The Help

Gender and the Home Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Racism Theme Icon
Gender and the Home Theme Icon
Social Class Theme Icon
Help vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Help, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender and the Home Theme Icon

Focused as it is on female characters—white and black—The Help portrays how the home, a traditionally feminine space, was just as much a battleground for social change as were the courtrooms and rallies of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. While Aibileen describes how white men beat or kill black men who “stepped out of line,” the novel also shows how white women used their social influence to ruin the lives of the black maids in more indirect but similarly devastating ways. A white woman could have her maid fired, her maid’s husband fired, their house repossessed, or even have her maid sent to jail for as small an infraction as a parking ticket.

But the maids find ways to fight such racial injustice. The maids call themselves “domestic workers,” which literally means that the home is their workplace. For white women, the home is a private space where they have control and authority in an otherwise sexist society, but for black women, the white woman’s home is a public space of labor in which they must fight to earn respect and fairness. While Aibileen tries to inspire racial tolerance in the children she raises as a way to fight large-scale racial injustice, Minny refuses to curb her personality, demanding that the housewives see her as a human being with a distinct identity rather than as a nameless and obedient servant. These battles may not have been recorded by the news or in textbooks, but Stockett illustrates how the maids’ resistance to racism in the home, the heart of Southern society, plays a vital part in changing the hearts and minds of women and children in the fight for civil rights.

Through the character of Skeeter, The Help also exposes the double standards white women faced in the South during the 1960s. Skeeter chafes against the sexist Southern culture that expects white women to marry, stay home, and have children as soon as possible, while white men are allowed the freedom to explore their passions in the workforce. In contrast, other female characters like Skeeter’s mother and Miss Hilly embrace gender norms and try to enforce them on Skeeter by setting her up on dates or advising her on clothing choices. This pressure also comes from men like Stuart Whitworth, who tries to shame Skeeter into giving up her career goals because they are outside the approved norms for a woman. At the other end of the spectrum, book agent Elaine Stein’s high-powered career provides a model for Skeeter of an alternative lifestyle beyond the proscribed path of becoming a Southern wife, mother, and homemaker.

Ultimately, Skeeter bucks the sexist conventions that dictate that her place is only in the home: instead of participating in domestic life as a wife and mother, she writes a book that exposes the racial injustices in the Southern home. Skeeter’s sense of being oppressed by gender norms might make her more sensitive to the even more powerful forms of racial oppression, inspiring her determination to address the racism faced by the black domestic workers. This personal rebellion against sexist and racist attitudes in Jackson empowers her, giving her the inner confidence to reject her community and its expectations of her. Instead of passively abiding by society standards for women, she goes on at the novel’s end to craft a more authentic self as a writer living in New York City.

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Gender and the Home Quotes in The Help

Below you will find the important quotes in The Help related to the theme of Gender and the Home.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bathrooms
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

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Got to be the worst place in the world, inside a oven. You in here, you either cleaning or you getting cooked. Tonight I just know I’m on have that dream I’m stuck inside and the gas gets turned on. But I keep my head in that awful place cause I’d rather be anywhere sides answering Miss Leefolt’s questions about what Miss Skeeter was trying to say to me. Asking do I want to change things.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, Elizabeth Leefolt
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

She’s got so many azalea bushes, her yard’s going to look like Gone With the Wind come spring. I don’t like azaleas and I sure didn’t like that movie, the way they made slavery look like a big happy tea party. If I’d played Mammy, I’d of told Scarlett to stick those green draperies up her white little pooper. Make her own damn man-catching dress.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Celia Foote, Mammy, Scarlet O’Hara
Related Symbols: Bathrooms, The Mimosa Tree
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“Now you look a here, Eugenia”—because Constantine was the only one who’d occasionally follow Mama’s rule. “Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person.”

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Constantine Bates (speaker), Charlotte Phelan
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

After while, my mind done drifted to where I wish it wouldn’t. I reckon I know pretty well what would happen if the white ladies found out we was writing about them, telling the truth a what they really like. Womens, they ain’t like men. A woman ain’t gone beat you with a stick. Miss Hilly wouldn’t pull no pistol on me. Miss Leefolt wouldn’t come burn my house down.
No, white womens like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches’ fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with em.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Hilly Holbrook, Elizabeth Leefolt
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 17 Quotes

Here’s the thing: I like telling my stories. It feels like I’m doing something about it. When I leave, the concrete in my chest has loosened, melted down so I can breathe for a few days. And I know there are plenty of other “colored” things I could do besides telling my stories or going to....the mass meetings in town, the marches in Birmingham, the voting rallies upstate. But truth is, I don’t care that much about voting. I don’t care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing the silver.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 28 Quotes

“Why would you want to go stirring up trouble?”
I can tell, in his voice, he sincerely wants an answer from me. But how to explain it? He is a good man, Stuart. As much as I know that what I’ve done is right, I can still understand his confusion and doubt.
“I’m not making trouble, Stuart. The trouble is already here.”

Related Characters: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (speaker), Stuart Whitworth, Jr. (speaker)
Page Number: 449
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 32 Quotes

One time I asked him, “Why? Why are you hitting me?” He leaned down and looked me right in the face.
“If I didn’t hit you, Minny, who knows what you become.” I was trapped in the corner of the bedroom like a dog. He was beating me with his belt. It was the first time I’d ever really thought about it. Who knows what I could become, if Leroy would stop goddamn hitting me.

Related Characters: Minny Jackson (speaker), Leroy Jackson (speaker)
Page Number: 485-486
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 34 Quotes

I walk out the back door, to the terrible sound a Mae Mobley crying again. I start down the driveway, crying too, knowing how much I’m on miss Mae Mobley, praying her mama can show her more love. But at the same time feeling, in a way, that I’m free…Freer than Miss Leefolt, who so locked up in her own head she don’t even recognize herself when she read it. And freer than Miss Hilly. That woman gone spend the rest a her life trying to convince people she didn’t eat that pie. I think about Yule May setting in jail. Cause Miss Hilly, she in her own jail, but with a lifelong term.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker), Hilly Holbrook, Elizabeth Leefolt, Mae Mobley Leefolt, Yule May
Related Symbols: Minny’s “Special Ingredient” Pie
Page Number: 521
Explanation and Analysis:

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The sun is bright but my eyes is wide open. I stand at the bus stop like I been doing for forty-odd years. In thirty minutes, my whole life’s . . . done. Maybe I ought to keep writing, not just for the paper, but something else, about all the people I know and the things I seen and done. Maybe I ain’t too old to start over, I think and I laugh and cry at the same time at this. Cause just last night I thought I was finished with everthing new.

Related Characters: Aibileen Clark (speaker)
Page Number: 522
Explanation and Analysis:

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