The Help

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Gender and the Home Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon
Social Class  Theme Icon
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Help, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender and the Home  Theme Icon

Focused as it is on female characters—white and black—The Help portrays how the home, a traditionally feminine space, was just as much a battleground for social change as were the courtrooms and rallies of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. While Aibileen describes how white men beat or kill black men who “stepped out of line,” the novel also shows how white women used their social influence to ruin the lives of the black maids in more indirect but similarly devastating ways. A white woman could have her maid fired, her maid’s husband fired, their house repossessed, or even have her maid sent to jail for as small an infraction as a parking ticket.

But the maids find ways to fight such racial injustice. The maids call themselves “domestic workers,” which literally means that the home is their workplace. For white women, the home is a private space where they have control and authority in an otherwise sexist society, but for black women, the white woman’s home is a public space of labor in which they must fight to earn respect and fairness. While Aibileen tries to inspire racial tolerance in the children she raises as a way to fight large-scale racial injustice, Minny refuses to curb her personality, demanding that the housewives see her as a human being with a distinct identity rather than as a nameless and obedient servant. These battles may not have been recorded by the news or in textbooks, but Stockett illustrates how the maids’ resistance to racism in the home, the heart of Southern society, plays a vital part in changing the hearts and minds of women and children in the fight for civil rights.

Through the character of Skeeter, The Help also exposes the double standards white women faced in the South during the 1960s. Skeeter chafes against the sexist Southern culture that expects white women to marry, stay home, and have children as soon as possible, while white men are allowed the freedom to explore their passions in the workforce. In contrast, other female characters like Skeeter’s mother and Miss Hilly embrace gender norms and try to enforce them on Skeeter by setting her up on dates or advising her on clothing choices. This pressure also comes from men like Stuart Whitworth, who tries to shame Skeeter into giving up her career goals because they are outside the approved norms for a woman. At the other end of the spectrum, book agent Elaine Stein’s high-powered career provides a model for Skeeter of an alternative lifestyle beyond the proscribed path of becoming a Southern wife, mother, and homemaker.

Ultimately, Skeeter bucks the sexist conventions that dictate that her place is only in the home: instead of participating in domestic life as a wife and mother, she writes a book that exposes the racial injustices in the Southern home. Skeeter’s sense of being oppressed by gender norms might make her more sensitive to the even more powerful forms of racial oppression, inspiring her determination to address the racism faced by the black domestic workers. This personal rebellion against sexist and racist attitudes in Jackson empowers her, giving her the inner confidence to reject her community and its expectations of her. Instead of passively abiding by society standards for women, she goes on at the novel’s end to craft a more authentic self as a writer living in New York City.

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Gender and the Home Quotes in The Help

Below you will find the important quotes in The Help related to the theme of Gender and the Home .
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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Got to be the worst place in the world, inside a oven. You in here, you either cleaning or you getting cooked. Tonight I just know I’m on have that dream I’m stuck inside and the gas gets turned on. But I keep my head in that awful place cause I’d rather be anywhere sides answering Miss Leefolt’s questions about what Miss Skeeter was trying to say to me. Asking do I want to change things.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, Elizabeth Leefolt
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Skeeter has a brief conversation with Aibileen in the kitchen, during which Skeeter expresses disgust about Hilly's Home Help Sanitation Initiative and naively asks Aibileen if she wishes she could "change things." Aibileen then starts to clean the oven. With her head inside the oven, Aibileen reflects on the oven's interior—a hot, stifling place which is intimately associated with domestic servitude ("cooking and cleaning"). This suffocating space functions as a compressed symbol of the South; although its small size contrasts with the expansive plantations on which slaves toiled, the oven represents the smaller homes which now limit the lives of female Southern workers in the 1960s. And racism is still what forces that limitation, as Aibileen keeps her head in the oven to avoid the repercussions of Miss Leefolt's racism and oppressive power over her.

However, our narrator Aibileen does not directly describe this symbolism herself. She has worked as a housemaid for decades and does not believe that she could suddenly have the power to "change things." At the moment, in fact, she is trying to avoid facing the repercussions for Skeeter's actions. Right now, Aibileen's employer Elizabeth Leefolt is lingering in the kitchen, upset and curious about Aibileen and Skeeter's previous conversation. If Miss Leefolt directly asks Aibileen about Skeeter's question and this previous conversation, then Aibileen would be forced to tell her about Skeeter's critique of the status quo. And Aibileen knows that, given Miss Leefolt's racism and the power she holds over Aibileen, it would be Aibileen whom Leefolt would blame, not Skeeter.

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 5 Quotes

“Now you look a here, Eugenia”—because Constantine was the only one who’d occasionally follow Mama’s rule. “Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person.”

