The Help

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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.
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon

“Help” normally signifies the giving of free services or resources to those in need, but the novel’s title refers directly to the underpaid black domestic workers who, paradoxically, are the ones “helping” their wealthier and more powerful employers, people who have no real need of help. By referring to these women as “the help,” the white housewives uphold the illusion that the maids are like volunteers who want—or should be grateful for the opportunity—to work for less than minimum wage, and for families that treat them as subhuman. The white women refuse to even consider that they could be the ones “helping” the maids by promoting civil rights in white communities.

This irrational and absurd system in which poor black people “help” the rich whites gives way to widespread hypocrisy in white society. Miss Hilly believes that her bathroom bill and Jim Crow segregation laws actually “help” black people. She even takes the moral high ground by raising funds to “help” needy children in Africa, but this is actually a false generosity meant to raise her class status as a charitable woman. Hilly is not capable of understanding that this desire is rooted in a racist paternalism that infantilizes black people as completely helpless, adding further irony to the fact that the black domestic workers are actually the ones “helping” their white employers. If Hilly truly cared about generosity and not merely the appearance of generosity, she would provide fair wages to the woman working in very own her kitchen – not as an act of charity but as a way of amending a social injustice.

The question of help becomes most complicated with regards to the relationship between the maids and the white children they raise. Stockett depicts this relationship as if the maids were as close with the children as a mother would be, despite the fact the maids are being paid to raise and be kind to the children. Unlike real mothers, they aren’t allowed to snap or yell at the children, so it is no wonder the children love them more than their actual mothers. But Aibileen seems to genuinely care for Mae Mobley, wanting to give her the self-confidence she’ll need to deal with her verbally abusive mother when she’s older. While Aibileen’s emotions may be genuine, the economic relationship between maid and employer – which makes the bond between maid and child possible – ensures that Mae Mobley will never be able to love Aibileen for who Aibileen really is. Instead, Mae Mobley’s image of Aibileen will always be corrupted the fact that she was, on one level, just a kind maid who was paid to “mother” her.

Skeeter models a truer form of “help,” however, by risking her own life and reputation to give the maids a platform to tell their stories. The maids have never received help from a white person before, so at first they are suspicious that Skeeter would risk “helping the help.” As the maids come to see her desire to help as a form of genuine concern for the plight of the African-American community, they agree to tell their stories. By the novel’s conclusion, the maids realize that Skeeter’s help consists not of monetary charity but a dogged attempt to learn about their lives in an effort to transcend racial divides and cultivate a mutual and genuine understanding based on human compassion.

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Help vs. Hypocrisy Quotes in The Help

Below you will find the important quotes in The Help related to the theme of Help vs. Hypocrisy.
Chapter 8 Quotes

Aibileen just stood there and I wished I wasn’t in the room. Please, I thought, please don’t say thank you.
“Yes ma’am.” Aibileen opened a drawer and reached inside, but Hilly kept looking at her. It was so obvious what she wanted.
Another second passed with no one moving. Hilly cleared her throat and finally Aibileen lowered her head. “Thank you, ma’am,” she whispered. She walked back into the kitchen. It’s no wonder she doesn’t want to talk to me.

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Aibileen Clark, Hilly Holbrook
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

While Hilly is at Elizabeth's house one day, Hilly tells Aibileen that her husband was responsible for the construction of Aibileen's bathroom. After Hilly describes this, she clearly waits for Aibileen to say thank you, creating the silence and social tension present in this passage. Hilly acts as if Aibileen's bathroom is a gift (a form of "help" for the help), ignoring this bathroom's other implications: that black women are "dirty" or disease-ridden and that racially-segregated spaces are more suitable than integrated ones.

Skeeter knows that this form of help from the Holbrooks is hypocritical, but again her view of social degradation becomes about Skeeter's own emotions. Skeeter reflects that Aibileen likely doesn't want to talk to her because of her friendship with Hilly. Of course, Aibileen could also not wish to talk to Skeeter because of Skeeter's own actions. Earlier, Skeeter attempted to bribe Aibileen into participating in her project. Skeeter tried to give Aibileen an envelope of money, as thanks for her help with the Miss Myrna letters but also as an incentive to encourage Aibileen to share her story as a maid. As we've seen earlier, even Skeeter is hypocritical; she'd like to help AIbileen but she'd also like to help herself.


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Chapter 13 Quotes

I realize, like a shell cracking open in my head, there’s no difference between these government laws and Hilly building Aibileen a bathroom in the garage, except ten minutes’ worth of signatures in the state capital.

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Aibileen Clark, Hilly Holbrook
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

When Skeeter browses at the library and searches for books that might help her describe the lives of black domestic workers, she discovers  a booklet which details the "Jim Crow Laws of the South." She reads a few pages, "mesmerized" by the factual and direct wording of these laws, which everyone seems to implicitly know but never openly discusses. 

Skeeter makes herself stop reading because she feels this material is off topic; she is writing about maids instead of Southern legislation. However, Skeeter then realizes that "there's no difference" between these simple, matter-of-fact laws that enforce segregation and less direct attempts to separate individual blacks and whites (such as Hilly's attempt to separate Aibileen from Miss Leefolt's regular bathroom). All of the previous, more personal events of The Help are here connected to the larger legislative forces at work in the 1960s.

Chapter 21 Quotes

“It is my job, Skeeter! You know well as I do, people won’t buy so much as a slice of pound cake from an organization that harbors racial integrationists!”
“Hilly.” I just need to hear her say it. “Just who is all that pound cake money being raised for, anyway?”
She rolls her eyes. “The Poor Starving Children of Africa?”
I wait for her to catch the irony of this, that she’ll send money to colored people overseas, but not across town.

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Hilly Holbrook (speaker)
Page Number: 331
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene occurs moments before Skeeter calls Hilly a hypocrite for the first time and threatens to tell Hilly's hero Genevieve von Hapsburg (the national League president) about Hilly's hypocrisy. Here, Hilly is enraged that Skeeter has not included the Home Help Sanitation Initiative in any weekly League newsletter over the past five months. Hilly is also upset that Skeeter's blossoming integrationist beliefs could harm the League's image. However, Skeeter is also upset. Stuart broke up with her, she is fed up with Hilly's only superficially charitable works, and she is stressed about her mother's declining health. With all of these factors in play, finally Hilly and Skeeter's friendship begins to erupt. 

Only in this scene of anger and conflict does Skeeter so directly address a fundamental theme of The Help—the tension between help and hypocrisy. Although Skeeter has been bothered by Hilly's hypocritical ways in the past, as she heard Hilly make Aibileen say "thank you" for her garage bathroom or saw Hilly disguise her social climbing with the veneer of philanthropy for struggling communities, Skeeter confronts Hilly when her own life is already in shambles (and, for instance, she does not need Hilly to introduce her to Stuart anymore). This, of course, does not take away from the truth underlying Skeeter's comments; Hilly may not understand the "irony" Skeeter pinpoints, but the reader certainly should.

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.

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.