Summary and Analysis
Chapter 25 - The Benefit
Celia and Johnny arrive late to the Benefit and their entrance makes a stir. Aibileen and Minny are in the kitchen serving, and the maids talk about Skeeter's involvement with the book. Aibileen swears them all to secrecy and keeps her eyes on the events of the Benefit. Hilly takes the stage and publicly thanks Skeeter for arranging the donations of toilets so they can be installed in white homes for colored help. Skeeter refuses to acknowledge her, so Hilly thanks all those who helped with the Benefit, including non-members. Now Celia knows for sure that she is being excluded, but she thinks it is because Hilly used to date Johnny. She finds Hilly to try to explain. While she is talking it is announced that Hilly has won the prize of Minny's chocolate pie; she tries to pull away from Celia's grasp, but Hilly's sleeve rips apart. Hilly accuses Celia of trying to humiliate her, but Celia does not know what actually happened between Hilly and Minny regarding the chocolate pie. Celia becomes drunk and vomits in the middle of the Benefit.
This chapter is the only one not told from a character's point of view. It is written in third person omniscience, which provides the narrative distance to report multiple characters' perspectives simultaneously rather than being imbedded in one single character. The narrator declares the Benefit Hilly's night and dictates the events as they unfold. Celia's outrageous outfit seems to steal the show and men cannot keep their eyes off of her. The women widely criticize her inappropriateness and shun her. The pressure to conform with society is the theme of this chapter and because Celia does not fit it, she is ostracized even further.
The controversy regarding Minny's famous chocolate pie is still unknown, but it is evident that Hilly is terrified that the details will be revealed. Hilly's fear enables Minny to gain the power in their feud. Hilly accuses Celia of arranging for her, Hilly, to win the pie because she assumes Celia knows about the secret, but Celia actually does not. Minny hasn't told anyone what really happened for fear of Hilly's wrath. After the party Hilly throws the pie in the trash, but then she finds out it was her own mother, Missus Walter, who signed her up for the raffle.
The Benefit should be a celebration for the Junior League, but its disastrous turn of events serve to reveal the community's many dysfunctions. Hilly loses her composure and rages against Celia. Celia's drunken mess is the exact opposite of how a wealthy white woman should behave. The help in the back seem to be having a better time laughing at the antics of the white than the partygoers themselves. The genteel men leer at Celia and make rude comments while feeding her more drinks for their own entertainment. The Benefit is meant to be in the name of charity but there is little kindness or charity in how the members behave. The narrator boils the Old South down to spoiled children who pout to get their way and cry when they don't. So much of the outcome is about saving face and keeping up outward appearances. The one person who is truly herself, Celia, is further ostracized because her outward appearance does not conform, and she is mocked for not fitting the mold.