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Constantine Bates (speaker), Charlotte Phelan
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

During a sequence of flashback scenes about Skeeter's childhood, and particularly about her relationship to her family's black maid Constantine, Skeeter describes a scene that occurred when she was thirteen. Skeeter was crying, distraught that one of her brother's friends called her "ugly." Constantine found Skeeter in the kitchen and told her these words. 

Constantine's characterization of "ugly" as a defect in one's personality (which makes someone a "hurtful, mean person") demonstrates how Constantine has a wiser, more mature interpretation of the world than Skeeter's mother does. While Skeeter's mother is concerned about the superficial surface of Skeeter's appearance (because she hopes that her daughter will marry well and attract a suitable man), Constantine focuses on the richness of people's internal lives. Here, she does not treat Skeeter according to her appearance; unlike most, she even avoids using Skeeter's nickname, which Skeeter received because she looked unattractive ("long and leggy and mosquito-thin") even as a baby. Constantine transcends social as well as physical veneers; here, she treats Skeeter as an individual, who can choose what she will believe, instead of simply viewing Skeeter as the white child of her employer. 

Chapter 14 Quotes

After while, my mind done drifted to where I wish it wouldn’t. I reckon I know pretty well what would happen if the white ladies found out we was writing about them, telling the truth a what they really like. Womens, they ain’t like men. A woman ain’t gone beat you with a stick. Miss Hilly wouldn’t pull no pistol on me. Miss Leefolt wouldn’t come burn my house down.
No, white womens like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches’ fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with em.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Hilly Holbrook, Elizabeth Leefolt
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

Earlier that afternoon, Aibileen heard Miss Hilly tell Elizabeth "I read it," in regards to something in Skeeter's satchel. Aibileen knows that Hilly might have read her stories, but there is nothing she can do in this situation; she can't even call Skeeter because it would be too difficult to explain why a black woman is calling Skeeter's house. Aibileen can only think about the possible repercussions of her stories. She knows that, if white women such as Hilly or Elizabeth found out, they would use indirect means ("a shiny little set a tools") such as gossip, firing, and manipulation to ensure that Aibileen would lose her life as she knew it—her job, home, and stability. 

As Aibileen here describes, and Minny's difficulty finding a job revealed, a white woman can be just as much of a cruel, racist segregationist as her man, although she uses less obvious means. These white women gain their unfortunate power because of their ability to hold a grudge and "take their time." Because women with maids are typically women in well-off homes who lack major economic worries, they can afford to take whatever time they need to fully satisfy their grudge and destroy the lives of those who are powerless. 

Chapter 17 Quotes

Here’s the thing: I like telling my stories. It feels like I’m doing something about it. When I leave, the concrete in my chest has loosened, melted down so I can breathe for a few days. And I know there are plenty of other “colored” things I could do besides telling my stories or going to....the mass meetings in town, the marches in Birmingham, the voting rallies upstate. But truth is, I don’t care that much about voting. I don’t care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing the silver.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

When Minny and Aibileen walk home from church one Sunday afternoon, Aibileen asks her to come to that week's "Community Concerns" meeting, only to find out that Minny characteristically spoke up to its organizer at the last meeting and will not be coming to meetings anytime soon. Minny thinks about how much she "needs" to tell Skeeter her stories, though. 

She acknowledges that storytelling feels different from more common, more political actions that bring together the black community. Yet, to Minny, storytelling is more important. It provides Minny with a way to address the everyday racism she encounters in the home, which may seem less important (because it focuses on things like being "dirty" or "clean" and everyday actions like polishing silver) but forms the foundation of many maids' lives (because the simple accusation of stealing silver can make a maid unemployed, poor, and fundamentally stuck). As Minny's reflection reveals, black individuals may not always have the time to work towards change in the typical sense because of their family responsibilities or struggles to earn a living. Simply sharing their experiences might be all they can do, but as The Help suggests, it may be enough.

Chapter 28 Quotes

“Why would you want to go stirring up trouble?”
I can tell, in his voice, he sincerely wants an answer from me. But how to explain it? He is a good man, Stuart. As much as I know that what I’ve done is right, I can still understand his confusion and doubt.
“I’m not making trouble, Stuart. The trouble is already here.”

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Stuart Whitworth, Jr. (speaker)
Page Number: 449
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Stuart begins to propose to Skeeter, Skeeter tells him the entire story about the book she is attempting to publish with Aibileen and Minny. Stuart realizes that "the town" about Skeeter's integrationist beliefs is actually true; Skeeter is more than the woman he thought she was. This inspires Stuart to rethink his decision and creates the "confusion and doubt" in his voice. Stuart cannot understand why Skeeter should be involved in the black community's problems.

