The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd




The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd is the author of the book The Invention of Wings, a story that focuses on Hetty Handful Grimke, a slave working in the Grinke household. The Grimkes decided to give ownership of Handful to their eleven-year daughter, Sarah. The story follows their extraordinary journeys over the three and a half decades, as both struggle for an independent life, considerably molding each other’s fates and creating a multifaceted relationship characterized by shame, disobedience, separation and the troubled ways of love.

Oppression Experienced by Handful and Sarah

The close relationship between peasants and bourgeoisie in the story serves to add interesting twist to the understanding of class relationships. Both the slave and the rich girl’s daughter go through almost similar struggles in life: the need to see slavery abolished in the society. Hetty Handful was forced to become a slave when she was still young based on her African American race. In the Grinke household, she is denied all forms of childhood freedoms while working as a personal house cleaner. The family considered her as part of their property and denied her any pleas for freedom. Because she was black, Hetty Handful was not rewarded any form of inalienable human rights regardless of her resilience. Over the years, Hetty desires freedom, and takes any chance to experience the feeling. The fact that a child could be considered a present was in itself highly dehumanizing. Sarah maintained a determined autonomy in her personal life. Sarah managed to overcome nastiness and servitude by forming habits and benchmarks that she instills with importance and power. In her relationship with Sarah, Hetty both benefits and suffers. She enjoys in that she is able to learn how to read and write. However, Sarah is unable to protect her when she is in trouble or even help her run away from servitude. However, for all these years, it was almost as if Handful had a greater amount of peace and freedom compared to Sarah, in spite of the fact that Hetty was physically bound as a slave.

Conversely, within the same compound in Grimke house where Handful was experiencing significant problems, another young person fights a dissimilar conflict with the restrictions of her society. Sarah Grimke is one of the favorite children in a rich and famous family. Sarah possessed a unique quality of stubbornness that was important in pushing her through the oppression and resistance. Her initial confrontation with slavery at a tender age created the foundation for Sarah’s resistance to oppression and cruelty surrounding the slave system. Her real oppression originated from the overall resistance from the society that was interested in maintaining the status quo. The greater part of the European society ha already invested heavily in the slavery systems. African American slaves comprised of the majority of the labor force that worked in the industries and plantations. Therefore, nearly everyone resisted any efforts to liberate these workers and end the slavery regime. As mentioned earlier, Sarah was highly determined and clever; she had a powerful wish for acknowledgement in the world. In the same vein, she also desired to succeed his family reputation in the law career (Kidd 21). All these desires were quashed by the constrictions imposed on her by her family and the rest of the society. Sarah took on a challenging, yet courageous path toward eliminating slavery and restoring women’s rights. Her sister Angelina later on supports this campaign. Both girls experienced immense oppression after it became known that a slave was being taught how to read and write. Grimke’s excerpt from her diary reads, “‘my great desire in this matter would not be totally suppressed, and I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting-maid at night. The light was put out, the keyhole screened, and flat on our stomachs before the fire…we defied the laws of South Carolina’” (Kidd 8). This pivotal scene in the book occurs when this discovery is made. Assisting slaves in South Carolina was punishable by harsh penalties; Sarah is forbidden to access her favorite literature as well as the library. Hetty’s punishment was far more painful as it involved whipping. The next section discusses the resources used by Sarah and Handful to assist their resistance.

Strategies Used in the Resistance


            Literacy and education is one of the key recourses that were used by both Sarah and Hetty Handful in fighting the oppression and empowering women in the society. For Hetty, it was about learning a skill and using it to further her cause that included escaping the clutches of slavery and empowering fellow men. In the film The Invention of Wings, Hetty learned to sew, and gradually became a renowned tailor in Charleston. Eventually, the embroidery skill grants her independence (Kidd 25). In her head, Hetty held hope of a better future. After learning how to read and write, the books reinforced her belief in her capacity to realize freedom. The literature that she was given by Sarah enables her to create a vision of ideas and prospects, and she created a shard of autonomy within the setting of her life.

