At Aibileen’s home, Skeeter interviews her in a small parlor room while Aibileen serves tea. Skeeter has never sat at the same table as black person who wasn’t being paid to do so. Aibileen has never had a white person in her house as a guest before. Aibileen is nervous answering Skeeter’s questions, unwilling to divulge more than a few sentences about her past or her opinions about being a maid. But Aibileen does manage to tell Skeeter that her grandmother was a house slave and that her mother was a maid. She says she always knew she’d be a maid too.
This meeting represents a first conscious attempt at crossing the “color line” between the women. So far, Skeeter and Aibileen have mostly remained in their segregated racial spheres, only interacting with people of the other race in the context of the maid-housewife relationship. Now, the women must find ways to interact with each other on a more equal footing without replicating the power imbalances of their usual roles.
During the interview, Skeeter asks Aibileen what she doesn’t like about her job. Beginning to sweat heavily, Aibileen is terrified to speak out against her white employer because of the risks involved. She tells Skeeter she’s too uncomfortable to continue the interview. Skeeter, meanwhile, realizes she must find another way of interviewing Aibileen so that she stops feeling like she’s just a maid who has to withhold her true thoughts and feelings.
A few days later, Skeeter gets a call from Aibileen. Aibileen says that she wants to write down her experiences as a maid and then read them to Skeeter at the next interview. Aibileen hopes that writing the stories in her own words will make it easier for her to talk about her past. Assuming that Aibileen is a bad writer because she’s a black woman, Skeeter discourages her, saying that writing isn’t easy. Aibileen responds that writing these stories mustn’t be that different than writing her prayers every night. When Skeeter asks why she writes her prayers instead of saying them, Aibileen responds that she can get her point across better in writing. Skeeter agrees to Aibileen’s plan, thinking she’ll have to rewrite Aibileen’s whole story because Aibileen’s writing won’t be good enough to send to Elaine Stein.
By writing down her stories in her own words, Aibileen takes control over her personal narrative. At the previous meeting, Skeeter had the power to direct the conversation by asking questions, giving their interaction an unequal basis: Skeeter interrogates, Aibileen answers. Now Aibileen directs the conversation, introducing more equality into the relationship and business interaction. Skeeter’s assumptions about Aibileen’s writing also show that she too harbors many prejudices against black people—her good intentions don’t make her suddenly non-racist. For this relationship to work, Skeeter must abandon her stereotypes.
Skeeter returns to Aibileen’s for the second interview. To make Aibileen more comfortable, Skeeter asks to sit in the kitchen instead of the parlor. Skeeter also brings two glass cokes so that Aibileen doesn’t feel like she has to serve her. Sitting with Skeeter in the kitchen, Aibileen takes a sip of the coke, seeming more relaxed than last time.
Skeeter’s attempts to make Aibileen feel more comfortable show that she’s trying to inhabit Aibileen’s perspective. By being more empathetic, Skeeter starts to find ways to make Aibileen feel less like a maid and more like an equal partner in the writing project.
Aibileen takes out a notebook and starts reading the story she wrote about raising her first white kid who one day badly cut his hand. Not allowed to go to a white hospital, she took him to the black hospital where a white policeman stopped her before she could get in. Enthralled by the story, Skeeter is eager to know what happens next but Aibileen says that’s all she had time to write so far. Skeeter realizes that Aibileen’s method of writing down her stories might work.
Aibileen’s story shatters Skeeter’s preconceptions about Aibileen’s writing. Skeeter’s attempts to equalize their interactions might have contributed to the ease with which Aibileen tells her story, but it’s truly Aibileen who finds a way to express her personal narrative, thereby breaking free from her social role as the maid.