The Help

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Bathrooms  Symbol Icon
While Jim Crow-era laws enforced racial segregation in the South on a state and local level, the everyday beliefs and social behaviors of Southern whites were just as central to the continued segregation of African-Americans as the actual laws themselves. For example, many white people in the novel believe that black people carry unique diseases that can be transmitted to others by using the same toilet seat. Miss Hilly uses this blatantly racist belief to convince other white women to build separate bathrooms for their black maids. In this way, segregated bathrooms represent the private beliefs and social practices that reinforce and expand institutional segregationist laws. Some other examples of these beliefs include the taboo in white communities against sitting at the same table with black people or sharing the same utensils. Over the course of the novel, Skeeter realizes that to overcome racism in the South, people must overturn the Jim Crows laws while also working to undo the private racist beliefs and social practices that would perpetuate racism and segregation even if the laws no longer existed. Since bathrooms are one of the most private spaces in the home, which is already a private space, overcoming segregation there represents overcoming a particularly challenging hurdle on the path towards equal rights.

Bathrooms Quotes in The Help

The The Help quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bathrooms . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Berkley Books edition of The Help published in 2009.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bathrooms
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

As The Help opens in Chapter One, Aibileen describes Mae Mobley’s birth and then immediately says these words. Though this quote serves as Aibileen’s first self-introduction, it do not directly inform us about Aibileen’s own past. Rather, it fittingly describes our compassionate protagonist as she relates to others (such as the seventeen children she raised). Aibileen's story (through Skeeter's writing) will become a force of social change, a story which benefits a society.

This introduction gives us a sense of who this society is. Although Aibileen does not directly mention that she lives in Jackson, Mississippi, her dialect already suggests this Southern setting. She also alludes to the tensions between Southern maids and "mamas," who co-exist in the same homes yet are divided by institutionalized and personal racism. Perhaps the most blatant sign of this personal racism occurs when housewives forbid their maids from using their houses' restrooms; the "toilet bowl" and the bathroom become particularly fraught with cultural tensions as The Help continues.

In this first quote we are also introduced to the way Stockett tries to replicate a Southern Black dialect in her narrative. While this is most historically realistic in writing from the perspective of a character like Aibileen, and Stockett seems to be well-intentioned, this conceit also been seen as condescending and even racist by many critics—those who essentially claim that no matter Stockett's personal intentions, the long history of oppression and racism in America make it inappropriate for a white woman to casually assume the dialect of a black maid in order to further her own personal causes (like selling this book).

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Chapter 2 Quotes

I put the iron down real slow, feel that bitter seed grow in my chest, the one planted after Treelore died. My face goes hot, my tongue twitchy. I don’t know what to say to her. All I know is, I ain’t saying it. And I know she ain’t saying what she want a say either and it’s a strange thing happening here cause nobody saying nothing and we still managing to have us a conversation.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Elizabeth Leefolt, Treelore
Related Symbols: Bathrooms , The Bitter Seed
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

While Aibileen was ironing, Miss Leefolt comes over to inform Aibileen that she has a "surprise" for Aibileen: "her very own bathroom" in the garage. However, Miss Leefolt is not just giving Aibileen a bathroom to use; she is implying that Aibileen is unsanitary, and so shouldn't share a bathroom with the white family she works for. In this conversation, Miss Leefolt keeps her racist thoughts and racist fears about supposed "diseases" superficially hidden under not just a veneer of politeness, but a veneer of generosity: her "gift" of a bathroom for Aibileen is in fact a way to stop Aibileen from using the same bathrooms that Miss Leefolt and her family use, and to keep Aibileen feeling separate and dehumanized. Aibileen similarly keeps her true reactions to herself, making this conversation a case of "nobody saying nothing." 

Miss Leefolt and Aibileen keep their feelings hidden as well as their words. Aibileen particularly describes her emotions as a "bitter seed ... in my chest," which she first felt after her skinny, bookish son Treelore was crushed by a tractor during a work shift. Treelore was not physically suited for such a demanding mill job, but had to resort to such work because of the racist social structure in which he lived. Yet Treelore's sacrifice was not in vain; it motivates Aibileen throughout the novel, first making her "tongue twitchy" but eventually encouraging her to say her words in stories if she cannot say them directly. 

Chapter 4 Quotes

She’s got so many azalea bushes, her yard’s going to look like Gone With the Wind come spring. I don’t like azaleas and I sure didn’t like that movie, the way they made slavery look like a big happy tea party. If I’d played Mammy, I’d of told Scarlett to stick those green draperies up her white little pooper. Make her own damn man-catching dress.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Celia Foote, Mammy , Scarlet O’Hara
Related Symbols: Bathrooms , The Mimosa Tree
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

While working as Celia Foote's maid, Minny watches the television show "The Guiding Light" each day. Celia Foote rather unusually joins her maid during this ritual. Right now, while "The Guiding Light" is on the television, Celia is lying on the couch, staring through the back window and looking at the azalea bushes.

Minny looks out at these bushes as well. Like the antiques and heirlooms in the Foote's mansion, these bushes reflect Mississippi's past. They remind Minny of the beautiful setting of the movie "Gone with the Wind," and the way that nostalgic views of the South's past cover up slavery's brutality. Celia Foote—a welcoming employer—starkly contrasts with most white women from the South's past and present. 

