NOVEL APPROACH: Birds of a feather

Print This Page

First Posted: 1/13/2014

Right and wrong is a difference made in the heart, how we choose to understand or deny those around us. But only the heart has wings, and only through love can it be set free. Inside, our hearts are no different from any other. Our capacity to love is all the same.

In “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd, readers are met with love’s biggest opposition: hate – hate that is nothing more than the shroud we place over fear of anything different than ourselves. Kidd’s earlier work, “The Secret Life of Bees,” has gained recognition and now, with good reason, her latest might not be far behind.

The work is set in Charleston, S.C., at the peak of the 1830s, when racial distinction was not only upheld, but also lawfully mandated. Going against said statutes could warrant not only persecution by the government and community, but could also result in death. Regardless of those regulations, on Sarah Grimké’s 11th birthday, she is given a gift she refuses to keep — a 10-year-old slave named Hetty “Handful.”

When Sarah is first given Handful, she says: “At the age of 11, I owned a slave I couldn’t free.” Sarah, under the roof of a proud slave-owning father, decides that she will defy set laws and beliefs, becoming an active voice in the abolition of slavery and our history. The novel spans 35 years, alternating from Handful to Sarah’s experiences during a continued period of great unrest.

Inspired by true events, Kidd fictionalizes much of the story’s plot. Factually, however, Sarah, joined by her youngest sister Angelina, went on to be dubbed the “Abolitionist Sisters.” Both were outspoken regarding slavery, including the treatment of their beloved family maid, Hetty. As history and the book demonstrates, the Grimké sisters sought a free and equal country, one where no woman, man, or child was a slave, where all could be given the same rights no matter the color of their skin.

While Northern efforts of the abolition movement were gaining vigor with the help of notable historical figures Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the South remained regressive and violent toward treatment of African Americans. But, there was a silent opposition growing in deep corners and pockets where whites and blacks were joining forces — seemingly muted voices that would eventually become a roar.

This novel is not just about freedom but also our symbolic wings — vibrant to neutral in color, long to short, wide to slim — all varying like we are, but all with the capacity to rise above.

‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd Rating: W W W W W