In chapter two, we get the obligatory black people having a good old time scene. This is a staple in movies, sit-coms and also books that feature black characters. We also get a description of Aibileen’s friend Minny.
Aibileen is once again the narrator and describes Minny as short and big, got shiny black curls. She setting with her legs splayed, her thick arms crossed.
The whole bus is laughing and chuckling while Minny holds court, talking about her employers. Aibileen warns Minny to watch out for Hilly, the daughter of her employer Miss Walters. Minny fumes at this, believing that Hilly has been talking about her cooking.
Aibileen ends their exchange like this “Law, maybe I should a just kept it to myself.”
Both Minny and Aibileen, as well as most of the maids given dialogue in this section all speak the same thick dialect.
Skipping ahead a few more days, Elizabeth Leefolt is now trying to convince her husband that a third bathroom is needed, based on Hilly’s suggestion. This is the bathroom for the help, or black domestics to use.
Mr. Leefolt is against the new bathroom, telling his wife “We can’t afford it! And we do not take orders from the Holbrooks!”
Apparently he does, because the outhouse gets built.
It’s also interesting to note that so far the white characters have been stripped of their Southern accents as well as their Southern vernacular.
The issue of the bathroom comes up yet again, when one of the workers constructing the outhouse(presumably an African American) asks where can he “make water.” It’s just him and Aibileen, staring at each other over this delicate matter. Aibileen suggests that he go in the bushes in the back of the house. She tells him that the dog is there but it won’t bother him.
In this chapter a new character is introduced, the sympathetic Celia Foote. When she calls Elizabeth Leefolt’s home and Aibileen answers, Celia’s referred by Aibileen (showing a crafty side) to Minny who’s now unemployed (Hilly is sending her mother away to a rest home, and since Minny was Miss Walters maid, she’s now out of a job). Aibileen has no authority to do this, and could face the loss of her own job if Elizabeth Leefolt or Celia (even though she’s described as white trash) find out.
The reader gets to find a bit more out about Aibileen, like her misery at losing her only son Treelore (but only briefly mentioned, not even a paragraph). There’s some foolishness about another maid where Aibileen recalls
Everybody know Bertrina and me don’t take to each other ever since she call me a n***a fool for marrying Clyde umpteen years ago (pg 23)
But it gets worse. Perhaps to inject more “humor” into the book, Minny and Aibileen converse:
“Minny” I say last Sunday, “why Bertrina ask me to pray for her?”
We walking home from the one o’clock service. Minny say, “Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety.”
“Eudora Green, when she broke her hip, went on your list, up walking in a week. Isaiah fell off the cotton truck, on your prayer list that night, back to work the next day.”
Hearing this made me think about how I didn’t even get the chance to pray for Treelore. Maybe that’s why God took him so fast. He didn’t want a have to argue with me.
“Snuff Washington,” Minny say, “Lolly Jackson-heck, Lolly go on your list and two days later she pop up from her wheelchair like she touched Jesus. Everybody in Hinds County know about that one.”
“But that ain’t me,” I say. “That’s just prayer.”
“But Bertrina-” Minny get to laughing say, “You know Cocoa, the one Clyde ran off with?”
“Phhh. You know I never forget her.”
“Week after Clyde left you, I heard that Cocoa wake up to her cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster. Didn’t get better for three months. Bertrina, she good friends with Cocoa. She know your prayer works.
My mouth drop open. Why she never tell me this before? “You saying people think I got the black magic?”
“I knew it make you worry if I told you. They just think you got a better connection than most. We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear.” (Pg 23-24)
Aibileen can’t help pondering Skeeter’s question, and also thinking about Elizabeth Leefolt’s construction of an outhouse for her. Aibileen is still upset about the discussion of blacks having different diseases than whites. As far as Skeeter’s question, Aibileen thinks Miss Skeeter asking don’t I wanna change things, like changing Jackson , Mississippi gone be like changing a lightbulb.
On another day on the job, Aibileen answers the phone and a new resident of town calls. Her name is Celia Foote, and she needs to speak to Elizabeth. Once again, the author of The Help shows the unequal treatment of the characters. Here’s a sample of Celia Foote’s introductory dialogue:
“This is…Celia Foote. My husband gave me this number here and I don’t know Elizabeth, but…well, he said she knows all about the Children’s Benefit and the Ladies League.”
Refer to this dialogue after Aibileen thinks: I know this name, but I can’t quite place it. This woman talk like she from so deep in the country she got corn growing in her shoes. Her voice is sweet though, high-pitch. Still, she don’t sound like the ladies round here do.
