On the first day of December, Minny starts to fear what Celia’s husband, Johnny Foote, will do when he finds out she’s been working there. Minny remembers how she saw a picture of Johnny and realized that he was the man who dumped Miss Hilly in college. Minny realizes Miss Hilly must still be jealous and must have told the other white women not to befriend Celia, which explains why no white women ever visit Celia at home or call her on the phone.
Though Celia treats Minny with kindness, the two of them will never have a chance of an equal relationship until Celia tells Johnny about Minny. If Johnny were to come home and find Minny, Celia could deny ever seeing her before, leaving Minny to fend for herself. This imbalance in the power dynamics—along with the obvious inequality of their maid-employer relationship—prevents any deep friendship from developing between them.
At church one evening, Minny sits besides Aibileen. Aibileen says that she’s thinking about telling Miss Skeeter the truth about what’s it like working for white people. Minny is scared for Aibileen’s safety, but understands the urge to tell the truth. The desire to tell the truth is what makes Minny talk back to her white employers. Minny refuses Aibileen’s suggestion that she talk with Skeeter too.
In the white homes, the maids are unable to speak their minds or tell the truth without being fired. Minny, an outspoken woman, knows the importance of telling the truth as a way of resisting the oppressive silencing of black people. By refusing to stay silent, Minny demands to be seen as a human being rather than as a nameless servant.
Celia starts going pale with worry about the approaching day when she has to tell her husband about Minny. One day, she snaps at Minny, telling her to go home early so that she can make a private phone call. It’s the first time she’s yelled at Minny. When she comes back the next day, Celia apologies and gives her a hug. Touched and made a little uncomfortable by the kindness, Minny forgives her.
Celia’s angry outburst could have turned Minny against Celia by confirming Minny’s belief that, deep-down, Celia is just as racist as all other white women. But Celia is different: no other white woman Minny has met would apologize to her maid, let alone go in for a hug. Minny’s forgiveness shows that she is beginning to see Celia as an individual with the potential for friendship rather just another racist “White Lady.”
While Celia is getting her hair done, Minny is cleaning the bedroom when Mister Johnny, holding an axe, walks in. Terrified at what he may do, Minny yells that he and his axe better get out of her way. Johnny smiles and says he’s not going to hurt her and puts down the axe. Johnny tells her that he knows a maid has been cooking this whole time because the food reminds him of what his childhood maid used to make.
Recall how Minny objected to the racist characterization of Mammy from Gone with the Wind because she thought Mammy was too timid and docile. Here Minny practices what she preaches by confronting a white man who has an axe, showing herself to be a powerful, formidable woman.
The revelation that Johnny likes her food and had a maid growing up calms Minny’s fears. Johnny tells her that he’s doesn’t know why Celia has been keeping her a secret. He only came home early to cut down the mimosa tree in the yard as a surprise. He says that Celia seems unhappy but doesn’t know why. Before leaving, he asks Minny to watch out for Celia, and not tell her that they’ve met because it would only contribute to her unhappiness.
In supporting his wife, Johnny provides a striking contrast to the other men in the novel, including the boorish Stuart and the emotionally and fiscally stingy Mr. Leefolt. Johnny even tries to chop down the tree – the symbol of Celia’s repressed anxiety over motherhood – for her. But as we’ll later learn, he doesn’t chop it down, suggesting that no man can overcome Celia’s struggle with gender norms for her – she must do it herself.