The Invention of Wings

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Charlotte Grimké (Mauma) Character Analysis

Handful’s mother and the main seamstress for the Grimké family. Charlotte is intensely determined to achieve freedom for herself and Handful, rebelling in every small way she can against their lives as slaves and making sure that Handful knows her self-worth outside of being a slave. When not busy with her life story quilt, Charlotte works on the side to save money to buy freedom for herself and Handful, then disappears for good when she gets pregnant with the child of Denmark Vesey. Charlotte and her daughter Sky come back to the Grimkés’ house after living on a plantation and running away as many times as they are able. Charlotte dies before she reaches freedom, but leaves Handful with the drive and money to allow Handful to go North with Sky.

Charlotte Grimké (Mauma) Quotes in The Invention of Wings

The The Invention of Wings quotes below are all either spoken by Charlotte Grimké (Mauma) or refer to Charlotte Grimké (Mauma). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Friendship Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Invention of Wings published in 2015.
Part 1 Quotes

I was shrewd like mauma. Even at ten I knew this story about people flying was pure malarkey. We weren’t some special people who lost our magic. We were slave people, and we weren't going anywhere. It was later I saw what she meant. We could fly all right, but it wasn't any magic to it.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Charlotte Grimké (Mauma)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlotte tells Handful a legend about their ancestors who had wings in Africa, but lost those wings when they came to America. Handful always knew that this story wasn’t strictly true, but she did not fully understand the metaphorical meaning behind this story until she was an adult. Kidd uses flight as a symbol for freedom, the ability to make one’s own choices for his or her life. Handful’s ancestors had this ability, but lost their autonomy when they were forced into slavery in the United States. It seems as though Handful and her family’s lives are hopeless, with no chance of ever getting their freedom back or even leaving the house where they are slaves. Yet as Handful grows, she sees the ways that she and her mother can still resist their treatment. Handful knows that she and her family can still fly, by choosing never to let go of their own self-worth in the face of oppression. Calling back to the title, Handful needs to “invent” her wings—that is, find ways to take back her freedom by asserting herself and her personhood to the world.

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Don't let her fall anymore. That's the prayer I said. Missus told us God listened to everybody, even a slave got a piece of God's ear. I carried a picture of God in my head, a white man, bearing a stick like missus or going round dodging slaves the way master Grimké did, acting like he'd sired a world where they don’t exist. I couldn’t see him lifting a finger to help.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Charlotte Grimké (Mauma), Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus), John Grimké (Father)
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

After Charlotte is caught with a piece of stolen green silk, she is forced to spend an hour with her leg tied up in such a way that if Charlotte drops her leg, a rope will choke her. This cruel punishment takes place in the yard, in full view of all the other slaves – including Charlotte’s daughter Handful. Handful watches her mother in horror and winces when Charlotte falls, as Kidd once again zeroes in on the true pain of life as a slave. Yet Handful seems to have accepted this pain to some extent, seeking only to minimize her mother’s distress instead of wishing it away completely. Rather than praying to God that Charlotte’s punishment would be ended early, or that the white masters would have compassion, Handful simply prays that Charlotte will not fall again.

Aside from increasing the pathos of Charlotte’s punishment, Handful’s prayer also points to the ways that the white slave holders use religion to uphold their way of life. Handful recognizes that the white masters care very little for the slaves’ welfare, and she assumes that their white God cares just as little. White ministers often use the Bible to admonish the slaves to be obedient, ignoring any injustice that the slaves might suffer in the process. Handful knows that white people will never admit that she exists as a person, much less offer her compassion or mercy. Any help that Handful needs, she will have to demand for herself.

…I remembered the oath I’d made to help Hetty become free, a promise impossible to fulfill and one that continued to cause me no end of guilt, but it suddenly rang clear in me for the first time: Charlotte said I should help Hetty get free any way I could. Turning, I watched her carry the lantern to my dressing table, light swilling about her feet. When she set it down, I said, “Hetty, shall I teach you to read?”

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker), Hetty Handful Grimké, Charlotte Grimké (Mauma)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarah previously promised Handful’s mother, Charlotte, that she would help free Handful someday, even though her first attempt to emancipate Handful failed. Sarah remembers this oath many times as she grows closer to Handful, but is unable to think of anything to help Handful until she opens up her own definition of “freedom.” Sarah still cannot legally or physically free Handful from a life of slavery, yet Sarah can give Handful the necessary tools to free Handful’s mind from slavery-imposed ignorance. Sarah knows that teaching any slave to read is a rebellious act, having already been chastised for teaching the slave children the alphabet at Sunday School. The ability to read (and write) give slaves the opportunity to broaden their world beyond the plantation or house where they work, and also negates the argument that slaves deserve their position because they are not as intelligent as their white masters. Teaching Handful to read is one step closer to helping Handful free herself, just as important an act in the long run as freeing Handful in body alone.

