Chapter number five is titled “Miss Skeeter.”
Unlike the earlier chapters where the maids were the narrator and thus the chapters were called “Aibileen” or “Minny” once Skeeter becomes a narrator she’s afforded the title of “Miss”.
As Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan drives her mother’s cadillac up the gravel road to Longleaf, her family’s cotton plantation/farm, the hurt she’s just experienced is on her mind. And Skeeter’s “voice” is decidedly different from Aibileen and Minny’s:
Hilly and Elizabeth and I have been best friends since Power Elementary. My favorite photograph is of the three of us sitting in the football stands in junior high, all jammed together, shoulder to shoulder. What makes the picture, though, is that the stands are completely empty around us. We sat close because we were close. At Ole Miss, Hilly and I roomed together for two years before she left to get married and I stayed on to graduate. I rolled thirteen curlers in her hair every night at the Chi Omega house. But today, she threatened to throw me out of the League. Not that I care so much about the League, but I was hurt by how easily my friend would be willing to cast me aside.
So of course Skeeter worries I think about how things are different between Hilly and me, since I came home from school. But who is the different person, her or me?
Once Skeeter steps upon her front porch, her mother calls out to her.
“Come sit darling” her mother says. “Pascagoula’s just waxed the floors. Let them dry awhile.”
Skeeter’s mother gives her the lastest news about a girl getting engaged, not a month after she landed a teller job.
Charlotte Phelan tries to push Skeeter into applying for a job at the bank, in the hopes that she too can land a husband.
“Four years my daughter goes off to college and what does she come home with?…a pretty piece of paper.” Charlotte laments.
When her mother rises from her chair, Skeeter looks at her smooth, pretty face. But she also notices dark stains on the front of her mother’s dress.
It’s her first indication that something is wrong. Yet when her mother starts in on her again, she drops the issue of her dress, thinking, I’ll never be able to tell mother I want to be a writer. She’ll only turn it into yet another thing that separates me from the married girls.
Skeeter has a trust fund and she wants use the money to find an apartment in town. The kind of building where single, plain girls lived, spinsters, secretaries, teachers.
“Mama” she blurts “would it really be so terrible if I never met a husband?”
To which her mother clutches her bare arms, as if made cold by the thought and says “Why every week I see another man in town over six feet and I think, If Eugenia would just try…”
Okay, so what ails Skeeter is her height (she’s five eleven, towering over most other girls and males), her looks (she has kinky hair that breaks off easily) and her fair skin (It can look deathly when she’s serious). There’s also a slight bump on the top of her nose, but she does have cornflower blue eyes, just like her mother’s. But most of all, its her mother’s biting criticism and “helpful” suggestions on what she needs to do to land a hubby.
The cold fact is, Skeeter’s looks have plagued her all her life. She was not a cute baby. Her brother Carlton took one look at her and declared, “It’s not a baby! It’s a skeeter!” and the name stuck, especially since she had a pointy, beak like nose, just like a mosquito.
She’s tall and she’s plain. But just as fiercely she states about any potential suitors:
I was five-foot-eleven but I had twenty-five thousand cotton dollars in my name and if the beauty in that was not apparent then, by God, he wasn’t smart enough to be in the family anyway.
Still, worries about her looks, Hilly, and even her mother will have to wait. Because what Skeeter needs immediately is a job.
As she goes up to her room on the top floor of the house, she’s reminded of how her former maid Constantine would climb those steep stairs.
She also thinks about the close relationship she had with this maid, about how she’d sometimes visit the colored section of town where Constantine lived.
On these outtings, Charlotte Phelan would remind her daughter to be kind to the little colored children, and Skeeter would think, why wouldn’t I be?
Skeeter’s father would drop her off, giving Constantine an extra dollar for her care. Skeeter even remembers:
Sometimes two girls from next door would come play with me, named Mary Nell and Mary Roan. They were so black I couldn’t tell them apart and called them both just Mary.
When Skeeter needs comfort after being called ugly by one of Carlton’s friends, Constantine offers her the standard Mammyish advice:
“Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person. Is you one a them peoples?” Constantine (Pg 62)
Trying to feed off Constantine’s empowerment mojo, Skeeter decides: even though I felt miserable, and knew that I was, most likely, ugly, it was the first time she ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother’s white child. All my life I’d been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine’s thumb pressed against my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.
Yes, Constantine is there to comfort Skeeter. Once when she’s mocked about her height, or when Skeeter needs an ego boost:
“How tall is you?” Constantine asks.
“Five-eleven.” Skeeter bemoans. “I’m already taller than the boys’ basketball coach.”
“Well, I’m five-thirteen, so quit feeling sorry for yourself.” (Pg 63)
The ego boost:
“I was in attic, looking down at the farm,” I tell her. “I could see the tops of the trees.”
“You gone be a brain surgeon! Top a the house mean the head.” (Pg 63) – Constantine’s reply to Skeeter
Constantine and Skeeter become so close, Skeeter learns that the maid is bi-racial, having a black mother and a white father. Though Skeeter notes about Constantine’s skin color:
What you noticed first about Constantine, besides her tallness were her eyes. They were light brown, strikingly honey-colored against her dark skin. I’ve never seen light eyes on a colored person. In fact, the shades of brown on Constantine were endless. Her elbows were black, with a dry white dust on them in the winter. The skin on her arms and neck and face was a dark ebony. The palms of her hands were orange-tan and that made me wonder if the soles of her feet were too, but I never saw her barefooted. (Pg 65)
Constantine is Skeeter’s confidant, her secret, surrogate mother. Whenever her own mother nags about her dress or hair or overall appearance, Constantine is there to soothe her. Even when Skeeter goes off to college, Constantine writes letters, demanding to know if she’s happy.
So it stuns Skeeter to find out Constantine is no longer employed by her parents when she returns from college. Pascagoula is the new maid, and she’s no Constantine.
And though Skeeter presses her mother for answers regarding Constantine’s abrupt departure, Charlotte Phelan refuses to divulge the truth. She tells Skeeter that Constantine went to live with her people in Chicago.
A despondent Skeeter gives up hope of ever finding Constantine’s whereabouts (even though her mother just told her the woman went to live in Chicago)
So she sets out to find the true reason why Constantine, her beloved maid went away.