Minny narrates this chapter. Celia Foote’s large mansion is way out in the country. Celia wears a lot of makeup and Minny thinks she looks like Marilyn Monroe. Celia invites Minny to sit at her table so she can bring her a cold drink. A white woman has never done this before and Minny, suspicious of Celia, refuses the drink and asks to see the house instead.
Celia treats Minny with the same respect she would a white woman, revealing that Celia doesn’t seem to have the same prejudices against black people that the other housewives do. In contrast, Minny’s suspicions reflect her past experiences of white people being racist and cruel.
After showing her around, Celia offers Minny the job, but doesn’t know how to go about hiring her. Minny has to tell her what questions to ask. Unlike most housewives, Celia gives Minny the freedom to pick what days she would like to work and what time she’d like to arrive and leave. Celia offers her two dollars an hour – twice as much as she was paid at Miss Walters’.
Celia’s lack of knowledge about how to hire a maid shows that she is unfamiliar with the societal conventions of how a white woman is “supposed” to interact with a black maid. Thus, the power balance between maid and employer shift to Minny’s favor: she now gets to direct the hiring process herself.
Minny remembers when she was fourteen and her mother, who was also a maid, explained the rules of housekeeping at a “White Lady’s.” Her mother said that a maid must keep her complaints to herself, keep out of the family’s business, use her own silverware, and, most of all, must not sass. On the first day of her first job, Minny talked back to the woman of the house and was fired five minutes later.
Lumping all white women into the category of “White Lady,” Minny’s mother teaches Minny to see all white housewives as essentially the same. Minny’s life experiences so far have confirmed her mother’s opinions, but Celia’s kindness will eventually show Minny that not all white women are racist “White Ladies.”
Celia’s home is a mess – dirty clothes everywhere, rust under the carpets, tons of dust. Celia is friendly, but Minny, suspicious of a white woman’s friendless, bristles at her kindness. At Celia’s request, Minny teaches her how to cook for her husband – it’s the first time she’s ever told a white woman what to do. A good cook, Minny takes pride in the food she makes and refuses when Celia suggests she burn some of the food so that her husband doesn’t get suspicious why the food tastes so good. Without telling Minny her reasons, Celia keeps the fact she hired a maid a secret from her husband, but she agrees to tell him about her before Christmas day.
Celia’s friendlessness does not yet alter Minny’s suspicions. However, the normal balance of power between maid and employer does shift again. For Minny’s whole life, white people have told her what to do, but now Minny is the one in charge, instructing Celia on the fundamentals of cooking. Unlike the severe power imbalance in most maid-housewife relationships, the power dynamic here might allow Minny and Celia to form an actual friendship based on a foundation of equality.