On a hot March 1963 day, Miss Leefolt and Miss Hilly watch their children play in a plastic kid’s pool at the Leefolt’s. Miss Leefolt is a few months pregnant. Aibileen is surprised to see that Miss Hilly, normally such an unkind woman, is a very loving mother to her two children, Heather and William Jr. Miss Hilly asks Aibileen, “You wouldn’t want to go to a school full of white people, would you?” Not wanting Mae Mobley to grow up hearing her agree with Miss Hilly, Aibileen says she wouldn’t mind if there were whites and blacks together. Miss Hilly responds with a cold smile and says but “colored people and white people are just so different.” Aibileen feels her lip curl.
Hilly’s love for her children is her only redeeming quality, yet this very love ends up causing more harm for others—she is willing to do anything to protect her beloved children from what she sees as the dangerous influence of being around black people. Thus love for her children makes her an even more outspoken supporter of segregation. Aibileen’s love for Mae Mobley, however, gives Aibileen the confidence to speak out against Hilly’s racism in order to instill better values in Mae Mobley.
Miss Hilly turns away from Aibileen and starts telling Miss Leefolt that her husband is running for office and she can’t have civil rights sympathizers in her friend group. Hearing this, Aibileen thinks that Hilly must have found out about Skeeter’s book. At that moment, thunder booms and Aibileen swaddles the children and takes them inside.
The thunder’s threatening presence foreshadows Hilly’s crusade against Skeeter. Aibileen—not the white mothers—protects the children, heightening the irony that Hilly wants to protect her children from black people when, in actuality, she needs a black woman to protect her own children.
At her home, Aibileen sees a bag of old clothing Miss Hilly gave her, ones she’ll never wear because Hilly’s initials are stitched into the lining. Wearing the clothes would make her feel like property. Aibileen gets up and kicks the bag.
Hilly gave Aibileen this clothing in order to “help” her, oblivious to the fact that Aibileen would feel humiliated wearing it because it would make her feel like a slave. This scene symbolically suggests that Hilly believes the best way to “help” African Americans is by making them slaves again – a belief she will express more overtly later on.
Aibileen tries to write down her prayers, but she cannot stop thinking about what Hilly would do if she found out about the book. Aibileen thinks about how women take revenge on black folk differently than men do. Men kill you and burn down your house, but women fire you, make sure you can’t get hired elsewhere, make your landlord evict you, make their friends fire your husband and children, and get you thrown in jail for something as small as a parking ticket.
With her list of things white women can do to hurt black maids, Aibileen refutes any misconceptions that women are less hostile than men. In a counterintuitive, depressing argument against sexism, Aibileen shows that men and women are “equal” – they have the same capacity for destroying the lives of others.
Skeeter calls Aibileen and tells her about Hilly going through her satchel. Aibileen responds that she already knew that something was up. Skeeter says it’s unlikely that Hilly knows about Aibileen or Minny’s involvement since Hilly hasn’t made Elizabeth Leefolt fire her. Aibileen decides to continue working on the stories despite the risk.
Aibileen continues to work on the book, showing her determination to speak out and oppose people like Hilly. With the book, Aibileen finds a way to express herself and show the world that she is an individual human being and not some white person’s “property.”
Aibileen is coming home from work late one night when the bus stops at a police roadblock. The driver tells all the black people to get off. Scared, Aibileen runs to Minny’s nearby home. Minny and her five children are standing around the table, listening to the radio: the NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers has been shot and killed by a pro-segregationist. They turn off the radio and Minny sends her kids to bed. Minny wonders aloud if these racist men would lynch them if they found out about the stories they’re telling. Aibileen tries to comfort Minny, saying they’re not “doing civil rights,” only telling the truth.
The murder of Medgar Evers (a real historical figure) shows what risks Aibileen and Minny are taking by speaking out. For Aibileen the book is mostly about self-expression at this point, so she doesn’t yet recognize that by telling the truth, she and Minny will have a large impact on others—they are basically “doing civil rights.” They might not be changing laws, but they are trying to undo racist attitudes, which is just as crucial for ending racism in daily life.