The Invention of Wings

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Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus) Character Analysis

Sarah and Nina’s mother. She is a harsh mistress to her slaves, and a stickler for propriety and status in the upper echelons of Charleston society. Though horrified by the actions of her daughters, Mary stays loyal to them as family. Mary is never swayed by any of the arguments her daughters make against slavery, believing wholeheartedly in the mistaken ideas of racial superiority.

Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus) Quotes in The Invention of Wings

The The Invention of Wings quotes below are all either spoken by Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus) or refer to Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus). 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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Every girl comes into the world with varying degrees of ambition," she said, "even if it’s only the hope of not belonging body and soul to her husband. I was a girl once, believe it or not."
She seemed a stranger, a woman without all the wounds and armature the years bring... "The truth," she said, "is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to being broken like a horse."

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker), Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus) (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarah confesses her true desire to be a jurist, but her family just laughs and completely rejects this dream. When Sarah goes to her room, Mother follows to give some comfort, though Mother’s advice is decidedly not what Sarah wants to hear. This is Sarah’s first experience of how deeply the inequalities between men and women run in Southern society. Mother makes it very clear to Sarah that the only feasible path for her future is becoming a wife and mother. Anything else will only lead to more pain, as Sarah’s headstrong spirit will inevitably be broken by society’s rules. Sarah thinks that she and her mother are nothing alike, and that her mother only ever wanted to be a homemaker. Yet Mother actually identifies with Sarah’s lost ambitions, admitting that she too had big dreams as a young girl. In becoming a respectable member of adult society in Charleston, Mother had to let go of any sense of self. Mother suggests that even the idea of not belonging completely to one’s husband is a foolish dream for a woman, as power belongs completely and irrevocably to men. In some sense, women in the high society South were property in the same way that slaves were, though these white women obviously had far more comfortable lives.

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Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus) Character Timeline in The Invention of Wings