Part 2 Quotes

Goods and chattel… We were like the gold leaf mirror and the horse saddle. Not full-fledge people. I didn’t believe this, never had believed it a day of my life, but if you listen to white folks long enough, some sad, beat-down part of you starts to wonder. All that pride about what we were worth left me then. For the first time, I felt the hurt and shame of just being who I was.
… When mauma saw my raw eyes, she said, “Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth."

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Charlotte Grimké (Mauma) (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Handful sneaks into Master Grimké’s library to find out the price to buy freedom for herself and her mother. Though she is initially pleased that their prices are relatively high, Handful later realizes that any monetary price at all far underestimates the worth of a human soul. Handful’s shame and embarrassment at knowing her price is another example of the evils of slavery. The Grimkés’ slaves are even listed after the Grimkés’ other possession, as if the humans that they own are not even the most important objects in the Grimkés’ eyes. Though Handful rejects the idea that slaves are not as human as white people, it is hard for her to live surrounded by those ideas without feeling some of their effects. This psychological damage is yet another injury that slaves must bear, one that is perhaps even more harmful than the physical punishments that constantly threaten them. Handful is saved from falling into despair and depression by her mother’s unshakeable faith in their worth as human beings. Charlotte never forgets the importance of resisting all the ways that slavery marks their lives, and tells Handful that her price can never be written down by anyone.

There were ten good-size squares. I spread them out cross the frame. The colors she'd used outdid God and the rainbow. Reds, purples, oranges, pinks, yellows, blacks, and browns. They hit my ears more than my eyes. They sounded like she was laughing and crying in the same breath. It was the finest work ever to come from mauma’s hands.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Charlotte Grimké (Mauma)
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

After Handful’s mother disappears, Handful goes against her mother’s wishes and looks at the quilt that Charlotte has been sewing for two years. This quilt is Charlotte’s finest work as a seamstress, not just for the techniques and skill used in the applique, but for the story that the quilt tells. No matter how many wonderful things Charlotte sews for the Grimkés, her finest work will always be this quilt that she sewed for herself. Handful describes the vitality and life that the quilt encompasses, explaining how it involves more senses than just her eyes with the colors that leap off the fabric. Charlotte’s life has been hard, and there are scenes of brutal physical and emotional pain told on those quilt squares. But Charlotte’s indomitable spirit turns that anguish into something beautiful. Though there is intense pain, like Charlotte crying, there is also intense joy, like Charlotte laughing. The quilt is a way for Charlotte to take control of her life, asserting that she has a perspective on these struggles and triumphs that deserves to be told.

Part 5 Quotes

Mauma's back… She has scars and a full head of white hair and looks old as Methusal, but she's the same inside. I nurse her day and night. She brought my sister with her named Sky. I know that's some name. It comes from mauma and her longings. She always said one day we'd fly like blackbirds.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Charlotte Grimké (Mauma), Sky
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlotte returns to the Grimké house after 13 years with a half-sister that Handful has never met. Handful writes a letter to Sarah describing these developments. Charlotte has been wounded in many ways by life on the plantation where she was forced to live. Handful sees all the new physical scars left by the harsh punishments on the plantation, as well as noticing how Charlotte has been prematurely aged by her life as a slave. Kidd again details the hardships that slaves face and the incredible evil of this institution.

Yet though Charlotte has been hurt, she has not given up on the dream of freedom. Sky’s name is the biggest indicator that Charlotte is still resisting her bonds as much as she can. Handful again remembers the legend about blackbirds that Charlotte told her as a little girl. In that legend, black people had wings – a metaphor for their freedom. Charlotte consistently has faith in a future where black people will fly once more, gaining their freedom back.

"Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We're all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren't we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we'll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all."