Minny particularly thinks about Mammy, the slave from the movie who helped Scarlett make a "man-catching dress." Like Mammy, Minny is helping a white woman attract and please her man. Instead of helping Celia improve her appearance, though, Minny allows Celia to claim credit for all of Minny's cooking—and hopefully gain her husband's respect. Despite Celia's good intentions and charms, she is still using Minny just as Scarlett used Mammy in "Gone with the Wind."

Chapter 7 Quotes

I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty ain't a color, disease ain't the negro side of town. I want to stop that moment from coming – and it come in every white child's life – when they start to think that colored folks are not as good as whites.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Mae Mobley Leefolt
Related Symbols: Bathrooms
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

After Miss Hilly sees Mae Mobley attempt to use Aibileen's toilet, she orders Aibileen to leave her alone with her daughter -- only to repeatedly spank Mae Mobley and, in supposedly whispered tones, declare that Aibileen and her bathroom are "dirty" and ridden with "disease." This disturbing scene impels Aibileen to want to scream the truth (that, as she remarks, "dirty ain't a color, disease ain't the negro side of town"). However, Aibileen cannot say anything in this situation, as she stands in her employer's kitchen. Again we see Aibileen's inability to share her thoughts and words because of her relatively powerless position in society.

Aibileen knows that Mae Mobley will, eventually, "start to think" of black people as inferior. This fact underscores the conditioned nature of racism; racist thoughts are inspired by cultural and social surroundings. Children such as Mae Mobley must be taught to be racist. For now, though, Mae Mobley serves as a reminder that change may happen in the future and in future generations.

Chapter 22 Quotes

“She needs to learn that she can’t carry on this way. I mean, around us it’s one thing, but around some other people, she’s going to get in big trouble.”
“It’s true. There are some racists in this town,” Miss Leefolt say. Miss Hilly nod her head, “Oh, they’re out there.”

Related Characters: Hilly Holbrook (speaker), Elizabeth Leefolt (speaker), Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan
Related Symbols: Bathrooms
Page Number: 343
Explanation and Analysis:

After Skeeter edits a newsletter announcement so that members of the League drop off old toilets instead of coats at Hilly's house, Hilly removes Skeeter from bridge club and discusses her other plans against Skeeter with Elizabeth. According to Hilly, Skeeter could "get in big trouble" for carrying around the Jim Crow laws pamphlet, as there are "some racists in this town," as Elizabeth says, who might more severely punish Skeeter.

Here, we see that Hilly's hypocritical kind of "help" extends to her former friends as well; she frames Skeeter's punishments as gifts that will help Skeeter learn an essential lesson. We also see Elizabeth and Hilly describe racism in terms of particular individuals who are "racists." These "racists" perform physical actions that display their beliefs, whereas Hilly and Elizabeth do not. This contrast—between physical violence and more psychological and social realities—is what allows Elizabeth and Hilly to (hypocritically) maintain their own self-identity as well-meaning individuals.

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Bathrooms Symbol Timeline in The Help

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bathrooms appears in The Help. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
...If passed, the bill would require every white household in Mississippi to have a separate bathroom for black housekeepers. Miss Hilly claims black people “carry different kinds of disease than we... (full context)
Chapter 2
Racism Theme Icon
Social Class  Theme Icon
Two days after the talk about the bathroom, Aibileen arrives at work where Mister Raleigh Leefolt (Miss Leefolt’s husband) is yelling at Miss... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
Social Class  Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Social Class  Theme Icon
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The bathroom is ready by the next afternoon. Miss Leefolt tells Aibileen, who feels the bitter seed... (full context)
Chapter 4
Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
...to Skeeter’s perspective on the day of the bridge game when Hilly brought up the bathroom bill. After the game, Skeeter drives home to her family’s cotton plantation in a fury.... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
...son of a state senator. She also tells Skeeter to run an ad for the bathroom bill in the League newsletter. Hilly is president of the newsletter. Looking at the separate... (full context)
Chapter 7
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
It’s late October and Aibileen finds the bathroom in the carport a cold and isolating place. After witnessing Miss Leefolt berate her daughter... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
When Miss Leefolt comes home, Mae Mobley runs to Aibileen’s bathroom to show her mother her new skill. Horrified, Leefolt slaps Mae Mobley on the leg... (full context)
Chapter 8
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...Hilly. When Aibileen had brought them coffee, Hilly asked Aibileen demeaning, rhetorical questions about the bathroom like, “It’s nice to have a place of your own, now isn’t it?” Aibileen agrees,... (full context)
Chapter 9
Racism Theme Icon
Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom Theme Icon
...only two words: Miss Hilly. Hearing the bitterness in Aibileen’s voice, Skeeter thinks of Hilly’s bathroom bill and all the terrible things Aibileen must have heard her say about black people. (full context)
Chapter 12
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
Social Class  Theme Icon
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom Theme Icon
...and says without emotion that she’s “real excited.” Before Skeeter leaves, Hilly gives her the bathroom bill ad that she wants Skeeter to run in the next newsletter. The ad says... (full context)
Chapter 13
Racism Theme Icon
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 18
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
...upstairs before Minny can say anything. When Minny goes to clean the upstairs bedroom, the bathroom door is closed. Minny tells Celia through the door that she’s going to clean the... (full context)
Chapter 21
Racism Theme Icon
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
At a League meeting, Hilly tells Skeeter she wants the ad about her bathroom initiative in this week’s journal or else she’ll have her fired as editor. Skeeter says... (full context)
Chapter 25
Social Class  Theme Icon
...of being called a liar in front of everyone, Celia vomits and rushes to the bathroom. (full context)