The Help

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Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom 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.
Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom Theme Icon

The theme of writing is threaded throughout The Help, as the novel melds fact and fiction to showcase the power of storytelling. In an act of defiance against the gender norms of her time, Miss Skeeter seeks self-determination through the act of writing. As a white woman in her society, she would have been expected to maintain the social order, to not “stir up trouble.” Skeeter’s book allows her to pit herself against not only the racist attitudes of her friends but also the limitations imposed on women’s freedom of expression. Since Miss Skeeter is a stand-in for the author, Kathryn Stockett, the novel even suggests that the writing of the book The Help provided Stockett with an opportunity to bridge the racial divides that she witnessed growing up in her Mississippi community.

Intimately related to the theme of writing is the idea of freedom. In the homes, the maids, unable to speak their mind without being fired, often say no more than “Yes, Ma’am.” But Skeeter’s book gives them the chance to record their voices, ones that are undervalued by society, so that the maids might make their mark on history. Their stories do help advance the cause of civil rights, spurring some white women in their neighborhood to educate themselves about race relations and initiate moments of dialogue with their black maids.

The connection between freedom and writing becomes most clear in Minny’s and Aibileen’s narratives. Minny considers the stories as an act of freedom, stories that let her reveal the secret emotions she’s been repressing as a maid. These stories and the truths she reveals unburden her, giving her a psychological freedom she never knew she was missing. Though publication of the book gets Aibileen fired, she finds new employment writing an advice column, which gives her the financial freedom to stop working for racist white families. But more metaphorically, writing provides Aibileen with the freedom to assert her individuality. As a black maid, she cannot express herself publically without fear of white violence, but writing under a pseudonym gives her the freedom to tell the truth of her experiences in her own words. The novel ends with Aibileen thinking about the future, and about the stories she now has the freedom to tell.

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Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom Quotes in The Help

Below you will find the important quotes in The Help related to the theme of Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom.
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 6 Quotes

I wonder if I’ll ever write anything worth anything at all. I turn when I hear Pascagoula’s knock on my door. That’s when the idea comes to me.
No. I couldn’t. That would be... crossing the line.
But the idea won’t go away.

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Pascagoula
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

After Skeeter receives another letter from Elaine Stein (the editor at Harper & Row Publishers who personally rejected Skeeter's job application and encouraged Skeeter to send her an original piece of journalism "about what disturbs you"), and Stein rejects all of Skeeter's unoriginal ideas, Skeeter notices the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men on her window ledge. Inspired by this book, which describes and pictures the lives of Southern sharecroppers who lived during the Great Depression, Skeeter has "the idea": the (admittedly inspired and not entirely original) thought to write and publish a depiction of how black Southern maids must now live.

Skeeter knows that she could be "crossing the line" if she sees this idea to fruition; she is cognizant of the social and racist boundaries which would cause others to view her project with anger, hostility, or any particular form of disapproval. Yet Skeeter is a stubborn individual; this idea has taken root in her mind, and some combination of altruism (for the plight of maids such as her beloved Constantine) and selfishness (for her own journalistic career and sense of righteousness) will impel her to more forward with "the idea" that "won't go away" any more than her resolve will.

Chapter 10 Quotes

It’s something about that word truth. I’ve been trying to tell white women the truth about working for them since I was fourteen years old…Truth. It feels cool, like water washing over my sticky-hot body. Cooling a heat that’s been burning me up all my life.
Truth, I say inside my head again, just for that feeling.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Aibileen Clark, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

Before their church service starts, Aibileen tells Minny about Skeeter's idea to publish a book that tells the truth about black maids' lives. Aibileen had asked Minny to come early to church for this, but Aibileen pretends that she is not going to tell Skeeter her story (because "we don't want a bring all that mess up" and "tell people the truth"). Yet Minny can see through Aibileen's deception and realizes that Aibileen is actually planning on working with Skeeter on this project.

This concept of telling the truth is particularly resonant for Minny in general and in this moment. Through her sass and humor, Minny has been attempting to tell the truth since she first worked for a white woman at the age of fourteen (and was, at that point, fired for sharing her true thoughts). Through helping with Skeeter's project, Minny could speak her story more directly.

Here, Minny also describes the "heat" inside her—a motivating force similar to Aibileen's "bitter seed." Minny and Aibileen both have largely internal motivations for participating in Skeeter's book.

Chapter 11 Quotes

On my drive home, I want to kick myself. For thinking I could just waltz in and demand answers. For thinking she’d stop feeling like the maid just because we were at her house, because she wasn’t wearing a uniform.

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Aibileen Clark
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

As Skeeter first tries to interview Aibileen about her experiences, Aibileen is terrified. She is only physically able to give short answers, before she, nauseous, leaves the room and likely vomits. The short interview then ends and Skeeter leaves Aibileen's house to drive home. 

Finally, we see Skeeter begin to understand her limited perspective. She realizes that Aibileen's job as a maid is more than just a job; it is a confining way of life (so Aibileen cannot "stop feeling like the maid" as soon as she is away from her employers). Skeeter—the white, recent college graduate who is admittedly uninformed about the recent civil rights developments and dangers—begins to see that she is trying to "demand answers" which are difficult to give. She is asking black maids to participate in a dangerous act that violates Southern social norms, when they are one of the most powerless groups in that society (the maids, not Skeeter, will be punished for disrupting the status quo). Now that Skeeter realizes this reality, she finally starts to recognizes her naïveté in her desire to "kick herself."

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 33 Quotes

Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Lou Anne
Page Number: 492
Explanation and Analysis:

While Skeeter picks up her mother's medicine at the drugstore, she runs into Lou Anne Templeton, a young woman who is still in the League. However, Lou Anne tells her that she would never follow Hilly's advice to fire her maid Louvenia. As Lou Anne tells Skeeter, Louvenia is a source of guidance for her, who helps her through her mental health challenges. Skeeter now sees Lou Anne in a wholly new way and reflects that, perhaps, this was the "point" of the book: for women to "realize ... we are just two people." 

Although Skeeter's reflection is moving, it significantly interprets the book in the contexts of her own, white experiences. For Skeeter, the "point" of the book is not the improvement of black maids' lives; rather, it is a more universal lesson of understanding and compassion. Even the author does not view this book as solely a work of social justice. This scene captures how complicated this book's meanings are. 

Chapter 34 Quotes

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.