The Invention of Wings

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A free black man living in Charleston, based on a real historical figure. Denmark won his freedom by winning the lottery, and uses his autonomy to inspire other slaves to rebel against the white masters. Charlotte falls in love with Denmark and has a baby with him. Denmark never meets his daughter, Sky, as he is put to death for the planned slave revolt before Charlotte and Sky return to Charleston.

Denmark Vesey Quotes in The Invention of Wings

The The Invention of Wings quotes below are all either spoken by Denmark Vesey or refer to Denmark Vesey. 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 4 Quotes

"The Lord has spoken to me," he cried out. "He said, set my people free. When your name is written in the Book, you’re one of us and you’re one of God’s, and we'll take our freedom when God says, Let not your heart be troubled. Neither let it be afraid. You believe in God, believe also in me…” …My name wasn’t in the book, just the men’s, but I would’ve put it in there if I could. I would’ve written it in blood.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Denmark Vesey (speaker)
Page Number: 224-225
Explanation and Analysis:

As Denmark Vesey’s slave revolt gains more followers, Denmark uses biblical rhetoric to help sway potential converts to their side. He justifies any insecurities that slaves might have about rising up against the “natural order” of black inferiority that is pushed in the Anglican Church. Denmark builds a community of the slaves by having them write their names in a Book, echoing the “Book of Life” that holds the name of all those who are saved in the biblical book of Revelation. The call to action, “You believe in God, believe also in me,” quotes Jesus Christ, comparing Denmark to a savior for this oppressed people. The rebellion and the Book create a place where slaves can come together as people who will receive the same rights as any white person.

Yet while the community of believers promises to free the slaves, it ignores the further oppression of women. Handful is not allowed to sign the book because she is female. Though women like Handful and Denmark’s wife, Susan, contribute just as much to the rebellion efforts – providing food and even stealing arms for the men – their actions are not recognized publically the way the men are. Handful is just as committed to Denmark’s vision of freedom as any of the men are, ready to sign her name in blood or risk her life to obtain a bullet mold. The slave movement is a huge step forward for racial equality, but Kidd does not lose sight of the ways that Denmark’s revolution still needs to address gender equality.

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The edict from the judges said we couldn't cry, or say his name, or do anything to mark him, but I took a little piece of red thread from my neck pouch and tied it round one of the twigs on a low, dipping branch to mark the spot. Then I cried my tears and said his name.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Denmark Vesey
Related Symbols: Red Thread
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

After Denmark’s slave revolt is crushed, Charleston officials hang Denmark in a secret location and pass an order that prohibits mourning Denmark in any way. Handful ignores these warnings and follows Denmark’s wagon from his holding cell in the Work House to a field, where she is the only one to witness Denmark’s execution. Though she knows the risks, Handful cannot let Denmark’s grave go unmarked. No matter his “crimes,” Denmark is still a person who deserves to have a memorial for his death. Handful effectively breaks the silence that Charleston officials used to ignore and shame the slaves who wanted to revolt. Handful marks the grave site with red thread, which Kidd has used throughout the novel to symbolize Handful’s spirit and desire for freedom. Handful also deserves the chance to mourn this loss of the dream of freedom. Denmark gave hope to so many slaves that their bondage might end soon, and offered them practical ways to resist their treatment. With Denmark gone, resistance against slavery is a much harder prospect. The red thread shows that Handful is still committed to the dream of freedom despite this heavy blow.

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Denmark Vesey Character Timeline in The Invention of Wings

The timeline below shows where the character Denmark Vesey appears in The Invention of Wings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: February 1811 – December 1812
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...at a ball, and Charlotte admits that she has a sweetheart too. His name is Denmark Vesey and he is a Free Black man, having won the lottery and purchased himself... (full context)
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...Charlotte hurriedly finishes the shopping and takes Handful to 20 Bull street, the house where Denmark Vesey lives. Handful sees a woman through the window and is surprised to find out... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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Denmark Vesey comes out of his house and Charlotte introduces Handful. For the next year, Charlotte... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...so that the lady could pass on the narrow path. Handful finds this ordinary, but Denmark rushed down the street, grabbed Handful’s arm and shamed her for stepping aside and groveling... (full context)
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...that day, Charlotte takes off to town looking happy and clean for her visit to Denmark. Handful tries to make sure that her mother’s work badge and pouch of spirit tree... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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...Charlotte’s one-legged punishment and Handful’s whip lash for learning to read. The last square is Denmark Vesey standing proudly next to the number 1884, something that means little to Handful. Handful... (full context)
Part 3: October 1818 – November 1820
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...January, Handful hears about a new African church in Charleston meant just for black people. Denmark Vesey attends and contributes many of the messages. Handful hates to think of Denmark again,... (full context)
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Handful. At a meeting of the African Church, Denmark Vesey speaks to a congregation of 200 slaves. Handful has been attending for four months... (full context)
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As the congregation sings, the City Guard bursts in and starts surrounding the people. Denmark tries to throw them out, but a guard just hits Denmark in the face with... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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At the Work House, Handful and 11 other slaves are led past the Treadmill. Denmark is there, having refused to pay the fine for himself as long as there were... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...for the first time. She walks to 20 Bull street to see what happened to Denmark after the Work House. Memories of the Work House come rushing back, as the sight... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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At Denmark’s house, Handful asks Denmark’s wife, Susan, if Denmark is home. Denmark comes out and invites... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...errand for her. Once she gets to 20 Bull Street, Handful sneaks into a meeting Denmark is having with his “lieutenants.” The other men do not trust Handful, but Denmark calls... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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Denmark tells his lieutenants to step outside and tells Handful the real story of what happened... (full context)
Part 4: September 1821 – July 1822
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful. Handful sneaks to Denmark’s house more than ever now that Tomfry is no longer there to keep the slaves... (full context)
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Handful gives Denmark a jar of sorghum she stole from the kitchen and goes to help Susan making... (full context)
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Handful asks Denmark what would happen if a white person found a list of names. Denmark says that... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful gets busy making a quilt for Denmark to hide his lists, covering the front with red and black triangles for blackbirds flying.... (full context)
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Handful. At Denmark’s house in April, Denmark tells his lieutenants that there are 6,000 names in his lists... (full context)
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As Denmark explains the preparations of arms, Handful fiddles with a feather in her pocket and remembers... (full context)
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That night, Handful reflects on Denmark’s praise when she gave him the bullet molds. She can’t sleep and wishes that Goodis... (full context)
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Handful. Handful waits two days after the failed rebellion for safety, then goes to Denmark’s house. He has not been arrested, and even the quilt with the lists is untouched,... (full context)
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Four days later, Denmark is also arrested. Legends about him fly thick, but Handful realizes that half of what... (full context)
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On July 2nd, Handful follows Denmark from the Work House as he is taken to his place of execution. Denmark and... (full context)
Part 5: November 1826 – November 1829
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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...Handful introduces the slave girl as her sister, knowing she must be Charlotte’s daughter by Denmark Vesey. (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...the order of all the squares correctly. Handful dreads telling Charlotte what has happened to Denmark Vesey while she was gone. Charlotte also looks worse for the wear from her time... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...keep at the Grimké house. Charlotte insists that Sky is as smart as her daddy, Denmark, though Charlotte doesn’t tell Sky who her father is for fear that Sky will chatter... (full context)
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...write Sky a pass, and she takes Sky by the house that used to be Denmark’s. Handful tells Sky that her daddy was brave with a big heart and lived to... (full context)