The timeline below shows where the character Mary Grimké (Mother / Missus) 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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The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful is often in trouble with Missus, the mother of the Grimké family (the white masters of Handful and her mother), because... (full context)
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...the yard, she has to be as quiet as possible in order to avoid offending Missus. Noise is on the list of slave sins, under stealing, disobedience, and laziness. Handful gleefully... (full context)
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...cook, takes Handful into the kitchen as the house prepares for Sarah’s eleventh birthday party. Missus sweeps in and ties a lavender ribbon around Handful’s neck. Handful worries that she is... (full context)
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Sarah stammers that she can’t accept Handful, making Missus so angry that she screams. Handful is so scared that she accidently pees on the... (full context)
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Sarah. Sarah wants to give Hetty back to Mother, but Mother just tells Sarah to make peace with their way of life. Sarah feels... (full context)
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When Sarah finally manages to explain that there is no fire, Missus rages and strikes Handful with her cane. Handful falls to the ground. Missus raises her... (full context)
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...to lunch after four days of taking meals in her room to protest owning Hetty. Mother asks cuttingly if Sarah found the ripped certificate of freedom. Sarah thinks of appealing to... (full context)
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...terrified of being sent to the Work House, a place of horrific punishments in town. Missus promises to be forgiving if the cloth is returned, but Handful is not so sure. (full context)
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...Handful, hiding on the stairs, prays for her mother to think of some lie, but Missus comes out of her room before Charlotte can speak. Missus accuses Charlotte of stealing the... (full context)
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...the search group, muttering curses no ten-year-old should know and gathering her courage to tell Missus that this was all her fault. Yet when Handful gets to her mother’s room, she... (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... (full context)
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Sarah. On Easter, the Grimkés go to the Episcopal Church. Sarah stammers to Mother that she is looking forward to giving her first lesson at the “Colored Sunday School.”... (full context)
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...the Sunday School lesson, surprised to find the kids playing in complete anarchy. Her sister Mary Jr. tells Sarah to just let them play, but Sarah gathers the children and begins... (full context)
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...to have one leg tied up for an hour. Tomfry reluctantly ties Charlotte up as Missus watches from the window and the slaves huddle together in the yard. Handful can’t bring... (full context)
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...goes to the kitchen to find her. Normally the kitchen is full of song, which Mother takes as evidence that the slaves are happy. Yet today, it is silent until the... (full context)
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Mother stops Sarah in the corridor, but Sarah refuses to be stopped. Sarah pushes past her... (full context)
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...sold to Master Grimké. In the Grimké plantation house, Charlotte met Shanney and married him. Missus brought Charlotte to the Charleston house, refusing to bring Shanney too, but Charlotte was already... (full context)
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...admits that she has seen the button, and that she knows all about symbols like Missus’ cane and her mother’s thimble. Hetty even starts to tell stories about her family stories... (full context)
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Handful. Charlotte starts walking with a limp in front of Missus after the one-legged punishment, though the other slaves grumble about this ploy for sympathy. Charlotte... (full context)
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...Charlotte rebels in small ways whenever she can, botching sleeves or mis-sewing buttons to cause Missus as much embarrassment as possible. Handful even catches Charlotte breaking china whenever she is in... (full context)
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The yard dries out and Lucy, one of Mary’s maids, notices Handful’s writing in the yard. Lucy tells Mary and Handful knows that she... (full context)
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...behind her, whip in hand. Sarah screams, “No,” and Tomfry turns to her hopefully. But Mother taps her cane on the upstairs window and Tomfry turns back to Handful and brings... (full context)
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Charlotte makes a new baby gown for Missus, who is pregnant with yet another child. When Handful comes down to the cellar to... (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 Charlotte is, but Handful has no idea. As soon... (full context)
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Mother goes to comfort Sarah but reaffirms how silly Sarah was to dream of studying law... (full context)
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At the beginning of February, Mother takes to her bed to prepare for the new baby’s birth. Sarah visits her with... (full context)
Part 2: February 1811 – December 1812
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Mother comes in and scolds Sarah for wearing a dress she has worn just two nights... (full context)
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...on Nina. Even distracted by these thoughts, Handful is a better seamstress than her mother. Missus made Handful apprentice seamstress when she was 15. (full context)
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Missus actually allows Charlotte to hire out and make money, softened by a special quilt Charlotte... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...busies herself with renovating the slave infirmary to keep her mind off her absent suitor. Mother chides Sarah for spending so much energy on the infirmary, and only allows Sarah to... (full context)
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...Sarah asks her not to say anything. Sarah helps Handful empty the tub so that Mother will never find out. (full context)
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Sarah turns nineteen and Mother reminds her that she is now marriageable age. Sarah gets fitted for new dresses, the... (full context)
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A week later, Sarah and her sister Mary Jr. attend a parlor concert together. Burke rushes to Sarah’s side, and hands her a... (full context)
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Thomas leaves Sarah with one more apology and the news that Mother commands Sarah to withdraw from society for three weeks as the talk dies down. Sarah... (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 forced back... (full context)
Part 3: October 1818 – November 1820
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...sewing duties completely, no longer helping Sarah with anything. Sarah even gave Handful back to Missus, though Sarah tried to explain to Handful that she would have freed Handful if she... (full context)
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...to Denmark about her mother’s disappearance. Handful fake cries to Sarah for a pass and Missus allows Handful to go twice a week as long as it doesn’t cause any problems. (full context)
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Sarah. Sarah and Nina are called to the drawing room where Mother and Reverend Gadsden are waiting. Nina refused to be confirmed in the Anglican church the... (full context)
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Reverend Gadsden tries to reason with Nina 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.... (full context)
