to be over. I wish to God I'd told John Dudley Green he ain't going to hell. That he ain't no sideshow freak cause he like boys. God I wish I'd fill his ear with good things like I'm trying to do with Mae Mobley. (22.45)
Aibileen's memory shows us that many of the so-called good southern homes are sites of hidden child abuse and terror.