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Depiction Of Slavery In Invention of Wings Book

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A Critique of Sue Monk Kidd’s Invention of Wings

Invention of Wings is about slavery, focusing on a slave named Handful. Sarah is her owner starting at age 11, even though she does not believe in slavery. It follows their lives and spans over 35 years, ending with Sarah helping Handful and Handful’s sister become free of slavery. Invention of Wings is a work of nonfiction and was written/published on January 7th, 2014. This relates to the time of slavery and the abolitionist movement and right before the American Civil War.

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Invention of Wings was written by Sue Monk Kidd. Kidd was born in Sylvester, Georgia in 1948. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970. She is a literary figure and often writes about women. She got her start in writing when a personal essay she wrote for a writing class was published in Guideposts and reprinted in Reader’s Digest. Her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees (2002), is set during the American civil rights movement of 1964, telling the story of a white girl who runs away from home to live with a woman who now works as an independent bee-keeper and honey-maker with many of her sisters. This book relates heavily to Invention of Wings with similar issues and time periods.

Invention of Wings takes place in Charleston, South Carolina with the story being told through the viewpoints of Sarah and Handful. When Sarah turned eleven years old, she was given a personal slave. As Sarah became older, she began to show signs of rebellious behavior such as giving up ownership of Handful and forming a strong friendship between the two.

One reason for Sarah and Handful’s close relationship is due to the close proximity of age. Sarah starts to teach Handful how to read and write which resulted with punishments from the Grimke family. Sarah felt that she was responsible to help Handful escape slavery. One day she even promised Handful’s mother, Charlotte, that she would get Handful to freedom. Charlotte soon disappeared, leaving Handful behind with the Grimke’s.

Determined to find out what happened to her mother, Sarah allows Handful to attend church three times a week and seek the truth from one of the church’s leaders, Denmark Vessey, who Handful believes has vital information. Handful eventually learns her mother escaped to a slave hideout close by, but was then captured by a slave hunter. Sarah’s hatred towards slavery would eventually lead her to living up north where there is freedom and Independence. The story comes to an end when Sarah keeps her promise and helps Handful escape slavery.

The book has fictional characters, however, two are based on real life women. Sarah Grimke and Mary Grimke are based off of the historical figures of Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Sarah and Angelina Grimke are known as the abolitionist sisters. They were known as “daring to speak before “promiscuous” or mixed crowds of men and women, publishing some of the most powerful anti-slavery tracts of the antebellum era, and stretching the boundaries of women’s public role as the first women to testify before a state legislature on the question of African American rights” (Berkin). They wanted to end racial discrimination throughout the United States as well as free the enslaved. Therefore Invention of Wings does go hand-in-hand with the abolitionist movement and slavery.

When taking US History I, Invention of Wings would definitely be a great book to read for entertainment as well as a larger understanding and knowledge of slavery and the abolitionist movement. The book was entirely “a textured masterpiece, quietly yet powerfully poking our consciences and our consciousness” (Dumas). Invention of Wings really makes you think, “how do we use our talents to better ourselves and our world? How do we give voice to our power, or learn to empower our voice?” (Dumas). Hetty and Sarah are such powerful women but were sadly ridiculed their entire life. It is humbling to see how much hope they both have in Invention of Wings.

The book itself is wonderful and brings the reader to see what slavery really was like and Sarah Grimke’s viewpoint on slavery. Although there is a lot of positive feedback on the book, it “does have some false notes, as when Sarah shows a bit too much insight into the life of the slaves, too early on ….Likewise, Kidd’s habit of cutting away from some of Handful’s torment — particularly when she is maimed in the Charleston workhouse — may strike some as squeamish” (Simon). Kidd might have lost a lot of readers due to the gore when it comes to the slave’s punishment. The descriptions were so intricate it was like watching the punishment happen rather than just simply reading words on a paper.

African-Americans “could not claim the protections of English common law. Slave’s terms of service never expired… their children were slaves, and their skin color made it more difficult for them to escape into the surrounding society” (Foner 80). Being a slave was marked by their skin and made them be seen as less than human. With the Sarah and Mary characters representing the real life Grimke sisters, Foner goes over their journey and the abolitionist movement as well.

The “abolitionist movement expanded rapidly throughout the North,… leaders took advantage of the rapid development of print technology … to spread their message (Foner 350). Sarah and Angelina “began to deliver popular lectures that offered a scathing condemnation of slavery from the perspective of those who had witnessed its evils firsthand” (Foner 356). This ties in perfectly with the detailed punishments the slaves endured in Invention of Wings. Tying the grotesque images we get of those punishments to the real life Grimke sisters and their passion for the abolitionist movement all makes sense.

Overall Invention of Wings was an astounding book and Sue Monk Kidd did an incredible job. Although Sarah and Handful were fictional it truly gives the audience a view on what slavery was like, punishments and all. It also gives the view of the abolitionist movement and a glimpse of the real life Grimke sisters. With such a heartbreaking story it is hopeful at the same time. Seeing Sarah fulfill her promise to free Handful was heartwarming and any US History I student, or anyone for that matter, would benefit both academically and personally if they read this book.

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