Skeeter is in her room typing up some of Minny’s day-to-day experiences when Charlotte knocks on her door and tells her that Stuart Whitworth is downstairs. Dressed nicely, he apologizes for the date three months ago, saying that he was still getting over a bad break-up with his fiancé, Patricia. Stuart compliments Skeeter, saying she’s different from the other women he knows because she speaks her mind. Skeeter agrees to get a drink with him.
Stockett portrays Stuart and Skeeter’s relationship as following the common literary convention wherein two future lovers start off with contempt for each other and then slowly fall in love. Here Stuart also acts different than the average Southern white man: he actually likes that Skeeter has strong opinions of her own.
At the restaurant, Stuart is quiet at first and Skeeter fears he’s going to start drinking again. But he soon asks what she wants from life. She says she wants to be a writer. He tells her she is smart and pretty and hopes that she writes about something she cares about. They talk for a while and suddenly he leans over the table and kisses her softly on the mouth. She feels her insides fill with light.
Stuart’s personality seems to have made a 180-degree turn. Instead of ignoring and insulting Skeeter as he did on the last date, Stuart now acts attentive, thoughtful, and supportive. He also breaks the South’s prim and proper dating conventions by kissing her very publically on the mouth. Skeeter falls for him and seems to forget his earlier boorishness.
A few weeks later, Skeeter goes to the library to look for books on race relations in the South. She finds a copy of The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, but its pages are ripped out and replaced with the words “nigger book” scribbled in purple crayon. What disturbs her the most is that it looks like a child wrote the slur.
The purple-crayon slur indicates how children learn racist beliefs from a very young age. Though children aren’t born racist, they quickly learn from their parents and their society to dehumanize and degrade black people.
At the library, Skeeter finds a book on Jim Crow laws and is shocked by all the laws that are on the books to separate whites from blacks. Skeeter realizes that there is no real difference between official laws and Hilly’s racist attitude about separate bathrooms. She steals the book because she can’t check it out without the women working at the library gossiping to everyone about it.
Skeeter’s realization underscores how segregated bathrooms represent the beliefs that reinforce segregation. Skeeter sees that there is little difference between official laws and social practices—even if the Jim Crow laws were overturned (as they eventually are), racism will still be perpetuated by the status quo and people’s personal prejudices.
At a League meeting, Skeeter brings a satchel that contains the stolen book and her notes from the interviews. Hilly is telling the other women to donate canned goods for the “Poor Starving Children of Africa” fund. When one woman asks why can’t they just send them a check, Hilly rolls her eyes and says you can’t give “tribal people” money because they’d just spend it on “voodoo” and “satanic tattoos.” The women nod along and Skeeter notices how easy it is for Hilly to convince these women of anything.
Hilly’s “charity” work is a key instance of the help vs. hypocrisy theme. Hilly is not capable of understanding that her desire to “help” African children is rooted in a racist paternalism that treats Africans as if they were primitive savages. If Hilly truly wanted to help people in need, she would provide fair wages to the black woman working in her very own kitchen – not as an act of charity but as a way of amending a social injustice.
When Skeeter joins the group of women surrounding Hilly, the women suddenly bombard Skeeter with questions about if the rumors are true that she’s seeing the handsome Stuart Whitworth. Skeeter confirms the rumors, thinking to herself how Stuart has made a routine of coming by her house to talk with her late into the night. Skeeter affectionately remembers how Stuart sometimes brushes her hair away from her face.
These prying questions effectively enforce the social convention that Skeeter should date and that she should try to get married. But Skeeter is not dating Stuart because she feels a compulsion to follow societal standards – she’s doing it because of the growing feelings she has for him.
That day when Skeeter arrives home, Hilly calls to tell her that she left her satchel at the meeting but that it’s safe with her now. Terrified that Hilly will snoop through the bag, Skeeter asks her mother Charlotte to drive her to Hilly’s. Charlotte agrees, saying she’ll drop Skeeter off on the way to the doctor for some “routine” tests for her ulcers. Skeeter doesn’t remember her mother ever having ulcers before. They get in the car and drive.
Charlotte’s offhanded remarks about her ulcers foreshadow the more serious medical condition that Charlotte will face near the end of the novel. The ulcers may also represent the outward manifestation of the stress of repressing knowledge, specifically Charlotte’s true reason for firing Constantine.
When Hilly opens the door Skeeter can tell by her friend’s expression that she’s already peeked through the documents. Hilly gives her back the satchel and Skeeter sees that Aibileen and Minny’s notes are safely tucked away in a side pocket but that the law book is gone. As Skeeter is about to leave, Hilly casually says that Senator Whitworth is very pro-segregation.
Hilly is now suspicious that Skeeter is secretly anti-segregation. Hilly’s reference to Senator Whitworth, Stuart’s father, is a thinly-veiled threat that she’ll tell Stuart about Skeeter’s interest in Jim Crow laws in order to turn his father against her. Of course, Skeeter sees no problem with Stuart’s family being racist, as long as the issue never comes up—she has the privilege of simply avoiding the subject.