At her home, Skeeter reads a magazine article about a black man near Jackson who criticized the Mississippi governor. A few days later, a group of white men lynched the man for speaking out. With the racial tensions so high in Jackson, Skeeter realizes how unlikely it is for the other maids to speak about their stories.
It is important to recognize that racism in the home, which may seem less significant than overtly violent acts like this, influences the larger climate of racism that devalues black lives. It’s likely that when these white men were children, they learned from their parents to dehumanize black people, making it easier for them to commit such atrocities as adults.
Stuart arrives at Skeeter’s home and asks her to join him on a three-day business trip where they’d share a hotel room. They’ve been going out twice a week for two months now, making this the longest relationship Skeeter has ever been in. She considers the offer and thinks about losing her virginity to Stuart. It surprises her that she would even consider sleeping with him since most Jackson women fiercely hold onto their virginity until marriage. Skeeter declines, but before Stuart leaves, he invites her and her parents over for dinner to meet his family. She agrees and they plan to have the dinner in three weeks.
The fact that Skeeter considers having sex with Stuart shows that she is having misgivings about societal taboos that make women feel guilty for having or even wanting to have premarital sex. However, her refusal suggests that she still sees some value in keeping her virginity and is not yet willing to abandon this particular social convention.
At breakfast a few days later, Skeeter thanks her maid Pascagoula sincerely for the first time. When Skeeter’s mother is out of earshot, Pascagoula whispers to Skeeter that Hilly’s maid, Yule May, has agreed to be interviewed for the book.
Hearing Aibileen’s and Minny’s stories makes Skeeter more considerate to her own maid. While Skeeter has thanked Pascagoula before, now she does so with a better understanding of the challenges that Pascagoula faces as a black woman.
A few days later, Skeeter gets a letter from Yule May. She writes that she didn’t have enough money to send both her twins to college and couldn’t face picking one over the other so she decided to steal an ugly ring from Hilly, one she never wore, to pay for the last part of the tuition. When Hilly found out, she pressed charges. Yule May lost the case and the court fines wiped out all their savings. Now neither of her boys can go to college. Yule May writes that she can’t help with the interviews any longer. The letter is signed from the Mississippi State Petitionary.
Yule May’s theft recalls the classic ethical dilemma: would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family? In Yule May’s case, the question becomes more obvious: would you steal from your racist employer who pays you less than minimum wage to put both of your sons through college? Yule May’s theft is understandable, if not also justifiable.
That night, Skeeter goes to Aibileen’s where her church has gathered to pray for Yule May. They have started a fund to put both of her boys through college. Aibileen tells Skeeter how Yule May first asked Hilly for a loan but she refused, saying charity shouldn’t go to those “well and able.” When Hilly found out that Yule May stole from her, she used her social influence and connections to get Yule May thrown in jail over night. For the small crime of stealing a ring, Yule May is serving a four-year prison sentence. Now seeing the dire need to change Jackson’s racist society, eleven maids from the community come up to Skeeter and commit to telling their stories.
Here we truly see the power imbalance in the white household. The justice system in Jackson is so racist and corrupt that Hilly, or any white woman for that matter, can use her social influence to have her maid thrown in jail for the smallest crime. This scene also reveals Hilly’s hypocrisy. While she’s willing to raise money for black children in Africa, she won’t even give her maid a loan to put her boys through college.
Over the next few days, Skeeter interviews the women at Aibileen’s. Aibileen sits beside the women while they talk, giving them the confidence to tell their stories. Skeeter notices how the women tell stories mixed with undisguised hatred and inexplicable love. Hatred for the way the men would try to touch them, the terrible pay, and the indignities of the work, but also love for the children they raised. Some women tell stories of having babies die in their arms and of wearing their maid uniforms to the children’s weddings.
The image of maids at weddings encapsulates the emotional complexity of being a black maid in Jackson. The maids are like second mothers to these children, yet the white families make them wear uniforms because the families don’t want to appear as if they are “integrating” with African Americans. A maid can only attend the weddings as a “maid,” and not in the more complicated (and dignified) role of friend or mother-figure.
One woman named Gretchen comes but refuses to contribute her stories. She accuses Skeeter of profiting from the black women’s stories even though Skeeter has already agreed to split any profits evenly with all the maids. When Gretchen says that Skeeter thinks of black women as nothing but “niggers,” Aibileen stands up and demands that Gretchen leave. Taken aback by Gretchen’s accusations, Skeeter sits in silence until Aibileen apologizes for Gretchen, saying that she wouldn’t have let Gretchen come if she knew Gretchen would say what she did. Skeeter says that it’s not Aibileen’s fault and they move on to the next interview. After the interviews are over for the night, Skeeter thinks about how all the women except Gretchen agreed to contribute whatever money they make from the book’s publication to the college fund.
Gretchen’s accusation may not apply to Skeeter, but it does apply to Kathryn Stockett. Stockett profited off of The Help, which dramatizes the suffering of black women. Perhaps the greatest irony is that Stockett’s brother’s maid (whose name was Ablene) accused Stockett of stealing her life story and profiting off of her suffering. Stockett might have even added this unflattering portrayal of Gretchen in order to implicitly criticize anyone who might accuse her of profiting off the historical oppression of black women.