Summary and Analysis
Chapters 3-4 - Minny
Minny goes out to Celia Rae Foote's house to interview for a maid position. Celia has never had a maid and she desperately needs housekeeping help, but she does not want her husband to know about Minny. Minny accepts the job for twice the pay she was making with Miss Walter, even though Hilly told everyone in town that Minny had stolen some silver.
In flashback, we learn the "rules" Minny's mother taught her for "working for a white lady." Minny has broken many of them, thus her troubles keeping a job.
Minny and Celia design a plan for daily cooking lessons, but Celia fails at each cooking task. While Minny cleans the house, Celia mysteriously roams the mansion rooms that should be a child's nursery. Minny becomes irritated that Celia never leaves the house and seems so grateful, which is out of character for a white woman, to have her help.
Minny's chapters reveal her struggle with the ways of the Old South. Her inner nature is at odds with the world in which she is supposed to behave. Minny's recounting of her mother's "rules" reveal the fears black maids have of their employers. They are to do as they are told with their heads down and their mouths closed or they'll find themselves fired. They are to use separate dishes, utensils, and toilets because white women think they have diseases. The "rules" are an important vantage into what black maids endure to earn a living, and Minny's point of view in these chapters reveals how difficult it is to keep it all in and never be allowed to speak your mind or to defend yourself. Minny cannot stand up for herself against Hilly's accusations, so she seeks out the job with Celia who does not know of her damaged reputation.
Celia does not know how she is supposed to treat a black maid, so she treats Minny like a guest, offering her a cool drink and asking if she'd like to have a seat. Her kindness unsettles Minny and makes her suspicious. Celia is the first character who does not seem racist, but her lack of judgment seems to come from a childlike innocence. Because Celia comes from poverty she does not know the ways of wealthy white women in Jackson. Future chapters unveil her desperate attempts to gain access into the community, but her role as an outsider allows her acceptance of Minny as a person and not just another black maid.
Celia's melancholy roaming through the empty nursery rooms foreshadow her unfulfilled desire for children and her struggles to have them. Celia's isolation and rejection from the society women creates sympathy in Minny, but becoming emotionally involved with your employer is against the "rules."