Funny, she sounds exactly like the other white characters. Especially since her dialogue has been stripped of any semblance of being southern. And this is Celia Foote, who’s supposed to be very country. In light of Aibileen’s assessment of Celia’s speech pattern, either Aibileen is hard of hearing or Celia’s dialogue was stripped of its “southerness” before the book went to print. Either way, its a dishonest attempt at showing the difference in the races. I never thought I’d be saying this, but thank goodness for Jerry Springer. He’s had enough “white trash” couples on his shows so that younger viewers can get a sense of the dialect. So for the author of this novel to elevate even the character who proudly represents white trash makes me fear the book has now become all about elevating the white characters…by any means necessary.
Because Mrs. Leefolt isn’t home, Aibileen asks if she can take a message. When Celia explains that she has no maid to take a message in case Elilzabeth returns her call, Aibileen gets an idea.
From the novel:
“I don’ t have any help. In fact, I was planning on asking her about that too, if she could pass along the name of somebody good.”
“You looking for help?”
“I’m in a stitch trying to find someone who’ll come out to Madison County.”
Well, what do you know. “I know somebody to come all the way out to Madison County.”
“Oh, well…I’d still like to talk to Elizabeth about it. Did I already tell you my number?”
“No, ma’am,” I sigh. “Go head.” Miss Leefolt never gone recommend Minny, not with all a Miss Hilly’s lies.
End of excerpt
Aibileen decides to trick Celia into thinking Elizabeth has just walked in the front door. “Hold on, what’s that Miss Leefolt? Uh-huh, I tell her…Miss Celia, Mis Leefolt just walk in and she say she ain’t feeling good but for you to go on and call Minny…”
Celia asks Aibileen to thank her, (thinking Aibileen is truly relaying the message to Elizabeth) Aibileen still plays along. “Hang on, what’s that?…she say don’ tell nobody bout her tip on Minny, all her friends want a hire her and they be real upset if they find out she give her to somebody else.”
Celia promises not to tell. “I won’t tell her secret if she won’t tell mine. I don’t want my husband to know I’m hiring a maid.”
Aibileen hangs up, satisfied with her ruse, but worried that Minny won’t get the message in time:
This is a real predicament, see. I gave this Miss Celia woman Minny’s number at home, but Minny working today cause Miss Walter lonely. So when she call, Leroy gone give her Miss Walter number cause he a fool. If Miss Walter answer the phone when Miss Celia call, then the whole jig is up. Miss Walter gone tell this woman everything Miss Hilly been spreading around. I got to get to Minny before or Leroy before all this happens.
But Aibileen is unable to get to the phone again, because Elizabeth Leefolt really has returned home, and she’s monopolizing the telephone.
When Aibileen is finally able to call Minny, she finds that her plan may be unraveling. Miss Walters answered the phone and spoke to Miss Celia so Minny is depressed, certain Miss Walters has given her a bad reference. Especially after the Terrible Awful Thing she did to Miss Walter’s daughter Hilly.
At hearing the sadness in Minny’s voice, Aibileen is taken back to a time after Treelore died, how she was so despondent that she considered taking her own life. Unfortunately, this is not expanded on like it should have been. There’s only a brief description of Minny finding the rope Aibileen meant to use to hang herself with. Minny removes the rope and the author solves the whole situation of Aibileen feeling so low that she planned on killing herself with a much too pat explanation:
I don’t know if I ‘s gone use it. Knowing it’s a sin againt God , but I wasn’t in my right mind. Minny, though, she don’t ask no questions about it, just pull it out from under the bed, put it in the can, take it to the street. When she come back in, she brush her hands together like she cleaning things up as usual. She all business, that Minny. But now, she sound bad. I got a mind to check under her bed tonight.
The chapter ends with some silly nonsense by Elizabeth Leefolt, asking if Aibileen wants to use the new outhouse (right at that moment) .
“So, from now on, instead of using the guest bathroom, you can use your own right there. Won’t that be nice?… so you’ll use that one out in the gargage now, you understand?…don’t you want to get some tissue and go on out there and use it?”
When Aibileen explains that she doesn’t have to use the bathroom, Elizabeth still won’t let it drop.
“Well, there’s no hurry. Anytime today would be fine.”
By the way Elizabeth is standing there, staring at Aibileen and “fiddling” with her ring, Aibileen believes the woman wants her to use it right then. Aibileen doesn’t know what to say to her. Her face is hot in embarassment as no more words are shared between them, however Elizabeth’s meaning is clear.