The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd tells the story of two girls of similar age in early 19th century Charleston, SC; Sarah Grimke, a daughter of...moreThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd tells the story of two girls of similar age in early 19th century Charleston, SC; Sarah Grimke, a daughter of a slaveholding plantation owner, and Hetty, a slave owned by the Grimke family. The story is told in first person by Sarah and Hetty in alternating chapters. As a young girl, Sarah possesses a natural aversion to slavery and develops a friendship with Hetty. Their friendship occurs naturally in childlike fashion without any thought to differences in race or equality. Although Sarah feels that slavery is wrong, her friendship with Hetty gradually develops into something less than true friendship, marred by the mutual realization of the difference in their stations. She spends the rest of the book trying to recapture that innocent and natural bond that the two girls first shared.
“I saw then what I hadn't seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I'd lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I'd grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There's a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.” -- Sarah Grimke
Sarah also yearns to be something more than what was usually accorded to women in the early 19th century. She has a fascination with books and the law practice of her father from an early age, but those desires are extinguished by her father who reluctantly follows the mores of society.
"My aspiration to become a jurist had been laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment." -- Sarah Grimke
As Sarah eventually finds her voice to protest against the evil of slavery and racial inequality, she is also able to fulfil her yearning to be more than what society dictates for a woman of the time; to break the female curse of "the need to mold" herself "to expectations."
I found Hetty's story to be more intriguing and touching. Hetty is born on the plantation to her mauma, a slave named Charlotte. Charlotte is a very clever woman with a strong spirit who longs to free herself and her daughter from slavery. Her story figures prominently throughout the book. Hetty's name given to her by her mauma is "Handful". Hetty feels the friendship and its subsequent loss as deeply as Sarah.
“People say love gets fouled by a difference big as ours. I didn't know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt. I didn't know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe. She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It never was a simple thing. That day, our hearts were pure as they ever would get.” -- Hetty "Handful" Grimke
I didn't realize until the author's notes at the end of the book that many of the characters and events are based in actual history. That fact added a certain extra weight to the book. While reading this book, I was engaged to play for a wedding reception at a plantation home outside of Natchez, MS. As usual, I was awed by the beauty and grandeur of the home and grounds. But this time, with this book fresh in my mind, I was nagged by the ugly underlying reason for all of the opulence. These homes were built with cotton money earned from the toil and sweat of slaves. While I have always known this, it doesn't hurt to have fresh reminders of it occasionally. As Susan Monk Kidd says in her notes:
“In writing The Invention of Wings, I was inspired by the words of Professor Julius Lester, which I kept propped on my desk: “History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”