Sue Kidds The Invention of Wings is a novel that primarily talks about two women, one a radical abolitionist in a male-dominated society and the other a slave. The two women, Sarah Grimke and Handful, a family slave, both strive for physical and spiritual freedom. This being said, the novel gives a fictionalized account of Handfuls troubled life as a slave during the 19th century in the city of Charleston. At the very beginning of the book, Kidd gives an account of Sarah Grimkes eleventh birthday on which she received Hetty alias Handful, a ten-year-old girl, as her gift. Handful was supposed to be Sarahs maid and slave. However, through the course of thirty-five years, Kidd explains how Handful struggled for her freedom and destiny. On the other hand, Sarah is revolted by the idea of a human gift, and in an attempt to demonstrate an early passion for liberation and the law, Sarah attempts to grant Handful her freedom. Based on this context, as Sarah gets older she becomes more aware and also more outspoken about the evils of slavery while Handful, on the other hand, is always on the lookout for ways to either buy her freedom or escape. In the end, Sarah and her sister Nina become leaders of the womens rights movement and abolitionists which sees them being banned from Charleston but she does not back down on her desire to help in abolishing slavery.
Based on the content of the novel, it is evident that Kidd exemplifies different attitudes towards slavery through the development of various characters. To begin with, Sarah Grimkes character portrays an indignant attitude towards slavery. In this regard, Sarah is angered by the fact that other human beings are mistreated and are also perceived as other people's properties. Kidd evidently substantiates this in the novel when Sarah refused to accept Handful as her eleventh birthday gift and later started doing everything in her ability to stop the domineering discrimination against the black people. In a similar regard, Sarah is not only angered by slavery but is also against the discrimination faced by women during that time. Through her education, Sarah portrays an empathetic attitude towards the slaves. For instance, she wants to be able to give Handful the right to education by teaching her how to read and write (p. 278). Besides, by helping handful how to read and write, Sarah is in one way, or the other helping handful grows and also fulfill her promise to Charlotte to help Handful in finding her own freedom.
In the same vein, like Sarah, Handful, who is an urban slave portrays an earnest attitude towards slavery. According to the author in as much as Handful is a slave, she maintains a strong spirit and always knows her own mind. Through her relationship with Sarah, it is evident that her point of view towards slavery never wavers since she can stand up for herself and her loved ones. However, although Handful is able to maintain an unwavering opinion about freeing herself from slavery, she initially was ignorant about the whole idea of slavery. For instance, when she is presented as Sarahs eleventh birthday present, Handful talks about the symbiotic relationship that she shared with Sarah. During this time, she did not understand why it was wrong for her to be a slave and as a result, she felt uncomfortable with the love she received from Sarah (P.54). However, in the end, the love and appreciation that she received from Sarah changed her attitude towards slavery and hence her desire to seek liberty.
Charlotte, on the other hand, portrays a gloomy attitude towards slavery. Although slavery was a common practice that overly discriminated African Americans like Charlotte and her family in the 19th Century, Charlotte often feels repressed and trapped as a slave who belongs to the Grimke family. Based on this context, Charlotte is willing to do anything in her ability, even at great risks, to gain her freedom. Similarly, owing to her bitter attitude towards the idea of slavery, Kidd portrays Charlottes character as cunning since she is able to scheme against all odds to reach her goals. This is also exemplified in the book when she acts out in blatant defiance and rebels against all authorities even though she is aware that she is risking physical harm to herself and punishment. At some point in the novel, Charlotte is arrested by the City Guard after which she manages to escape (p.140).
Mary Grimke, Sarahs mother, portrays an empathetic attitude towards slavery. This is evidenced by her strict character towards both her children and her slaves. Being the female head of the family, Mary Grimke is portrayed as a firm believer in traditions, supporting slavery, and also enforcing discipline. Besides, she is overly against her daughters attempts to abolish slavery and in this case, she is seen as a mean-spirited individual who overly supports slavery.
With reference to the subject and the writing style of this particular novel, it is evident that the author centers on how both, Sarah, a white girl, and Handful, an African American slave, create a destiny for themselves, and more importantly how they invented their wings. In this regard, I get to understand that the author does not want to center the subject of the novel on an uncommon relationship but more about the history and the characters of the most influential women who overcame the test of time during the era of slavery. This being said, readers of the novel, especially the students of American History benefit a lot from this novel. For instance, based on Kidds style of writing, American history students are less likely to have an emotional attachment to the characters. Instead, they are more likely to acknowledge how the behavior and attitude of each character brought about liberation of the African Americans from slavery.
In a nutshell, the current and long-lasting value of the book, especially to students of American history, is the history of the African Americans. Based on her approach to writing, Kidd portrays how African Americans were able to rediscover their wings that enabled them to flee out of slavery. More fundamentally, the two main characters of the novel, Sarah, and Handful, each invent their own wings to liberty, despite the numerous challenges and the backlash that they received from society. For Sarah, she tirelessly advocates for equal human rights, while Handful, on the other hand, stages and schemes her own escape to freedom.
Kidd, Sue M. The Invention of Wings. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
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