Related Characters: Lucretia Mott (speaker), Hetty Handful Grimké, Sarah Grimké, Charlotte Grimké (Mauma), Sky
Page Number: 275
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarah returns to Philadelphia and lives with Lucretia Mott, the only female minister in their Meeting of Quakers. Sarah and Lucretia become fast friends, such that Sarah trusts Lucretia enough to shares Handful’s letters with her. When Lucretia hears that Handful’s mother, Charlotte, has returned as a slave in the Grimké house, Lucretia encourages Sarah to do something to help change Handful, Charlotte, and Sky’s circumstances. Sarah is afraid of becoming a female minister, knowing that society will judge her for choosing a path beyond the normal female duties of wife and motherhood. Lucretia acknowledges the sexism that Sarah will face, but reminds Sarah that Charlotte, Handful, and Sky must confront both sexism and racism at every turn. Kidd again references the sky as a symbol for freedom, suggesting that Sarah longs for something more than marriage because it is her responsibility to fight for equality. Sarah has the chance to do more for all women, both white and black, by becoming a Quaker minister who publically speaks out against slavery.

Part 6 Quotes

“Course, you’re tired. You worked hard your whole life. That’s all you did was work.”
“Don’t you remember me for that. Don’t you remember I’m a slave and work hard. When you think of me, you say, she never did belong to those people. She never belong to nobody but herself.”

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Charlotte Grimké (Mauma) (speaker)
Page Number: 303-304
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlotte goes out to Handful’s spirit tree to collect her spirit before letting go of the hard life she has led. Handful follows her to say one last goodbye to her mother. In that conversation, Handful acknowledges that Charlotte has every right to be tired after a lifetime of working to the bone for the Grimkés. Charlotte rejects that, however, wanting to be remembered for her rebellious spirit rather than her obedience or how well she held up in a life of drudgery. Charlotte’s spirit always belonged to herself, even when her body was the property of a white man or woman. That spirit is what truly counts, as Charlotte shows Handful how to maintain resistance to slavery despite all consequences. Charlotte’s faith that slaves are fundamentally worthy of freedom inspires Handful to keep working towards her own escape. Charlotte’s legacy is not the legacy of a slave who was bound all her life; it is the legacy of a woman who never gave in to the bonds that others tried to force on her.

Sarah put her hand on my arm and left it there while the city heaved away. It was the last square on the quilt… I thought of mauma then, how her bones would always be here. People say don’t look back, the past is past, but I would always look back… When we left the mouth of the harbor, the wind swelled and the veils round us flapped, and I heard the blackbird wings. We rode onto the shining water onto the far distance.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Sarah Grimké, Charlotte Grimké (Mauma)
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles
Page Number: 359
Explanation and Analysis:

As the boat pulls away from the Charleston harbor and takes Handful and Sky towards freedom in the North, Sarah and Handful stand together at the rail and watch the city fade into the distance. Handful calls this moment “the last square of the quilt,” imagining that her journey out of slavery completes her mother’s story quilt. The last square of the quilt shows Handful and Sarah together, able to interact as equals at last. Throughout Charlotte’s life, Charlotte used her quilt to take back her life story from the white masters who try to silence Charlotte’s voice. Handful finally escapes a life of slavery and achieves Charlotte’s dream of a life where her voice is just as strong as anyone else’s voice. Handful keeps Charlotte’s legacy in mind as she moves into her future, keeping her mother’s memory alive. The book ends with the same image of blackbird wings from the blackbird legend in the first chapter. As Charlotte said in the beginning, the slaves did find their wings once again.

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Charlotte Grimké (Mauma) Character Timeline in The Invention of Wings

