The Help

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The Bitter Seed  Symbol Icon
Aibileen often refers to the “bitter seed” that began growing inside of her after the death of her son Treelore. The seed makes Aibileen less accepting of the white women who treat her like a lesser human being, and she often feels the seed growing every time a white woman humiliates or degrades her. The seed represents how racism can make even the most gentle and compassionate people justifiably bitter. Aibileen uses this bitterness in a productive way, however. The seed gives her the motivation to get back at the white housewives by helping Skeeter reveal their private lives in the book. If Aibileen stayed the timid, forgiving woman she was before her son’s death, then she would never have had the internal impetus to fight back against oppression and racism in her society. In this way, the bitter seed is a painful but politically beneficial reminder of all that Aibileen has endured in Jackson.

The Bitter Seed Quotes in The Help

The The Help quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bitter Seed . 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 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. 


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The Bitter Seed Symbol Timeline in The Help

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bitter Seed appears in The Help. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
...newborn Mae Mobley. The death of her son makes Aibileen feel as if a “ bitter seed ” is growing inside of her, making her less accepting of the people around her. (full context)
Chapter 2
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 growing in her chest, that she should be happy that she has a bathroom of... (full context)
Chapter 7
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
...catch diseases if she uses the “colored bathroom.” On the way home, Aibileen feels the bitter seed growing inside her when she thinks about how Miss Leefolt is teaching her daughter to... (full context)