So what happens at the end of the novel The Help?
Does Skeeter realize the color of one’s skin is not a measure of the content of one’s character? Does she find out the real reason Constantine was fired, contrary to her mother’s assertion that Constantine just left? And does Skeeter find true love and happiness, but more than that, does she get a better job?
Well, three out of four isn’t so bad. In my opinion, strike the first question, because whatever Skeeter thinks about race is never revealed. Skeeter is still Skeeter, neither hot nor cold, but definitely still in self preservation mode.
Notice I haven’t mentioned the other two leads of the novel, Aibileen and Minny. By this time their stories are pushed to the side in favor of the “OMG! What is Hilly gonnna do!” climax. Which really isn’t a climax at all.
I’ll start with what I thought was the strongest part of the ending, when Lou Anne, who’s the employer of the maid Louvenia (whose grandson Robert was beaten so badly after using an unmarked restroom he’s now blind).
Lou Anne approaches Skeeter in the drug store, telling her what Hilly’s been saying. “She’s saying you wrote that book…about the maids.”
Skeeter tries to cover herself by saying she’d heard the book was written anonymously. She knows that everyone in town’s reading it, because three bookstores are sold out.
Then Louvenia drops a bombshell, one that all participants in the making of the novel feared would come. “Hilly called me the other day and told me to fire my maid Louvenia.”
Skeeter is holding her breath by this time, internally begging that Lou Anne hasn’t done it.
But Lou Anne surprises her. She explains how much she relies on Louvenia. “She’s the only reason I get out of bed sometimes.”
Skeeter doesn’t quite know what to say at this revelation, but the fact that Lou Anne had previously paid for Louvenia’s grandson’s hospital bill should have been a tip-off. Still, she wonders if this is some sort of trap Hilly is setting for her.
Lou Anne continues talking, tears welling in her eyes. Through trembling lips, she tells Skeeter that she knows she’s thought of as someone who agrees with everything Hilly says. And she goes on to say that the doctors want her to go up to Memphis for shock treatment.
From the novel:
“Skeeter, Louvenia is the bravest person I know. Even with all her own troubles, she sits down and talks to me. She helps me get through my days. When I read what she wrote about me, about helping her with her grandson, I’ve never been so grateful in my life. It was the best I’d felt in months… if you did write it, if Hilly’s rumor is true, I just want you to know, I will never fire Louvenia. I told Hilly I’d think about it, but if Hilly Holbrook ever says that to me again, I will tell her to her face she deserved that pie and more.” (Pg 418)
After Skeeter hears this, and also Lou Anne’s promise that she will not vote Hilly in as league president in January, Skeeter thinks:
I linger at the window. Outside, a fine rain has started to fall, misting the glassy cars and slicking the black pavement. I watch Lou Anne slip away in the parking lot…there is so much you don’t know about a person. I wonder if I could’ve made her days a little bit easier, if I’d tried. If I’d treated her nicer. Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.
But Lou Anne, she understood the point of the book before she ever read it. The one who was missing the point this time was me. (Pg 418)
Skeeter has attempted to contact Aibileen four times that evening, but Aibileen’s line is busy. With nothing else to do, she works on the Miss Myrna column. She also can’t help thinking about what her life would have been like if she hadn’t written the book. Monday I would’ve played bridge. And tomorrow night, I’d be going to the League meeting and turning in the newletter. Then on Friday night, Stuart would take me to dinner, and we’d stay out late and I’d be tired when I got up for my tennis game on Saturday. Tired and content and. . .frustrated (Pg 419)
She decides to go for a walk and spots Hilly’s car pulling up to the main house. Skeeter surprises her by coming to the car unannounced.
She’s taken aback by how Hilly appears. Her black hair is a mess. A curl on top is floppy, sticking straight up. Half her blouse is untucked, fat stretching the buttons, as Skeeter can see she’s gained more weight (is anyone else tired of the whole “fat equals slovenly” message in the media, movies and books?).
There’s also a sore in the corner of Hilly’s mouth, scabby and hot red. Skeeter recalls that the last time she saw a sore like that on Hilly was when Johnny Foote broke up with her in college.
Hilly looks Skeeter up and down, asking if she’s become a hippie since her hair is so long now. “God, your poor mama must be so embarassed of you.”
Skeeter asks why Hilly has come, and Hilly threatens her, saying she’s contacted a lawyer. She also reveals that she knows Skeeter wrote the novel Help, and that she knows all the maids who’ve helped with the novel. She’s come to Skeeter’s house to inform Charlotte Phelan what her daughter has done.
But when Charlotte interupts their argument, Hilly is shocked at the woman’s appearance. Cancer has made Charlotte’s once thick brown hair snow white and thin. Charlotte now walks with a cane, and she’s gaunt. The hollows in her cheeks are deep and deathly.
