Hilly is the novel's most dastardly villain. She's married to William Holbrook and has two children, Heather and William, Jr. According to Aibileen, one of her few redeeming qualities is the love and kindness she shows her two children. Hilly is one of the few characters analyzed in depth by all three of The Help's narrators – Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter – and her conflicts with these characters unite them.
On the surface, Hilly's no mustache-twirling villain. In fact, she appears to be totally respectable. She's president of the Jackson Junior League and active in all sorts of charity, including collecting canned goods for The Poor Starving Children of Africa. To give you an idea of Hilly's motives, check out her response when a woman asks why they don't send money instead of cans:
"You cannot give these tribal people money […]. There is no Jitney 14 Grocery in the Ogaden Desert. And how would we even know if they're even feeding their kids with it? They're likely to go to the local voodoo tent and get a satanic tattoo with our money." (13.99)
Uh, right… This passage helps us see the limits of Hilly's world and vision – her ignorance about the lives and traditions of African people, and her patronizing attitude toward them, mirrors her ideas about the black people in her own community. Yet, she believes that the black people in Jackson are poor because they are lazy and don't spend money wisely, and therefore don't even deserve a living wage. Hilly is simply using The Poor Starving Children of Africa to try to paint a picture of herself as a non-racist person.
But, this "charity" work is just the tip of the iceberg of Hilly's villainy. If you cross her, she can have you arrested and imprisoned for stealing, have your friends and family fired from their jobs, have you evicted, have your car repossessed, incite violence against you, and basically run you out of town, all without getting her hands dirty.
Hilly's story revolves around her attempts to pass a bill she calls The Home Help Sanitation Initiative. It would require all Mississippi families to build outdoor bathrooms for their black employees. Hilly seems to truly believe that black people carry diseases that can harm white people. Apparently these diseases can only be passed through toilet seats, because black hands touch almost every piece of food Hilly eats, every fork her lips touch, and the pillowcases she lays her head on. Author Kathryn Stockett is merciless here and bursting with wicked irony. Hilly, quite literally, as Hilly's mom points out, "ate two slices of Minny's shit" (26.91) (poo-laced chocolate pie), and winds up with dozens of toilets decorating her front yard, courtesy of Skeeter. Brilliant.
Since we don't ever see things from Hilly's point of view, it's hard for us to understand why she goes to such lengths to make life miserable for the black community. The Help, however, makes clear in the section on "white lady's tools" that Hilly is, unfortunately, not the exception, but the rule, among the high-society women in Jackson.
Although Hilly is foiled in many ways in the novel, she hasn't changed by the end, at least not from what we can see. It's chilling to notice that even though things have turned out nicely for Aibileen and Minny, Hilly, who is only in her early twenties, will probably be in Jackson wreaking havoc on the lives of its black citizens for decades to come.
The daughter of a wealthy white Southern family, Skeeter is bit of a misfit. Unique among young women in her social circle, she is far more interested in writing than in pursuing marriage and family life. Fixated on her idea of writing a book about the lives of colored maids in Mississippi, she teams up with Aibileen and Minny. She was inspired to write about this topic because of her close relationship with her family's maid Constantine, who disappeared mysteriously shortly before Skeeter came back from college. Skeeter cannot stand hypocrisy and lies, and will often ask difficult and uncomfortable questions.
Aibileen is a gracious, gentle woman who earns her living from taking care of the children of white families, most recently the Leefolt family. She dotes on Mae Mobley, their two-year-old daughter. She still mourns the loss of her son, Treelore, who died in an industrial accident. It is this loss that motivates her to take part on Skeeter's project to document the lives of maids in Mississippi. Aibileen takes primary responsibility for recruiting other maids to work on the project in order to protect her friend Minny.
Minny works as a maid, but frequently find herself dismissed from her cleaning jobs due to her sarcastic comments. She has five children whom she loves deeply, but her husband is extremely violent towards her. She starts out working for Miss Walters (Hilly's mother), but when Hilly puts her in a nursing home, Minny finds herself working for Miss Celia, a kind but mysterious outsider with whom she develops a close relationship. She and Hilly are enemies because of the "Terrible Awful" thing that Minny did to Hilly.
Hilly is a mean-spirited racist and high society southern woman. She is the undisputed leader of the Junior League (a women's organization), and all of the other white women in the town do whatever she says. She is married to William, who is an aspiring politician. She was Skeeter's best childhood friend along with Elizabeth Leefolt, but later events cause a rift between the women.
Skeeter's mother, Charlotte is an elegant but formidable southern white woman. She is deeply concerned about the fact that her daughter Skeeter did not find a husband in college, and she tries many different strategies to find a match for her daughter. Some of this desperation comes from the fact that she is extremely sick.
Miss Leefolt employs Aibileen to watch over her young daughter, Mae Mobley. She is harsh, icy, and frequently ignores her daughter's pleas for her attention. An angular and vain woman, she was still quite close with Hilly and Skeeter while the three were growing up. She follows Hilly's lead in most difficult situations. She has a difficult relationship with her husband, and the two often fight over money.
The son of a senator, and Skeeter's boyfriend. Initially, he is heartbroken over a failed engagement to his college girlfriend, Patricia van Devender, and is extremely rude to Skeeter on their first date -- though he later makes up for this, and the two begin a romantic relationship. He is very tall and handsome.
Constantine worked as a maid for Skeeter's family, but was mysteriously dismissed by Skeeter's mother. A tall, light-skinned black woman, she doted on Skeeter and was close to her whole family.
Hilly's husband. He is an aspiring politician, and friends with Stuart Whitworth.
Elaine is an editor for Harper & Row Publishing and the person who gives Skeeter the inspiration to write her book about the maids. Elaine is a no-nonsense woman who has been in the publishing business for many years. She is not soft-spoken or gentle, but in her own rough way she encourages Skeeter to push forward with her work.
Mrs. Walters is Hilly's mother, and Minny's employer at the beginning of the book. She is an elderly woman, and very hard of hearing. She shares many traits - vanity, racism, nastiness, etc. - with her daughter Hilly, with whom she has a difficult relationship.
Elizabeth Leefolt's young daughter, Mae Mobley is two years old at the beginning of the book. She is curious and sweet, but she is deeply hurt by the fact that her mother never shows her any attention or kindness. She has a very close relationship with Aibileen.
A regal and intelligent woman, Yule May is one of the most educated maids in Jackson, having completed a few years of college before leaving to get married. She is the mother of two twin boys. She was Hilly's maid until she was charged with stealing one of Hilly's rings and sent to jail. The black churches of Jackson put forward the money to send her sons to college.
Part of the Junior League, Lou Anne is a society lady. Skeeter has known her for years, but has never found her particularly interesting. However, Lou Anne has a very close relationship with her maid, Louvenia, who supports Lou Anne through her bouts of severe depression and her suicide attempts. In return, Lou Anne helps Louvenia take care of her grandson, who was severely injured in a racially motivated attack.
A black maid known for her sweet nature. She works for Lou Anne Templeton, with whom she has a very close relationship. Her grandson Robert was beaten and blinded by white men.