The Help

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The Help Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In June, a heat wave strikes, making Celia even more housebound. In order to get Celia out of the house, Minny suggests that she cut down the mimosa tree that she hates so much, but Celia doesn’t want to get out of bed. Minny wonders if a mental or physical illness is making her stay inside or if she’s just lazy. Being so close to a white woman all day makes Minny uncomfortable. She doesn’t even like eating at the same table as Celia. Minny thinks that Celia is “ignorant” for treating her in the same way that Celia would a white woman.
Normally the word “ignorant” refers to people who harbor racist beliefs, so it’s ironic that Minny thinks Celia is “ignorant” for actually treating her with respect and kindness, instead of according to the usual racist social conventions. We see here that Johnny never cut down the mimosa tree, implying that Celia will have to overcome gender norms (which the tree represents) herself.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
Social Class  Theme Icon
One day on a walk with Aibileen, Minny thinks about how the stories she tells Miss Skeeter have become a great relief to her. She doesn’t care about the rallies and sit-ins of the civil rights moments, but she does care that in a ten years, white ladies won’t accuse her daughter, who’s also a maid, of being dirty and stealing silver. She hopes Skeeter’s book will make that happen.
Unlike Aibileen, who sees Skeeter’s book as a platform for self-expression, Minny is more aware of the book’s potential for affecting positive change by altering the attitudes and perception of the white women. At some level, Minny recognizes that the privacy of the home is just as important a battleground for social change as the sit-ins and rallies of the Civil Rights Movement.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom Theme Icon
One day at Celia’s, Minny brings in a large package from the mail. Celia takes it straight to her bedroom. Minny’s curiosity about what’s going on with Celia is so overwhelming that she ignores her mother’s advice to stay out of a “White Lady’s” business. The next day, Minny sneaks upstairs and peers into Celia’s room where she sees Celia drinking alcohol out of unlabeled bottles that had arrived in the box. Minny hates drunks because she had to take care of her drunk father for twelve years.
Minny’s decision to ignore her mother’s advice shows that she’s starting to see Celia as an exception to her mother’s “White Lady” rules. Minny’s curiosity is partly born of actual concern for Celia, indicating that Minny is letting go of some of her bitterness and starting to see Celia as an individual and potential friend.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
At lunch, Celia says that she’s lucky to have a friend like Minny. Minny says that they’re not friends and Celia asks if it’s because they’re different races. Minny says that it’s because she doesn’t respect her enough to tell Mister Johnny she is working in his home. Minny also says that she saw Celia drinking and that Celia should tell Mister Johnny about the bottles. If she doesn’t, Minny says she’ll tell him herself. Celia gets angry and tells her not to come back to work on Monday.
Celia naively thinks that race, not racism, is what hinders their friendship. Skin color in itself doesn’t prevent cross-racial communion—instead, white people’s racist attitudes and behaviors alienate black people, making friendships a challenge. For example, Celia doesn’t respect Minny enough to tell Mister Johnny about her. Minny indirectly explains that a friendship can transcend racial lines only when white people truly treat black people with the respect they deserve.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
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