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.
Social Class  Theme Icon

The Help offers an in-depth meditation on the complicated effects that class has on people’s social interactions, specifically with regards to race. The Help portrays class as providing the basis for Jackson’s tiered white society: the wealthy and “well-bred” are at the top, setting the social conventions and attitudes for everyone else below. Elizabeth Leefolt and Celia Foote exemplify opposing ways of how a white Southern woman can navigate social class. Elizabeth comes from a “good” family, but her lack of monetary inheritance and her husband’s low income mean that she cannot fully integrate into wealthy high society. As a result, Elizabeth conceals her family’s lack of wealth with symbols of class, specifically by hiring a maid she can barely afford to pay. A maid confers class status to the average white 1960s Southern woman, since having a maid distances the housewife from the physical labor required to run a household, especially as physical labor is associated with black people and the lower class. However, this desire to increase her class status makes her less racially sensitive. For example, in order to appear wealthy and follow the conventions of her racist society, Elizabeth gives in to Miss Hilly’s suggestion that she build a separate bathroom for “the help.”

Celia Foote’s social standing is the exact opposite of Elizabeth’s. Since Celia comes from a poor, “white trash” family but marries into a wealthy one, she lacks knowledge of the largely unspoken rules of middle-class white conduct. Thus she treats Minny, her maid, with more respect, since Celia is unaware of how white women are “supposed” to treat black people as inferior—even though this seems culturally inaccurate, since racism is not limited to the upper class or correlated to wealth at all. In the world of the novel, however, Celia’s low class means she holds less racist attitudes. Even so, the allure of acceptance into high Southern society tempts Celia, and she risks letting her upper-class peers’ racist influence shape her attitudes. By the end of the novel, however, her inability to assimilate into high society turns her once and for all against the discriminatory attitudes of the wealthier-born white women. Rejected by her wealthy neighbors, Celia has a sense of what it means to be unfairly discriminated against. While she is still generally blind to her own privilege, this experience does give her the empathetic sensitivity to treat Minny, a fellow outcast, with respect and human kindness.

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Social Class Quotes in The Help

Below you will find the important quotes in The Help related to the theme of Social Class .
Chapter 17 Quotes

See, I think if God had intended for white people and colored people to be this close together for so much of the day, he would’ve made us color-blind. And while Miss Celia’s grinning and “good morning” and “glad to see”-ing me, I’m wondering, how did she get this far in life without knowing where the lines are drawn? I mean, a floozy calling the society ladies is bad enough. But she has sat down and eaten lunch with me every single day since I started working here. I don’t mean in the same room, I mean at the same table. That little one up under the window. Every white woman I’ve ever worked for ate in the dining room as far away from the colored help as they could. And that was fine with me…There are so many things Miss Celia is just plain ignorant about.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Celia Foote
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

While working for Celia, Minny is constantly reminded how Celia's childhood in Sugar Ditch makes her ignorant about the social tension and segregation in Jackson, Mississippi. Through Celia's naivete (the way she is "just plain ignorant"), we realize that the racism in Jackson is largely upheld by members of the economically higher social class.

Celia's little actions—insisting on eating with her maid, giving Minny a friendly greeting each morning, innocently offering Minny extra money as if Minny was begging for money when she was just venting about her situation—actually grate on Minny, although they seem kind, and Celia's intentions are good. They put Minny in an uncomfortable situation: having to explain and define the social boundaries which constrict her every day as a black maid for a well-off, white woman. It's not just an employer's unkindness that might bother black maids such as Minny; the larger social structure is the real issue at hand. Celia's kindness only underscores the broader, unfortunate realities of racism and institutionalized oppression. 


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Chapter 24 Quotes

She’s got no goo on her face, her hair’s not sprayed, her nightgown’s like an old prairie dress. She takes a deep breath through her nose and I see it. I see the white trash girl she was ten years ago. She was strong. She didn’t take no shit from nobody.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Celia Foote
Page Number: 365
Explanation and Analysis:

The morning after Leroy physically abuses Minny all night, Minny and Celia spot a naked white man from Celia's kitchen window. The man threatens and attacks the women, but Celia beats him with a fireplace poker. Minny finally sees Celia as more than just a naive white lady; during her time in Sugar Ditch, Celia experienced a great deal more than Minny had assumed. To Minny, Celia becomes "the white trash girl she was ten years ago"—an individual scorned by her own society but deserving of respect because of an inner strength most of the wealthy ladies in the novel lack.

This is one of the few scenes of physical violence in The Help. A sharp contrast to the mundane realm of housekeeping, this scene reminds us that the home is not always a safe space. Violence can come from within (in the case of domestic violence) or even from outside, particularly when one's home is as far from the town as Cela's is. 

This scene also suggests how separated Minny and Cecilia are from the rest of their communities. They only experienced this physical combat at all because they were so far from the police and from neighbors. Minny and Celia are strong survivors who are united by their isolation. Although Minny exiled herself from the "Community Concerns" meetings and Celia never even entered a League meeting to begin with, both of these women are united in their isolation.