The Chapter begins with Skeeter waking up to a hot September morning in her childhood bed. Her brother Carlton has gifted her with a pair of slippers from Mexico. Skeeter thinks A man’s pair since, evidently, Mexican girls’ feet don’t grow to size nine-and-a-half. Mother hates them and says they’re trashy looking.
When Skeeter makes her way to the front porch, two domestics named Pascagoula and Jameso (female and male) are shucking oysters while Skeeter’s mother stands watch.
“You cannot leave a Negro and a Nigra together unchaperoned,” is something her mother whispered to a young Skeeter long ago. Skeeter’s copy of Catcher in the Rye is in the mailbox which is at the end of the drive. Catcher in the Rye is a book she gets from a black market dealer in California since the novel has been banned. Skeeter also receives a letter from Harper & Row in response to the resume she sent. The letter reads:
Dear Miss Phelan:
I am responding personally to your resume because I found it admirable that a young lady with absolutely no work experience would apply for an editing job at a publisher as prestigous as ours. A minimum of five years in the business is mandatory for such a job. You’d know this if you’d done any amount of research on the business.
Having once been an ambitious young lady myself, however, I’ve decided to offer you some advice: go to your local newspaper and get an entry-level job. You included in your letter than you “immensely enjoy writing.” When you’re not making mimeographs or fixing your boss’s coffee, look around, investigate, and write. Don’t waste your time on the obvious things. Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.
Elaine Stein, Senior Editor, Adult Book Division
Below the pica type is a handwritten one, in a choppy blue scrawl:
P.S. If you are truly serious, I’d be willing to look over your best ideas and give my opinion. I offer this for no better reason, Miss Phelan, than someone once did it for me.
A truck full of cotton rumbles by on the County Road. The Negro in the passenger side leans out and stares. I’ve forgotten I am a white girl in a thin nightgown (and the author has once again forgotten the time period, because most black males knew – especially after what happened to Emmit Till- not to stare at a white female)
Skeeter is overjoyed at receiving a response, so she says “Elaine Stein” aloud and thinks I’ve never met a Jewish person.
This is a twenty-four year old college graduate mind you.
Taking Ms. Stein’s advice, Skeeter rushes back into the house and makes out a list. It’s not until after the letter is mailed that she realizes her mistake. I probably chose those ideas she (Elaine Stein) would think impressive, rather than the ones I was really interested in. (Pg 72)
The next thing the enterprising and driven Skeeter does is go straight down to the Jackson Journal to get a job. She’d made an appointment the day before yesterday, hardly an hour after receiving Elaine Stein’s letter. Skeeter notices how the receptionist “waddles” to the back in her tented dress. The word “waddles” is used frequently in this book.
Skeeter then meets with Mister Golden, who admonishes her about smoking. “Hell, I know n*g**s a hundred years old look younger than those idjits out there,” he tells her.
He edits the paper she gives him listing her writing credentials and organizations she belonged to in college.
He also notes that “You’re peculiarly tall but I’d think a pretty girl like you’d be dating the whole g**damn basketball team.”
Skeeter stares at him, not sure if he’s making fun of her or paying her a compliment.
Then she blushes after he says, “I assume you know how to clean…”
“Clean? I’m not here to clean. I’m here to write.”
So he hands her a folder and has her take over the Miss Myrna weekly cleaning advice column, explaining that the previous writer for Miss Myrna has gone crazy. They barter over her pay, which will be ten dollars a week.
Elated and walking on air now that she has finally secured a job, Skeeter rushes home to tell her mother, who predictably disapproves.
“Eugenia, you don’t even know how to polish silver, much less advise on how to keep a house clean.” Charlotte Phelan reminds her. “And you will never meet anybody sitting at that typewriter. Eugenia, have some sense.”
Anger makes Skeeter lash out. “You think I want to live here? With you?” Then Skeeter laughs, hoping it will hurt her mother. Seeing the pain in her mother’s eyes doesn’t move her though. She doesn’t want to take her harsh words back because finally, she’s said something her mother will listen to.
But Charlotte Phelan has one more bombshell up her sleeve.
“I need to ask you something Eugenia…are you, do you…find men attractive? Are you having unnatural thoughts about…girls, or- women?”
Skeeter just stares at her, wishing the ceiling fan would fly from its post and crash down on both of them.
“Mother…I want to be with girls as much as you’d like to be with…Jameso.”
Oh good one. Include the black man in all this nonsense.
Now, Skeeter being the master delegator that she is, wants to ask her maid Pascagoula about cleaning tips. But because she doesn’t want her mom snooping behind her and knowing what she’s up to (and criticizing), she goes over to her friend Elizabeth’s house.
Hilly also happens to be over there, asking if anyone knows where Minny Jackson is currently working.
None of the girls know (Elizabeth or Skeeter). Why Hilly just didn’t go in the kitchen and ask Aibileen is beyond me.
