The Invention of Wings

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John Grimké (Father) Character Analysis

Sarah and Nina’s father, a prominent judge in Charleston who is ruined by accusations of bias in his sentences. Before his death of a wasting disease, John admits to Sarah that he too believes slavery is wrong but was never brave enough to speak out against it or give up his privileged lifestyle.

John Grimké (Father) Quotes in The Invention of Wings

The The Invention of Wings quotes below are all either spoken by John Grimké (Father) or refer to John Grimké (Father). 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

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.

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Part 3 Quotes

"Forgive you for what, Sarah? For following your conscience? Do you think I don’t abhor slavery as you do? Do you think I don’t know it was greed that kept me from following my conscience as you have? The plantation, the house, our entire way of life depended on the slaves." His face contorted and he clutched at his side a moment before going on. "Or should I forgive you for wanting to give natural expression to your intellect? You were smarter than even Thomas or John, but you’re female, another cruelty I was helpless to change."

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker), John Grimké (Father) (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarah goes north with Father in an attempt to improve his health, but Father admits that he never expected to return to Charleston. On his deathbed, Father admits that he always agreed with Sarah’s beliefs about the injustices committed against slaves as well as the injustices against white women, but he felt unable to do anything to help. For Father, these issues were too big for any one person to affect. Father is not strong enough to give up his privileged life in order to fight for what is right. And while Father certainly could not have changed Sarah’s femaleness, he could have decided to support Sarah’s desire to express her intellect anyway. Instead of risking his status, money, or safety in society, Father decided to stay silent his entire life. If Sarah wants to avoid the same fate – and even the same wasting disease that takes her father’s life – she must gather the courage to boldly speak out against the cruelties of racism and sexism in her life.

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John Grimké (Father) Character Timeline in The Invention of Wings

The timeline below shows where the character John Grimké (Father) 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
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
...a family of ten children. Sarah is the lone bright redhead of the children, and Father’s favorite, according to everyone. Sarah idolizes her father, a judge in the South Carolina court... (full context)
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...slave quarters, Sarah gets an idea. She sneaks out of her bedroom and goes into Father’s library to get a piece of Father’s legal paper. The library reminds Sarah of how... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...asks cuttingly if Sarah found the ripped certificate of freedom. Sarah thinks of appealing to Father again, but gives up. She keeps her silver button as a reminder of what she... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...after the cloth is stolen. Charlotte is angry and marches Handful back to the house. Master Grimké catches Charlotte in the house at night, and demands an explanation. Handful, hiding on the... (full context)
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...obedient to their masters. Sarah is unsure what to think, but a glance at her father’s blank face clarifies nothing. (full context)
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...ally within her family. She promises to do anything to help Thomas study theology, though Father will hear none of it. (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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Grandmother died when Charlotte was sixteen, and Charlotte was sold to Master Grimké . In the Grimké plantation house, Charlotte met Shanney and married him. Missus brought Charlotte... (full context)
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...Sarah refuses to give up on her dreams of practicing law, however, and studies their father’s law books by herself. In the mornings, Sarah reads to Hetty or plays string games... (full context)
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Sarah. Two days later, Father calls Sarah in to see him in the library. Sarah nervously walks in to the... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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Father reveals that he is the one who tore up Sarah’s certificate of freedom for Handful,... (full context)
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...with her own wish to be a jurist, but her family laughs at her. Even Father refuses to consider Sarah’s dream. Sarah retreats to her room, heartbroken. (full context)
Part 2: February 1811 – December 1812
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The next night, Burke is fifteen minutes late, causing Mother and Father fits at the impolite snub. Sarah is just happy to see his handsome face again.... (full context)
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The next day, Father immediately moves the family to Belmont, ostensibly to prepare for Thomas’ impending wedding but truly... (full context)
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...to avoid talking and Sarah is secretly grateful. That January, Sarah overhears her brothers comforting Father that they will defend him against a mysterious recent outrage. Sarah is at first moved... (full context)
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...Sarah on happy news for her family in spite of the impeachment charges against her father. Sarah is shocked to finally find out what her brothers were trying to defend Father... (full context)
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Any celebration about Sarah’s engagement is covered by worry about the impeachment. Father remains in his library day and night as Sarah overhears wisps of grim conversation. The... (full context)
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...off lawyering to meet with Sarah privately, putting Sarah on edge. Sarah is worried that Father’s bad health has worsened further, remembering how Father was too sick even to attend her... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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...birthday, the Grimkés have a simple dinner to celebrate. Thomas debates a new idea with Father: colonization, or sending the slaves back to Africa. Sarah shocks her family by declaring herself... (full context)
Part 3: October 1818 – November 1820
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...not to put her soul in jeopardy and Mother guilts Nina with the thought that Father’s dying wish might be to see her confirmed. Nina refuses to be moved, and Sarah... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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...mother will be replacing Handful now that she is damaged. Instead, Mother tells Sarah that Father’s health has not improved in a year and the doctors are now recommending that he... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Sarah comes down to Handful’s cellar distraught over her imminent departure North with her Father. Sarah’s stutter has returned, and Handful feels truly sorry for this development in Sarah’s life,... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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Sarah. Sarah gets Father to Philadelphia despite a harrowing ship journey and marvels at the absence of slaves on... (full context)
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The New Jersey town is miniscule and austere. Father seems no better, and Sarah begins to feel hopeless feeding her father soup like a... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
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In August, Father admits to Sarah that he is dying. Sarah expects him to insist on returning to... (full context)
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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful. Missus gathers all the family and slaves to read Master Grimké ’s will. The goods are dispersed among the Grimké sons, and Handful stops paying attention... (full context)
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...stack. Mother says nothing about the letters but asks Sarah to go help pack up Father’s library. In the library, Sarah reflects on the melancholy of her life in Charleston –... (full context)