It seems even Hilly can have a change of heart. Her threats never materialize, and she leaves. But not before promising retribution on Aibileen and Minny.
Skeeter dials Aibileen’s phone number one more time and finally gets her. Minny is over Aibileen’s house, and Skeeter tells them both of Hilly’s threat and of the job offer she’s received. Both women are excited for Skeeter, however Skeeter isn’t sure she can leave Jackson. She tells them she can’t go, not when things are getting bad. “I’m not leaving you in this mess.”
Aibileen tells her that bad things are going to happen no whether she’s in Jackson or not, and that she needs to take the job.
Then Minny grabs the phone, telling her: “You listen to me Miss Skeeter. I’m on take care a Aibileen and she gone take care of me. But you got nothing left here but enemies in the Junior League and a mama that’s gone drive you to drink. You done burned ever bridge there is. And you ain’t never gone get another boyfriend in this town and everybody know it. So don’t walk your white butt to New York, run it.” (Pg 424)
Now, while this dialogue may play nicely in theaters, the fact is, an abused woman is offering affirmations to Skeeter. Does Skeeter offer anything in return? Not that she gets the chance, because the author has Minny hanging the phone up on Skeeter. Another convenient out for a character.
Skeeter thinks, Minny is right, Aibileen is too. I have nothing left here except Mother and Daddy, and staying here for my parents will surely ruin the relationship we have, but…
Long story short. Skeeter decides to leave.
The last chapter also deals with Aibileen. She’s still fearful of what Hilly’s going to do, overhearing Hilly talk about the novel with the bridge club. But before that, she’s already made up her mind to tell Mae Mobley goodbye.
But before she’s able to say goodbye on her terms, she gets all the way to work one morning and Hilly’s there (since Hilly’s the only female villain in the whole of Jackson, Mississippi, she’s everywhere)
The previous day Aibileen had received a phone call from Minny. It seems everyone believes Hilly ate the poop pie that’s mentioned in the book. So Aibileen is on pins and needles around Hilly, especially since she’s arrived at Elizabeth Leefolt’s house early in the morning.
When Aibileen sees Elizabeth and Hilly talking, she knows it can’t be good.
While Elizabeth leaves the room to see to an ailing Mae Mobley and Ross (aka Li’l man) Hilly goes into full shrew mode, threatening Aibileen.
Seems all Hilly knows how to do is send maids to prison. That’s right, on her say so, if anything is missing (in this case, three pieces of Hilly’s silverware) then it’s off to the big house.
“Maybe I can’t send you to jail for what you wrote about Elizabeth, but I can send you to jail for being a thief.” She tells Aibileen.
She also threatens to have Minny fired, but that’s when Aibileen finally decides to stick up for Minny (or maybe the mention of Minny by Hilly got Aibileen to thinking about the terrible awful secret, which everyone in town already knows).
Aibileen then proceeds to make a threat of her own. “I know something about you and don’t you forget that. And from what I hear, they’s a lot of time to write letters in jail. Time to write every person in Jackson the truth about you. Plenty a time and the paper is free.”
While Hilly backs down, Elizabeth still fires Aibileen even though deep down she knows she can’t take care of her own two kids. But since Elizabeth doesn’t realize a section of the book is about her, and Aibileen doesn’t want it revealed, Hilly wins.
Aibileen and Mae Mobley say their goodbyes, with Mae repeating “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”
Aibileen asks Elizabeth one more time if she’s sure about her decision.
From the novel:
“I’m sorry, Aibileen. Hilly, if you want to . . . press charges, that’s up to you.”
Miss Hilly sniff at me and say, “It’s not worth my time.”
Miss Leefolt (Elizabeth) sigh like she relieved. For a second our eyes meet and I can see that Miss Hilly was right. Miss Leefolt ain’t got no idea Chapter Two is her. Even if she had a hint of it, she’d never admit to herself that was her. (Pg 444)
Aibileen leaves, with her head down and wondering what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. She’s shaking and crying, mentally thinking of what little money she still has coming in. The paper will pay her ten dollars a week to continue the Miss Myrna column, but what’s never been finalized is how she’s going to send out the columns and pick them up, when Mr. Golden doesn’t want it revealed that she’s writing them.
She can’t just walk in the front door. So she’ll probably have to pretend she’s dropping the answers off for her “boss”. Oh well.
She knows she won’t be able to get another job as a maid, not with Miss Leefolt and Hilly calling her a thief. So Mae Mobley was officially her last white baby.
From the novel:
Mae Mobley was my last white baby. And here I just bought this new uniform. 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 everything new. (Aibileen, Pg 444)
And that’s how the novel ends.