The Help

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The Help Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Minny finds Celia’s mansion creepy because it has so many rooms and no children. Celia only ever leaves the house to go to a hair stylist and Minny cannot help but wonder why this white woman stays inside and lies in bed all day. Without Minny asking, Celia explains that she needs to lie down so much because every night she has nightmares of returning to her ugly, “white trash” hometown.
Celia’s revelation that she comes from a “white trash” background explains—supposedly—why she lacks knowledge of the largely unspoken rules of middle-class white conduct. Since Celia almost certainly did not have a maid growing up, she never saw her parents treat the maid with disrespect, and so wasn’t trained to see black maids as inferior. This lesson about racism being taught makes sense in the world of the novel, but in actuality poor whites are just as likely to be racist as rich whites. Celia would have plenty of opportunities to “learn” racism even without a black maid, so her lack of prejudice paints a broader picture of her upbringing.
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Looking out at the untended azalea bushes in Celia’s yard, Minny thinks that Celia’s property looks like the plantation in Gone with the Wind, a movie Minny dislikes because it makes the slaves look like they enjoy slavery. Minny thinks that if she played the black maid Mammy from the movie, she’d tell her mistress Scarlet O’Hara to stick her green drapes up her “white little pooper.” Celia says she doesn’t mind the bushes, but that she hates the mimosa tree because its “hairy flowers” remind her of “little baby hairs.”
Minny is like an updated and more realistic version of the Mammy character. They share similar names and positions, but Mammy was a flat stereotype of a character—a slave loyal to her masters—whereas Minny is a complex individual who dislikes her racist employers. Minny will ultimately distinguish herself from the politically complacent Mammy character by fighting to improve conditions for domestic workers. Celia’s hatred of the mimosa tree’s “baby hairs” introduces the tree’s significance as a symbol for her repressed anxiety about motherhood and childbirth.
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One day while Minny is in the kitchen, she hears the sound of a car coming up the driveway and assumes Mister Johnny, Celia’s husband, has come home early. When Minny yells to Celia that her husband is home, Celia jumps out of bed faster than she’s ever done before. Minny hides in the guest bathroom so Johnny doesn’t think that the black stranger in his house is a burglar. Minny catches a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror. She feels shame for having to stoop so low just to make a living.
Celia’s refusal to tell her husband about Minny is an act of disrespect towards Minny, one that forces Minny to humiliate herself by hiding in the bathroom as if she were a burglar rather than a paid employee. Until Celia tells Johnny about Minny, Celia will still have power over her maid, preventing them from ever developing an equal relationship.
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