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...kitchen where Aunt-Sister is tending to Handful’s mangled foot. Sarah starts to cry, guilty that Mother was able to be so cruel to Handful because Sarah gave Handful back to Mother—which... (full context)
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A few days later Mother summons Sarah, and Sarah worries that her mother will be replacing Handful now that she... (full context)
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...Handful loves the gift and the fact that she can now get around more easily. Missus gets rid of her aging maid and calls a new girl, Minta, spooking the rest... (full context)
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Handful. Missus calls Handful in to advise her on the elaborate mourning gown she would like Handful... (full context)
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...Philadelphia but decides not to go back Charleston right away. Sarah sends a letter to Mother letting her know that she needs to grieve alone, and Mother’s response accuses Sarah of... (full context)
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Handful. Missus gathers all the family and slaves to read Master Grimké’s will. The goods are dispersed... (full context)
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...return to this house when she can. Christmas comes, but the Grimkés do not celebrate. Missus agrees to have Jonkonnu, a Jamaican holiday celebrated by the slaves, and hand out presents... (full context)
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Missus splits more duties among the remaining slaves, and Handful adds house cleaning to her work.... (full context)
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...a Quaker because the Quakers are reviled in Charleston. As Sarah packs away the letters, Mother comes in and sees the secret stack. Mother says nothing about the letters but asks... (full context)
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...letter, and notices that all of her previous unsent letters are gone. Sarah rushes to Mother’s room, yelling about the offense, waking Nina in the process. At the sight of Nina,... (full context)
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Spring comes, but Sarah gets no better. Mother and Nina try to help, but nothing shakes Sarah’s depression. In May, Thomas arrives and... (full context)
Part 4: September 1821 – July 1822
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Sarah. Sarah stays at Israel’s house just outside of Philadelphia, after months of arguments with Mother about the true piety of following this Voice to live with a widowed man. In... (full context)
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...that Tomfry is no longer there to keep the slaves in check. With Sarah gone, Missus hits the slaves for any mistake and lets the house fall into disrepair. Missus even... (full context)
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...on Handful’s foot from the Work House. The other girls scream, and one even faints. Missus hears about the hubbub and strikes Handful with her cane. Nina is forbidden from having... (full context)
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...Handful thinks of her mother’s constant resistance and fingers the scab on her head that Missus caused last time she caught Handful sneaking out. (full context)
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Sarah. Sarah gets a letter from Nina detailing how terribly Mother has been acting as well as Handful’s new potentially dangerous sneaking out. Nina ends by... (full context)
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Sarah. Sarah comes back to Charleston in full-fledged Quaker garb, much to the chagrin of Mother and the town. Sarah can’t believe that her welcome is an insult about her dress,... (full context)
Part 5: November 1826 – November 1829
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...to visit him, taking advantage of the lack of oversight in the house now that Missus is always busy fighting with Nina. As Handful passes the garden, she notices an old... (full context)
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...is too rough for house work and sings Gullah slave songs too loudly. Handful overhears Missus considering selling Sky in the spring to cover some of her growing expenses and rushes... (full context)
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...plants back to full harvest. The vegetables are so big and bountiful that spring that Missus keeps Sky on for good. Meanwhile, Charlotte does not tell Handful what happened to her... (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... (full context)
Part 6: July 1835 – June 1838
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Handful. Missus’ eldest daughter, who the slaves call Little Missus, now lives at the Grimké house after... (full context)
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...on her grave so that Charlotte’s spirit can return to Africa. Handful steals stationary and Missus’ stamp to sneak the letter past Little Missus, who spies on the slaves more than... (full context)
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Handful. Little Missus sends Handful to get some scotch whiskey, trusting Handful with many errands that she cannot... (full context)
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...as well as Sarah’s words calling her a person under God. The next day, Little Missus is extra kind to Handful as Handful measures Little Missus for a new dress, but... (full context)
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That afternoon, the mayor comes to see Missus. Handful overhears him tell Missus that Sarah and Angelina will no longer be allowed in... (full context)
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...the Grimké sisters who spur women to act against slavery, even receiving a letter from Mother that they will no longer be welcome in Charleston. Theodore Weld continues to advocate for... (full context)
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...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 wanted mended, and notices Charlotte’s quilt. Handful... (full context)
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In the wake of Little Missus’ insult of the story quilt, Handful’s hatred of being a slave crystalizes. Handful tells Sky... (full context)
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...occasion beautiful, though Nina wears a free-labor brown cotton dress instead of a fancy gown. Mother even sends a letter blessing the wedding and calling Sarah her dear daughter. This union... (full context)
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...three weeks ago, Sarah decides to go to Charleston and see if she can convince Mother to have compassion and free Handful before Handful runs. (full context)
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One week later, Handful has an epiphany: she and Sky can use Missus’ old mourning dress to pose as mourning white ladies on a boat. Handful gets Missus’... (full context)
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...her life. Sarah convinces Handful to wait until Sarah has a chance to talk to Mother before she does anything more. Handful is skeptical that Mother will do anything, but agrees... (full context)
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Sarah waits four days before talking to Mother. She knows that she has to approach the matter very delicately if she has any... (full context)
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Mary Jr., Sarah’s older sister, joins the fight about Hetty and Sky, asking why Sarah feels... (full context)
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...Sarah “the best of the Grimkés,” faint praise to Sarah’s ears. Sarah tells Handful that Mother agreed to set Handful and Sky free in her will, but Handful refuses to wait... (full context)
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...Sky act as if nothing special is happening. At nine o’clock, Sarah goes to give Missus one final goodbye, wearing her silver button at her throat. Handful and Sky paint their... (full context)
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Sarah bluffs past Missus’ butler and gets Handful and Sky ready in the carriage. Goodis notices Handful underneath the... (full context)