Aibileen explains that in Jackson white families live in nice neighborhoods, but the black families have to live in an enclosed area that the local government never expands or develops despite the growing black population. On the bus from Miss Leefolt’s neighborhood to her own, Aibileen sees a group of maids surrounding Minny, who’s entertaining them with stories of her deaf and crazy employer, Miss Walters. Aibileen sits beside Minny and warns her that Miss Hilly complained about her. Offended by Hilly’s accusation, Minny threatens to give Hilly “a piece a Minny for lunch” and storms off the bus.
Aibileen’s description of the segregated neighborhoods reveals the hypocrisy in the belief that segregation was “separate but equal”—the legal doctrine that allowed local governments to separate public services like education and housing for blacks and whites. Aibileen’s neighborhood, which is actually just a ghetto, shows just how unequal things actually were. The “separate but equal” doctrine hypocritically purported to create equality while actually reinforcing institutional racism. Minny’s threat also foreshadows “the special ingredient” she’ll put in Hilly’s pie.
Two days after the talk about the bathroom, Aibileen arrives at work where Mister Raleigh Leefolt (Miss Leefolt’s husband) is yelling at Miss Leefolt for wanting to a build a separate bathroom that they can’t afford. Awoken by the shouting, Mae Mobley comes out from her room. Before leaving, Mister Leefolt yells that Miss Leefolt is squandering Mae Mobley’s college fund just so she can use a different bathroom than the maid. Aibileen swallows her anger for the parents when she realizes that the child has been sleeping in her dirty diaper all night.
Miss Leefolt’s desire to build a bathroom that her family cannot afford introduces the theme of social class. In Jackson, a separate bathroom for the help is a status symbol meant to increase one’s class status. Miss Leefolt, who does not necessarily believe that black people carry racially-specific diseases, still perpetuates that racist belief by building another bathroom in order to seem wealthier.
That evening, Aibileen realizes that increases in bus fare and rent means that she’ll only have thirteen dollars to spend on food and other expenses every week. Minny calls and tells her that Miss Hilly is putting her mother into a nursing home so she has to find a new job.
Like most housewives, Leefolt pays Aibileen less than minimum wage. The housewives rationalize the exploitation of their maids by convincing themselves that black people are inferior to white people and so do not deserve equal pay.
The next morning, construction at the Leefolt house starts on the separate bathroom in the carport (an outdoor shelter for cars consisting of a roof held up by poles). Inside the house, Mae Mobley tries to get Miss Leefolt’s attention while she’s on the phone. Mae Mobley pulls the phone cord, causing the phone to fall and Miss Leefolt to pick her up and slap her hard against the leg. When Aibileen picks her up to console and protect her from her mother, Mae Mobley hits her against the ear.
Miss Leefolt personifies the tragic effects of mindlessly following social conventions. Her lack of affection for her daughter shows that she followed the societal conventions that dictated she become a mother, despite her natural aversion to motherhood. Likewise, she perpetuates segregation by obeying the racist convention that she and her maid use separate bathrooms, even though her family can’t afford the expense.
Minny calls Aibileen at work and tells her that Miss Hilly is telling the other white women that she’s a thief. Minny says she’s never going to be able to find work again and that she did something bad to Hilly. Refusing to tell Aibileen what she did, Minny just says it had something to do with a pie.
Hilly’s rumors put Minny’s financial security in complete jeopardy. With few job opportunities open to a black woman at the time, these rumors threaten to take away any stability from Minny’s life.
The next day, a woman named Celia Foote calls the Miss Leefolt’s residence and speaks to Aibileen. She wants to join the Children’s Benefit, an organization Miss Leefolt helps run. She also mentions she’s looking for a maid. Aibileen lies and says the maid, Minny Jackson, is available and comes highly recommended from Miss Leefolt and the other neighbors. Celia agrees to give her a call.
Aibileen selflessly puts her own financial security at risk in order to protect Minny in an act of a friendship. Throughout the novel, Aibileen’s relationship with Minny will provide a model of deep, compassionate friendship, in contrast to the superficial friendships that exist between the white female characters.
The bathroom is ready by the next afternoon. Miss Leefolt tells Aibileen, who feels the bitter seed growing in her chest, that she should be happy that she has a bathroom of her own. Aibileen knows that Miss Leefolt wants Aibileen to thank her for the bathroom, but Aibileen refuses to say it.
Here the bitter seed becomes a symbol for Aibileen’s hatred of racist hypocrisy. After installing the bathroom, Miss Leefolt acts as if she is helping Aibileen rather than simply helping herself by increasing her class status.