But Skeeter goes in the kitchen. And she asks Aibileen all the cleaning questions she wants, so long as it doesn’t interfere with Aibileen’s job. This also gives Skeeter a chance to press Aibileen about what she knows regarding Constantine.
Aibileen reveals that she and Constantine attended the same church (apparently all the black help do). Aibileen makes the mistake of telling Skeeter that Constantine was let go. Skeeter recalls that her mother said Constantine quit and went to live with her people in Chicago. When pressed, Aibileen uses this term “I must be mis-remembering.”
Skeeter confronts her mother when she gets home, demanding to know if her mother fired Constantine. While her mother won’t come out and admit it, the answer is clear. Skeeter also tries to ask her father, who says “Ask you mother, she’ll know….People move on, Skeeter. But I wish she’s stayed down here with us.”
Skeeter doesn’t press him further because he is too honest a man to hide things so I know he doesn’t have any more facts about it than I do.
After that, week after week, sometimes twice a week she stops by Elizabeth Leefolt’s house to quiz Aibileen on cleaning tips and also the mystery behind Constantine’s dismissal. She even asks Aibileen to get Constantine’s address.
Eventually, Aibileen winds up doing Skeeter’s job, but without the pay at first (Skeeter later reveals how she’s been saving half of the proceeds for Aibileen).
Aibileen tells her “Just pour some pneumonia in that garbage. Dogs won’t so much as wink at them cans.” I(Skeeter) jot it down, amending it to ammonia, and pick out the next letter. (Pg 84)
It’s during this exchange that Aibileen recalls her son Treelore, who died two years ago. “He read this book call Invisible Man. When he done, he say he gone write down what it was like to be a colored working for a white man in Mississippi.”
Even though Treelore is gone, Skeeter notes the instinct to be afraid for him is still there. “Please don’t tell nobody that…him wanting to write about his white boss.” Aibileen begs.
Skeeter tells her “It’s fine that you told me Aibileen. I think it was…a brave idea.”
With this secret between them, Aibileen thinks its time Skeeter heard the truth about Constatine’s dismissal.
“I’ll tell you though, it was something to do with her daughter. Coming to see your mama.”
“Daughter? Constantine never told me she had a daughter?” Skeeter is incredulous. She’s known Constantine for twenty-three years and thinks, why would she keep this from me?
“It was hard for her. Baby come out real…pale.”
“You mean light? Like…white?”
Aibileen nods. “Had to send her away, up north I think.”
“Constantine’s father was white.” Skeeter guesses, and an ugly thought runs through her head. She’s too shocked to finish her sentence.
“No no, no ma’am. Not…that. Constantine’s man, Connor, he was colored. But since Constantine had her daddy’s blood in her, her baby come out a high yellow. It…happens.”
This is incorrect. Later on in the book Aibileen reveals that Connor was as dark as she was. Unless Connor was also bi-racial, the chances of a child coming out near white (not high yellow, that’s a different color altogether) is slim to none.
After getting all the info she’s gonna get for one day from Aibileen, Skeeter stops by Hilly’s football party. The house is full of couples and Skeeter is the only one without a partner. She chats her way through couples until she makes it into the kitchen, where she spots Yule May and another maid. Yule May is described as tall and thin (only the second maid with a different physical description so far in the book. Pascagoula was the first). Hilly is also in the kitchen and tells Skeeter about the blind date she has set up for her.
Because the guy Hilly wants to fix Skeeter up with canceled the day before their previous date, Skeeter doesn’t feel like getting excited for nothing again. But Hilly is adamant.
“It’s your time, Skeeter.” She reaches over and squeezes my hand, presses her thumb and fingers down hard as Constantine ever did. “It is your turn. And damn it, I’m not going to let you miss this just because your mother convinced you you’re not good enough for somebody like him.”
I’m stung by her bitter, true words. And yet, I am awed by my friend, by her tenacity for me. Hilly and I have always been uncompromisingly honest with each other, even about the little things. With other people, Hilly hands out lies like the Presbyterians hand out guilt, but it’s our own silent agreement, this strict honesty, perhaps the only thing that has kept us friends. (Pg 88)
When Skeeter returns home, she has another letter from Miss Stein. The letter is handwritten, on small square paper.
You certainly may hone your writing skills on such flat, passionless subjects as drunk driving and illiteracy. I’d hoped, however, you’d choose topics that actually had some punch to them. Keep looking. If you find something original, only then may you write me again.
Skeeter’s face burns. She fights back tears over “Missus” Stein’s letter and tries to pull herself together. The worst part is, she doesn’t have any better ideas.
She buries herself in the next housekeeping article then the League newsletter (where she’s the editor). For the second week in a row she leaves out Hilly’s bathroom initiative. She wonders if she’ll ever write anything at all. Then she hears Pascagoula knock at her door.
No. I couldn’t. That would be…crossing the line.
But the idea won’t go away. (Pg 89)