Summary and Analysis Chapters 17-18



Minny is annoyed by Miss Celia's constant companionship. White woman are supposed to know their place, but Miss Celia seems ignorant about how she is supposed to treat the help. Miss Celia joins her for lunch every day at the same table and it unnerves Minny. When Miss Celia calls Minny her "friend," Minny becomes furious and accuses her of being a drunk. Minny thinks she might be fired, but she returns on the following Monday to defend herself. She finds Miss Celia in the bathroom, bleeding heavily from another miscarriage, and learns that the bottles she has been drinking aren't alcohol but a tonic to help prevent miscarriages..

Minny agrees to attend a Community Concerns Meeting because she wants things better for her kids. She does not expect change in her lifetime, but she does not want her daughters to have to be maids treated poorly by white women.

At their dinner table, Minny's husband, Leroy, yells at their children for talking about the civil rights demonstrations. He tells them not to discuss it outside of their home because it is too dangerous.


It's ironic that Minny is troubled by Miss Celia's apparent lack of racism. Minny expects to be treated poorly and to work hard for little money. Miss Celia is kind and grateful for her help. She pays Minny well and respects her authority in cooking and cleaning. She even likes to have lunch with Minny and ask about her day. It seems that after years of being abused by white women Minny wouldn't mind the change, but she does not know how to react to Miss Celia's friendliness.

Celia does not know the rules that Minny expects her to follow. She does not even realize she is breaking any rules. Celia grew up in poverty perhaps even more extreme than the one Minny endures. She does not know how to properly clean a house because she didn't have much of a house, and she cannot cook because she was never taught. This lack in Celia reveals even further how much she does not fit into the community in which she married.

Miss Celia's desperation to have a child is revealed through these chapters. She has suffered a series of painful miscarriages and has been hiding them from her husband. Her fear of telling him represents the larger fear she has about losing her place in a society she does not understand and in which she cannot seem to gain entry. She is terrified that if she tells Johnny, he might reject her, too. She thinks if she limits her movements and drinks tonic made by a medicine man back home she can increase the likelihood of having a baby. Miss Celia is heartbroken and feels that each baby wants out of her failing body. The revelation of her suffering and fears win over Minny. Miss Celia has a big house and all the money she could ask for, yet the one thing she wants, to have a baby, seems elusive. Minny struggles to pay her bills, but she has five children she adores in a cramped home. The contrast between characters reveals that the color of their skin does not necessarily determine their wealth.