The timeline below shows where the character Charlotte Grimké (Mauma) appears in The Invention of Wings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: November 1803 - February 1805
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Hetty Handful Grimké. The novel begins with Handful’s “Mauma” (Charlotte), a slave, telling Handful (the narrator) that in Africa people used to be able to... (full context)
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...because she was so small at birth that she only filled one handful. Handful’s mother Charlotte is the seamstress for the Grimkés, and desperately wants to work outside the house for... (full context)
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Instead, Charlotte spends her rare spare time sewing quilts with black triangles that stand for wings. Handful... (full context)
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...and a member of the elite South Carolina planter class. Sarah is more wary of her mother , a woman who rules the house, slaves, and children with a strict hand. (full context)
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Handful’s Mauma comforts Handful as best she can, telling Handful the story of how their ancestors had... (full context)
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...Handful misses sleeping and sewing with her mother and often wanders off to sleep with Charlotte in the slaves’ quarters, though Charlotte warns her that this will cause trouble. (full context)
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...yard to look for “Hetty” and watches the slaves do their morning work. Sarah sees Charlotte gathering feathers and goes over to ask where Hetty is. (full context)
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Before Sarah can stammer any words out, Charlotte shows Sarah a baby owl that Charlotte has been caring for. Sarah tells Charlotte that... (full context)
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Sarah thinks obsessively about keeping her promise to free Hetty, and dreads seeing Charlotte again at her fitting for a new Easter dress. Charlotte asks if Sarah is going... (full context)
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Handful sneaks to her mother’s room the night after the cloth is stolen. Charlotte is angry and marches Handful back to the house. Master Grimké catches Charlotte in the... (full context)
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...gets to her mother’s room, she sees the bolt of green silk on top of Charlotte’s quilt frame. (full context)
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Handful stares enchanted at the beautiful silk while Missus lectures Charlotte about her theft. Missus tells Charlotte that the punishment will be at the house but... (full context)
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Handful. The Monday after Easter, Aunt-Sister tells Charlotte that her punishment will be to have one leg tied up for an hour. Tomfry... (full context)
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At the end of the hour, Tomfry and Aunt-Sister help Charlotte to her bed. Handful gives her water and tries to feed her small bites of... (full context)
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...slaves are happy. Yet today, it is silent until the slaves begin to murmur about Charlotte’s poor state. Sarah flashes back to her memory of seeing a slave whipped and stumbles... (full context)
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...over to the slave’s quarters. Sarah tells Mother that she is going to see about Charlotte, the words coming easily to Sarah for once. Sarah knows that her stammer is gone... (full context)
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Handful. That night Charlotte begins to have shaking fits, and then finally sleeps. Handful sleeps too, with strange dreams... (full context)
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Handful notices Sarah hiding outside the door, listening to the story too. Charlotte goes on, telling how Grandmother worked the fields and taught Charlotte everything she knew about... (full context)
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Grandmother died when Charlotte was sixteen, and Charlotte was sold to Master Grimké. In the Grimké plantation house, Charlotte... (full context)
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Handful. Charlotte starts walking with a limp in front of Missus after the one-legged punishment, though the... (full context)
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Handful loves her mother’s new room because she can sneak to sleep with Charlotte without leaving the house. Yet Charlotte’s sleep is more restless than ever and she carefully... (full context)
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...distract from the floodwater and the wind. The cellar room floods, ruining all the work Charlotte did on her room. After they finish cleaning up the mud, Handful takes a stick... (full context)
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Charlotte makes a new baby gown for Missus, who is pregnant with yet another child. When... (full context)
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From then on, Charlotte disappears a couple of days each week to hire herself out and sew for pay.... (full context)
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One day in January, Charlotte is found missing from her cellar sewing room. Missus asks Handful if she knows where... (full context)
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...red thread around a tree in the yard to make a spirit tree. Handful and Charlotte give their spirits to the tree as Handful strokes the silver button that she rescued... (full context)
Part 2: February 1811 – December 1812
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Handful. Handful and Charlotte begin to sew a story quilt, sitting under the spirit tree. Handful worries over Sarah... (full context)
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Charlotte sews figures into the quilt squares, promising to explain the whole story to Handful once... (full context)
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...mother that Sarah’s thoughts are full of some boy she met at a ball, and Charlotte admits that she has a sweetheart too. His name is Denmark Vesey and he is... (full context)
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Missus actually allows Charlotte to hire out and make money, softened by a special quilt Charlotte made of all... (full context)
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...her mother that they need $1,050 for freedom, knowing it would take 10 years for Charlotte to earn that much. Handful wants to give up hope, but Charlotte won’t listen to... (full context)
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Handful. Handful goes with Charlotte to buy fabric at the market. The market is full of strange smells, sounds, and... (full context)
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Denmark Vesey comes out of his house and Charlotte introduces Handful. For the next year, Charlotte goes to Denmark’s house whenever she has the... (full context)
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...woman. Handful can’t believe that Denmark even dared to touch her, but didn’t fight back. Charlotte asked Denmark to let Handful go, and Charlotte and Handful walked home. Though Handful doesn’t... (full context)
