Aibileen arrives at Minny’s to talk about the reception of the book. Minny heard about one white woman who, after reading the book, sat at the same table as her maid for the first time and listened as her maid told stories about all the good and bad things that white women had done to her. Aibileen is happy that something good is coming out of the book.
Once again, we see the book having a positive effect that reflects the cover image of a dove, the symbol of peace. Instead of dividing Jackson into even more contentious racial groups, the book is a conversation piece that opens up channels of communication across the color line, helping to bring some people together.
At Miss Leefolt’s, Mae Mobley is playing with her little brother Ross, still only a few months old, in her bedroom. She tells him to pretend to be black, sit at the counter of their imaginary diner, and not move no matter what she does to him – a game Aibileen played with Mae Mobley to teach her about civil rights. Her father, Raleigh, hears them playing this game and asks Mae Mobley where she learned this stuff. To protect Aibileen, she lies and says her teacher. Raleigh tells Miss Leefolt to have Mae Mobley switch classes at school.
Mae Mobley’s game shows that she has internalized Aibileen’s lessons about tolerance, despite her many other negative influences. In the same way that the adults can pass down hate and racism from generation to generation, so too can people pass down tolerance and love.
One night a few days later, Skeeter arrives at Aibileen’s to say goodbye before she flies out to New York tomorrow. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since they finished the book. Having seen no large-scale changes in how people treat their maids, Skeeter questions if the book was really worth all the trouble and risk. Aibileen gives her copy of the book with all the signatures, telling her that each signature is a reminder of the good she’s done. Tears fill Skeeter’s eyes and she tells Aibileen that she convinced the Jackson Journal editors to give Aibileen the job writing the Miss Myrna columns. Skeeter is leaving for New York tomorrow, but with a one-day layover in Chicago to visit Constantine’s grave. Before Skeeter leaves, Aibileen says, “Go to New York, Miss Skeeter. Go find your life.”
In reassuring Skeeter that the book really does matter, Aibileen suggests that it affirms black voices in a white world that tries to silence them. Even if no laws or attitudes change, this resistance against oppression is enough to make the risks worthwhile. In the last words Aibileen speaks to Skeeter, she uses the prefix “Miss,” suggesting that Aibileen still feels as if she must act deferentially towards Skeeter because she is a white woman. Likewise, the fact that Skeeter doesn’t tell Aibileen to drop the prefix shows that a part of her still wishes to retain her position of power in their relationship. This “Miss” reveals that these women haven’t fully transcended the color line, and indicates that there is still a long way to go before racism is eradicated.
Late that night, Aibileen gets a call from Minny. Minny says that Miss Hilly used her connections to get Leroy fired. When Leroy came home, he threatened to kill Minny, but she ran out of the house before he could do anything. She tells Aibileen she’s at a gas station with her children now, waiting for her sister to pick her up. She says she’ll never return to her husband.
While it’s not exactly clear what gives Minny the strength to finally leave her husband, it is possible that the financial security Mister Johnny guaranteed her and the empowerment she feels from resisting racial oppression inspire her to leave Leroy.
While Aibileen is at work at the Leefolt’s the next day, Hilly and Miss Leefolt call Aibileen into the parlor. Hilly accuses her of stealing silver and says she’s calling the police. Miss Leefolt is stunned but doesn’t say anything. Hilly tells Miss Leefolt to go into her kids’ bedrooms to tell them Aibileen is leaving. While Leefolt is out of earshot, Hilly says she can’t send Aibileen to jail for the book, but she can for stealing. Aibileen says she can write a lot of letters in jail that could do Hilly a lot of harm. Mae Mobley, who is sick with a high fever, runs out and tells Aibileen not to go. Aibileen takes Mae Mobley to the kitchen to give her some medicine and tells her how good and smart she is. Aibileen feels that she can see a glimpse of Mae Mobley in the future as a strong, proud woman.
Aibileen’s threat that she will write letters in prison shows that she has learned to trust in the power of writing to resist oppression. No longer the timid maid at the beginning of the novel, Aibileen now takes Hilly head-on, threatening to expose the secret about the pie. Aibileen’s premonition might also be an example of “metatextuality” – when a text shows awareness of itself as a text. In this case, the glimpse Aibileen sees of the future might actually be Stockett foreshadowing herself. Born in the 1960s, Stockett, like Mae Mobley, was also raised by a caring black maid and grew up to write this fictionalized account of her experiences being raised in Jackson.
Miss Leefolt fires Aibileen but Hilly says it’s not worth pressing charges. Aibileen leaves the house and feels as if she is free. She thinks Leefolt is so locked in her own head that she can’t recognize herself in the book and that Hilly is living a lifelong jail sentence trying to convince people that she didn’t eat that pie. Aibileen thinks that she might write a book about her life. Last night, Aibileen thought she was finished with everything new because, with the book published, she assumed she would be returning to her old life as a maid. Now, as she walks out of the house, she feels like laughing and crying because of all the new but terrifying possibilities that lie ahead of her.
Aibileen closes the novel just as she opened it. Skeeter was arguably the “white savior” and stand-in for Stockett herself, but she at least doesn’t have the last word in The Help—although it is still Stockett speaking through Aibileen, of course, and assuming a black voice. Aibileen is able to recognize that despite all their privilege, Miss Leefolt and Miss Hilly are in many ways less free and “wealthy” than she is, especially now that Aibileen has found her voice and a new future for herself. The novel began with Aibileen unable to express herself because of the oppressive conditions of the white household, but now she thinks about the future, about the stories she has the freedom to tell. The novel concludes with the terrifying but exhilarating freedom of Aibileen setting out on a new journey of self-expression.