In the meantime, Sarah was also implementing the literacy strategy to guarantee that she and other women would be free from a paternalistic society. All of her efforts to achieve success in her education were ridiculed by her family members. Sarah was interested in studying law but most of the people in the community were against this initiative mainly because she was a woman (Kidd 67). Therefore, she received constant opposition shattered, her dreams were shattered and she was intimidated by their assurance that being a woman implied that she was not permitted to be ambitious. Dealing with this obstacle involved an extensive, excruciating journey filled with self-doubt; Sarah encountered prejudice towards women for the rest of her life, even as she developed a national movement for her abolitionist campaign. Sarah was permitted to read, mull over, or discuss various ideas provided she did not interfere with the male status quo in society. Apart from studying intensively, Sarah and her sister Nina were responsible for publishing a wide variety of anti-slavery literature that helped in changing the attitudes of the public towards gender inequality (Kidd 15). Apart from gender issues, their literature also focused on ending racial discrimination. However, what made Nina and Sarah effective as abolitionist crusaders apart from their rhetorical skills, writing talents and their active dedication to the causes of gender and racial equality. The duo was exceptional was their personal experience with the practices of slavery and its dreadfulness and injustices. The next section discusses the implementation of unity in sisterhood as a resource to help in her resistance against the oppression.


Another approach implemented by both Sarah and Handful involved creating a strong bond between them as well with other women across the nation. The concept behind this strategy was to exploit the common problems faced by women such as racial, gender inequality, and use them to create a movement that would change the status quo. The association between Sarah and Handful develops considerably throughout the story, and their tie obliges each to push on with their dreams and struggle for their beliefs. The same strong bond was also evident between Sarah and Nina. The female characters in the story supported each other through the difficult times. Sarah is clearly educated and she uses her advantageous position to help Handful change her attitude, her mindset as a slave, and her overall displeasure with the society. Sarah instills Hetty handful with her own ideas, and the black slave grows up to exemplify similar characteristics and viewpoints as Sarah (Kidd 12). These experiences eventually allow Nina to become a significant contributor and supporter for slavery abolition. Although Handful and Sarah originate from different social classes and backgrounds, and that they had a casual relationship as children, their relationship is an authoritative and supportive influence that motivated and facilitated their struggle to end slavery.

Surprise in the Form of Rebellion

            One of the most surprising aspects of the rebellion in the 19th century is that it was occurring at a period when the European society was well informed about gender and racial equality. Sarah, Nina, Hetty Handful and the rest of the women advocates were struggling to find a voice in a nation that had deliberately refused to acknowledge their presence. By 19th century, much of Europe and the United States had already established a sound human rights foundation. Slavery had already been abolished in most parts of the region. However, women were still left behind in the adoption of gender equality. The author skillfully and empathetically accounted the different misuses and physical, emotional, and mental suffering in slavery. Kidd strives to illustrate the real horrors of slavery to a modern audience. Based on the true accounts of the Grimke family as advocates against women’s rights and slavery, the author not only courageously exposes the daily humiliation and anguish of slaves, but she also investigated the ways in which females in different socioeconomic classes were subjugated in 19th century society (Kidd 32). This distress is depicted through themes, such as Sarah stuttering to show her helplessness, and symbols, such as freedom using the blackbirds.

By combining historical events and creative writing, this contemporary writer was able to develop a space that emphasized intersectional social identities, both historically and in the present. It is an idea vital to emphasize the full depiction of personal improvement, and women empowerment in the 19th century. Grimke’s fundamental opinions, courage, and willpower make her an appropriate candidate to pass through a message about eliminating prejudice. The lives of the Grimkes represent more than characters in modern novels. In the end, the message being passed was that equality is the ideal conclusion for humanity. Sue Monk Kidd shows such issues through pseudo-fictional characters. This contemporary writer makes it public that despite two centuries, women are still fighting the same battles Grimke started to end inequality.

Works Cited

Kidd, Sue M. The Invention of Wings. New York: Viking, 2014. Print.

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