Every other night for two weeks, Skeeter goes to Aibileen’s to hear Aibileen read her stories. Skeeter realizes that Aibileen’s clear, honest style of writing means that Skeeter won’t need to rewrite the stories herself. During the fifth session, Aibileen reads to Skeeter about the day Treelore died. She reads about how his body was thrown on the back of a pickup by the white foreman and taken to the black hospital. The nurses told Aibileen that the men rolled his body off the truck and then just drove off.
Aibileen’s decision to tell this very personal story to Skeeter shows that they are beginning to develop a bond of intimacy and trust that crosses the color line. The story about Treelore also emphasizes how white men in Jackson put little value on the lives of black men, treating Treelore more like a dying animal than a man.
After a few meetings, Aibileen asks Skeeter to check out some classic works of literature from the white library so that she can improve her own writing. Skeeter agrees, but asks why Aibileen why she waited so long to ask for this. Aibileen says she doesn’t know which white rules Skeeter follows and which she doesn’t. Skeeter says that she’s tired of these rules and Aibileen chuckles softly and looks out the window. Skeeter realizes how “thin this revelation” about the rules must seem to Aibileen.
Their bond of trust continues to develop, giving Aibileen the confidence to ask Skeeter to cross another racial divide: checking out books from the white library. By hearing Aibileen’s personal stories, Skeeter begins to see what it must be like for black women in Jackson. Skeeter finally begins to recognize the many injustices of segregation.
After the two weeks of interviews, Skeeter spends four days straight organizing Aibileen’s stories into a twenty-seven page manuscript. Whenever her mother Charlotte asks what Skeeter is up to all day, Skeeter lies and says she’s writing down all the things she loves about Jesus. Skeeter knows that her mother, an old-fashioned Southern woman, would try to put a stop to her writing if she found out that Skeeter was helping a maid speak out against her white employers. On the morning of the fifth day, Skeeter mails the manuscript to Elaine Stein.
Charlotte wouldn’t want Skeeter to help Aibileen because doing so would constitute a breach of Jackson’s racist and sexist conventions. In Charlotte’s mind, Skeeter would be betraying her race by helping black people speak out against whites. Charlotte would also object to Skeeter writing any book about a controversial subject because, in Jackson society, a woman is not supposed to have strong opinions of her own, especially ones that might make men uncomfortable.
The following day, Skeeter plays bridge with Elizabeth and Hilly at Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth announces that she is pregnant and that the baby is due in October. The women congratulate her and Elizabeth lights a cigarette and says without emotion that she’s “real excited.” Before Skeeter leaves, Hilly gives her the bathroom bill ad that she wants Skeeter to run in the next newsletter. The ad says that whites can catch “colored diseases” because “we lack immunities coloreds carry in their darker pigmentation” and that “some germs carried by whites can also be harmful to coloreds too.” The ad ends with the lines, “Protect yourself. Protect your children. Protect your help.”
Elizabeth’s emotional response to the congratulations shows her repressed aversion to motherhood, but she still feels compelled to have a second child because of the societal conventions that tell women to have children. Hilly’s ad also spreads the racist myth that white and black people are somehow inherently or different, and that one is superior to the other. Hilly’s ad is highly hypocritical and patronizing, suggesting that she is “protecting” the help when she’s actually reinforcing the culture of racism and segregation.
Ten days later, Elaine Stein gets back to Skeeter, saying she likes the material and that she wants Skeeter to get interviews from twelve more maids. Skeeter gasps with excitement that Elaine wants her to write a whole book’s worth of stories. Elaine says that she wants a draft of the book before New Years so that she can decide if she wants to publish it “before this civil rights thing blows over.” After Stein hangs up, Skeeter realizes that no other maids are willing to contribute their stories, which dampens her excitement about the possibility of publishing her first book.
At this point, Skeeter’s motivations for writing the book are still unclear. Rather than being excited about the possibility of helping the maids tell their stories and having their humanity recognized, Skeeter seems more excited about publishing any book at all because it will further her career as a writer. Though Skeeter starts writing the book with more self-serving ambitions in mind, her focus will soon shift from helping herself to helping the maids.
That evening, Skeeter informs Aibileen that Elaine said that they need twelve more maids if they want the book published. Aibileen says she already asked thirty-one maids in the community, but they all said no. Aibileen sighs and says she’ll ask them all again. A few days later, Aibileen calls Skeeter to tell her that Minny has agreed to be interviewed. Aibileen says that Minny only has one requirement: Skeeter must sit on the opposite side of the table from Minny. Minny, suspicious of white women, wants to be able to keep an eye on Skeeter the whole time.
The overwhelming amount of refusals to contribute to the book show how scared the black community is of speaking out. Jackson society is so racist that these maids could lose their jobs or even be lynched just for telling the truth about their employers. Living her entire life in the context of such a racist, threatening environment, Minny does not trust any white woman, including Skeeter.
The interview takes places at Aibileen’s house. Aibileen is there to support and encourage Minny who is visibly distrustful of Skeeter. Minny asks why a white woman would want to help black people and if Skeeter truly knows the danger she’s put them all in. Feeling attacked, Skeeter cannot come up with any answers for her. Aibileen interjects, telling Minny that it’s okay if she doesn’t want to contribute her stories any more. Minny slowly settles into a chair and says that she’ll do it.
Skeeter can’t come up with an answer to Minny’s question because Skeeter herself doesn’t truly know why she’s helping the maids. Right now, one of her major motivations entails advancing her own writing career, which is a superficial answer that would further alienate Minny. Skeeter’s motivations will eventually become more substantial, however, as she begins to see the necessity for change.
Aibileen nods at Skeeter, giving her the okay to begin the interview. Skeeter asks Minny to talk about her experiences working as a maid. The whole time Minny looks at Aibileen as she talks. Skeeter feels as if Minny is trying to forget that Skeeter is even in the room. Minny tells a story about how one employer made her work every evening for weeks and then, without warning, moved out of town before Minny had time to find another job. Telling this story makes Minny angry and she storms out.
Since maids in white households have to stay silent and blend into the background as if they were invisible, Minny, now in a black household, reverses these power dynamics by refusing to look at Skeeter. Now Skeeter is the invisible one. For the women to overcome the racial divide between them, both Minny and Skeeter must learn to see each other as individuals.