Driving back from Aibileen’s, Skeeter feels the “narrow eyes” of Aibileen’s black neighbors watch her fancy Cadillac car as it passes. She remembers how a week ago, Elaine Stein called and expressed interest in her idea to write about the maids’ lives but doubted any maids would tell her the truth because of the racial tension in Jackson. When Skeeter lies and tells her that she’s already got one maid to talk, Elaine says that she should send the first interview before they talk again.
In another sign of her ignorance, Skeeter seems critical of the suspicious eyes following her car. She doesn’t recognize that her fancy car driving through the poor black neighborhood is a sign of white oppression following the workers even into their homes. If Skeeter’s going to get her interviews, she must learn to see with more empathy and a wider perspective.
A few days later, Skeeter arrives at Elizabeth’s to ask Aibileen more questions about housekeeping. After a few questions, Skeeter brings out an envelope full of cash for her help with the advice column. Thinking the money is a bribe to get her to do the interview, Aibileen refuses. Skeeter realizes the money has only made Aibileen more uncomfortable.
Once again, Skeeter is incapable of seeing things from Aibileen’s perspective and thus alienates her further. Skeeter naively and insultingly thinks that money will be enough to sway Aibileen to risk her life—that just because she is poor, she will take a bribe.
At home, Charlotte helps Skeeter apply a hair care product that she bought to straighten her hair. While Skeeter waits two hours for the product to take effect, she remembers going to Elizabeth’s house with Hilly. When Aibileen had brought them coffee, Hilly asked Aibileen demeaning, rhetorical questions about the bathroom like, “It’s nice to have a place of your own, now isn’t it?” Aibileen agrees, but Hilly isn’t satisfied until Aibileen lowers her head and says thank you. Recognizing that Aibileen most likely hates Hilly and probably mistrusts all of Hilly’s friends, Skeeter thinks to herself, “It’s no wonder she doesn’t want to talk to me.” When the two hours are up, Skeeter and her mother stare in the mirror, shocked. Her hair, completely straight, looks great.
Skeeter’s recognition that Aibileen probably mistrusts her shows that she is beginning to empathize better and step back from her own narrow worldview. We also see Hilly’s extreme hypocrisy here—she acts as if she’s helping Aibileen when, in fact, she’s only upholding her own power by reinforcing segregation. Charlotte again supports gender norms by insisting that Skeeter conform to traditional beauty standards. The transformation of kinky hair to more “beautiful” straight hair also shows how whiteness is the assumed standard of beauty, but Skeeter doesn’t recognize this more domestic, seemingly innocuous aspect of white privilege.