Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Invention of Wings


There were several books that I read last year but the most memorable among them is Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings published in 2014. The book, which was was selected for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0,  is set against the background of nineteenth century Charleston in North Carolina and deals with the story of the Grimke sisters who fought against slavery not just in writing but in practice as well. 


The two sisters Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké were famous for their abolitionist thinking to slavery as well as for their fight for women’s rights. In the history of the United States, Sarah Grimké was famous as the first woman to have written a comprehensive feminist manifesto Letters on the Equality of the Sexes published in 1837 and Angelina was the first woman to have spoken before a legislative body. Moreover, they wrote together the pamphlet American Slavery As It Is , which was an anti-slavery bestseller until Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. 


The Grimké sisters spoke extensively in public against slavery and Sarah even taught her slave to read. However, these women had to struggle hard because they were much ahead of their times in their ideas of racial equality and gender equality. They faced plenty of opposition in the society that they lived in. Sarah even taught her slave Hetty to read and for this both of them were severely punished. 


The novel The Invention of Wings opens with Hetty Handful’s mother telling that “there was a time in Africa the people could fly”. She tells Hetty that this was how they had lived in Africa but lost their magic once they moved away from their homeland. She explains to Hetty pointing out her shoulder blades that these are what is left of the wings that she once had and that some day she will get back her wings.  Through her stories and her cleverness, Hetty’s mother Charlotte , who is a seamstress for the Grimkés instills in young Hetty’s mind, the desire to find her wings. 


The novel alternates between the narrative voices of Sarah Grimké and Hetty Handful. Sarah gets Hetty as a slave when she is twelve years and they bond quickly. Sarah is educated and wants to become the first female jurist but her dreams are dismissed as nonsense as she is a girl. In her childhood, she had a witnessed a slave being maimed and this leads to a speech problem in her. She is banished from Charleston and when she comes on a visit to her mother, she helps both Hetty and her sister Sky escape from slavery. Though it takes her many years, Sarah helps Hetty to find her wings. 

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