Although Skeeter does understand, she continues to believe that Stuart is "a good man." She views Stuart as a fine individual, who is merely entrenched in larger structures beyond his control (and, perhaps, beyond his comprehension as well). Skeeter is caught in-between two perspectives; able to understand the culture she grew up in, yet unable to forget the true stories the maids have told her—Skeeter does not quite belong in any community anymore. 

Chapter 32 Quotes

One time I asked him, “Why? Why are you hitting me?” He leaned down and looked me right in the face.
“If I didn’t hit you, Minny, who knows what you become.” I was trapped in the corner of the bedroom like a dog. He was beating me with his belt. It was the first time I’d ever really thought about it. Who knows what I could become, if Leroy would stop goddamn hitting me.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Leroy Jackson (speaker)
Page Number: 485-486
Explanation and Analysis:

Minny lies besides Leroy early one morning, afraid that he will find out about her role in the writing of the book. He hits her face but does not continue to physically abuse her because she is pregnant. However, Minny remembers the many times she faced more strenuous beatings, including the first time she wondered "what I could become" if her husband would stop abusing her. We see how personal relationships can create individual boundaries, which might be as strong as societal barriers.

This scene also introduces a new perspective on Minny's character. Always the strong woman to the rest of the world, Minny views herself as a far weaker individual. She blames herself for loving her husband and putting up with his alcoholism and abuse. Though The Help generally dwells on other societal forces more than domestic violence, with this scene, it provides an intimate picture of an abused woman. We are invited into the most private places within a home and see Minny's most intimate secrets, which she keeps hidden even as she shares other secrets to the world in the recently published book.

Chapter 34 Quotes

I walk out the back door, to the terrible sound a Mae Mobley crying again. I start down the driveway, crying too, knowing how much I’m on miss Mae Mobley, praying her mama can show her more love. But at the same time feeling, in a way, that I’m free…Freer than Miss Leefolt, who so locked up in her own head she don’t even recognize herself when she read it. And freer than Miss Hilly. That woman gone spend the rest a her life trying to convince people she didn’t eat that pie. I think about Yule May setting in jail. Cause Miss Hilly, she in her own jail, but with a lifelong term.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Hilly Holbrook, Elizabeth Leefolt, Mae Mobley Leefolt, Yule May
Related Symbols: Minny’s “Special Ingredient” Pie
Page Number: 521
Explanation and Analysis:

After Hilly accuses Aibileen of stealing silver and makes Elizabeth fire her, Aibileen leaves the Leefolt's home for the last time. Like Minny, who recently decided to leave her abusive husband, Aibileen now feels free to decide her future. She is no longer stuck caring for others' children; instead of providing Mae Mobley with daily love, she will only hope that Mae Mobley will experience such love in the future. Aibileen's storytelling has cost her a former way of life, but it provides her with the internal power to determine a more fulfilling future. 

Aibileen recognizes how her storytelling simultaneously removed some of Hilly's freedom; Hilly will forever try to convince others that she did not "eat that pie." The truth of Aibileen's stories set her free, but Hilly's willingness to engage in lies makes her lack freedom, "in her own jail ... with a lifelong term." As The Help closes, we see Hilly as a kind of chained figure, no longer the character with the most authority and control.

The sun is bright but my eyes is wide open. I stand at the bus stop like I been doing for forty-odd years. In thirty minutes, my whole life’s . . . done. Maybe I ought to keep writing, not just for the paper, but something else, about all the people I know and the things I seen and done. Maybe I ain’t too old to start over, I think and I laugh and cry at the same time at this. Cause just last night I thought I was finished with everthing new.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker)
Page Number: 522
Explanation and Analysis:

The Help ends on an uncertain note. Though Aibileen, Minny, and the other maids have had too-determined futures of housekeeping, and Skeeter has been stuck in various characters' expectations (such as Stuart's and her mother's), now these characters have new lives looking forward. Minny and Skeeter have moved on from their old homes and Aibileen has moved beyond Mae Mobley, her almost-daughter. The future is circumscribed in "maybe."

Yet, Aibileen's eyes are "wide open." She realizes that she has a future, although she does not know exactly what it is. The book did help her, although it initially cost her a job. Of course, it did not help her as much as it helped Skeeter. Skeeter has a new city, a new job, and, fittingly, new hair. Aibileen does not have any of these benefits. Though The Help described a genuine friendship between a black maid and a young white woman, it also suggests that there is much more social progress to be made, until characters such as Skeeter and Aibileen can be truly equal and have equally promising "new" beginnings.