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Handful. Charlotte fusses around the cellar room at night, watching the sky and sewing more of her... (full context)
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As Charlotte works on the quilt, Handful thinks about Sarah and Burke, unable to imagine Sarah marrying... (full context)
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...carriage gets stuck in a mud hole. As Goodis leaves to get help, Sarah sees Charlotte walking down the street. (full context)
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Charlotte is so focused on keeping her feet out of the mud that she doesn’t notice... (full context)
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Handful. Earlier that day, Charlotte takes off to town looking happy and clean for her visit to Denmark. Handful tries... (full context)
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...by the City Guard. Handful is actually hopeful, having expected someone to tell her that Charlotte was dead. Sarah continues to say that no one knows where Charlotte is now, as... (full context)
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Sarah. Charlotte’s disappearance puts Burke’s betrayal into perspective for Sarah. The Grimkés put an ad in the... (full context)
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A month after Charlotte disappears, Mother forces Handful to go back to work doing all the sewing. Sarah is... (full context)
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Handful. Handful mourns Charlotte’s disappearance but puts aside her grief and anger to get back to sewing work. One... (full context)
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...Handful’s grandmother arrives in America. The second is Handful’s grandmother hoeing the field. Third is Charlotte learning to sew. Fourth is a spirit tree behind two bodies picked clean by vultures.... (full context)
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Two squares are Charlotte’s one-legged punishment and Handful’s whip lash for learning to read. The last square is Denmark... (full context)
Part 3: October 1818 – November 1820
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Handful. Six years after Charlotte disappeared, Handful still searches for her every time she goes to town. The slaves hold... (full context)
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...to her cellar room and lies on the story quilt, thinking about the way that Charlotte told her story. Handful has taken over sewing duties completely, no longer helping Sarah with... (full context)
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...of 200 slaves. Handful has been attending for four months and has learned nothing about Charlotte, but is actually starting to understand what other people see in religion. The services give... (full context)
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...home. Denmark comes out and invites Handful in. Handful tells Denmark that her mother was Charlotte and asks Denmark if he knows what happened to Charlotte. Handful then unwraps her mother’s... (full context)
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...Susan wearing a red head scarf that Handful recognizes as her mother’s. Susan admits that Charlotte came to 20 Bull Street the night she ran away and traded the red head... (full context)
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...his lieutenants to step outside and tells Handful the real story of what happened to Charlotte. Denmark tried to hide Charlotte in a tenement house for free blacks, but a poacher... (full context)
Part 4: September 1821 – July 1822
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...the preparations of arms, Handful fiddles with a feather in her pocket and remembers when Charlotte told her that birds always have a funeral for their dead. Denmark’s right-hand man, Gullah... (full context)
Part 5: November 1826 – November 1829
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...the back gate. The woman calls Handful’s name, and Handful realizes it is her mother Charlotte. The slaves help carry Charlotte inside, as she is weak and sick from the journey.... (full context)
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As Charlotte sleeps, Handful asks the slave girl, whose name is Sky, about their journey. Sky loves... (full context)
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Handful shows Charlotte the story quilt that she finished and Charlotte is pleased that Handful got the order... (full context)
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...gives Sarah a letter from “Nina” that is in Handful’s handwriting. The letter explains that Charlotte has returned to the Grimké house with a new daughter, Sky, and reiterates Handful’s hopes... (full context)
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...write Handful a letter, but can’t find a respectful way to express her joy at Charlotte’s return (as Charlotte is still a slave even if she is “home”). Sarah gets the... (full context)
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Handful. Charlotte returns to sewing, but Sky does not fit well into urban life. She is too... (full context)
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...are so big and bountiful that spring that Missus keeps Sky on for good. Meanwhile, Charlotte does not tell Handful what happened to her while she was away, but begins to... (full context)
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Handful. Handful works on the sewing for Missus while Charlotte sews nothing but her story quilt. As they work, Charlotte tells more about life in... (full context)
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One night, Charlotte asks what happened to her stash of money. Handful thought that Charlotte took it with... (full context)
Part 6: July 1835 – June 1838
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...renews the harsh punishments and strict rules that Missus had relaxed in her old age. Charlotte is weak and unable to do much other than go over and over her story... (full context)
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One afternoon, Charlotte shuffles out to the spirit tree with the story quilt wrapped around her shoulders. Handful... (full context)
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Handful. Handful writes to Sarah that Charlotte has died. Handful and Sky hold a small funeral for Charlotte, spreading rice on her... (full context)
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...spend their time reading books and old letters. Sarah thinks constantly of her promise to Charlotte, who has now passed, that she would free Handful. (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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...lash she was given for learning to read. Handful survives the pain by thinking of Charlotte, as well as Sarah’s words calling her a person under God. The next day, Little... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...frame and checks on the stash of money in the black triangle quilt, then spreads Charlotte’s story quilt across the frame. Little Missus comes down to check on a cape she... (full context)
Friendship Theme Icon
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
...and possessions, Sky comments that the rabbit is outfoxing the fox. Sarah agrees to hide Charlotte’s story quilt in her trunk. Handful notices that Sarah is not the same timid girl... (full context)