The Invention of Wings

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Themes and Colors
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Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Invention of Wings, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon

As The Invention of Wings follows Sarah and Handful’s lives, it also explores the places that these two women search for belonging. Sarah’s journey for true belonging in adulthood closely follows her search for a religion that upholds all of her principles and values. Rejecting the Anglican beliefs of her family, Sarah follows first Presbyterianism and finally Quakerism as she attempts to find a religion that satisfies her spiritual needs as well as her belief that religion must do more than uphold social structures that harm slaves and women. Yet though Sarah identifies strongly with Quaker theology, she cannot fully belong to this community without rejecting her own Southern heritage or her feminist concerns. Eventually, Sarah learns that a religious community cannot (and perhaps should not) overshadow one’s own personal faith. For her part, Handful finds spiritual belonging in the Fon traditions of her mother, rather than the Anglican church of her white masters or African churches that offers freedom to slaves. By staying true to her roots, Handful too finds a personal faith that is more important than belonging to a faith community.

Beyond religious belonging, Kidd also considers belonging in terms of family and social class. Handful is nominally a member of the Grimké family, though as a slave she receives none of the social benefits that the Grimké name carries. Sarah, though a blood member of the Grimké family, feels incredibly out of place in the high-class planter society that the Grimkés are a part of. Both Handful and Sarah must search outside the definitions of blood family in order to find their own families to belong to. Handful forms a family with the other slaves at the Grimké house after her mother disappears, and then accepts her half-sister Sky and Sky’s father Denmark Vesey as full members of her own family when her mother returns. Sarah forms a small family within the Grimké line with her sister and godchild, Nina, to the point where Nina calls Sarah “mother” for much of Nina’s childhood. Sarah must accept that, though she will always feel an affinity for Charleston as her birth place, she and Nina truly belong in the North where they can fight freely for abolition. Meanwhile, Handful and Sky too leave their slave community in order to find a place in the North where they can live as free black citizens. The family that each woman has formed as the novel developed helps them belong securely in these new homes.

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Belonging and Religion ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Belonging and Religion appears in each Part of The Invention of Wings. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Belonging and Religion Quotes in The Invention of Wings

Below you will find the important quotes in The Invention of Wings related to the theme of Belonging and Religion.
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 2 Quotes

With the reverend praying a long, earnest prayer for our souls, I took my leap. I vowed I would not return to society. I would not marry, I would never marry. Let them say what they would, I would give myself to God.

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

After years of struggling to fit in to society’s rules for proper womanly behavior, Sarah is finally burned too badly by a fake engagement with Burke Williams. After Burke’s lies are revealed, Sarah retreats from the society parties where she was meant to find a husband. Her mother and sisters encourage her to continue going to these events, but Sarah chooses to spend her time out of the house at religious lectures and readings. Sarah here makes the momentous decision that she will reject the societal role of women completely. Sarah has turned an important corner, as rejecting marriage is already a scandalous decision for a woman of her stature. Becoming a spinster is a failure in her family’s eyes, but it is a huge victory for Sarah personally. Though she is not yet arguing for complete equality for women, she now sees how society’s boundaries for women can be avoided. Sarah can no longer look for belonging in her family or the other rich men and women of Charleston. Sarah must create a new place where she belongs.

Part 3 Quotes

The axe didn’t fall on me. Didn't my Lord deliver Handful? The axe didn’t fall on Goodis either, and I felt surprise over the relief this caused me. But there was no God in any of it. Nothing but the four of them standing there, and Mariah, still on her knees. I couldn't bear to look at Tomfry with the hat squashed under his arm. Prince and Eli, studying the ground. Binah, holding her paper fan, staring at Phoebe. A daughter she'd never see again.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Goodis, Binah, Phoebe
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

After the death of Master Grimké, some of the slaves are sold as per the directions in Master Grimké’s will. Handful describes the feelings of relief she has that she was not sold, mixed with the heartache that she feels for the other slaves that are being sent from their home. The slaves are treated in some ways as “part of the family,” as they are given the Grimké name and spend every day contributing to the Grimké household. Even more than that, the slaves that belong to a particular white family form a sort of family with each other. Handful does not particularly like some of her fellow slaves, but still can’t bear to think of Tomfry or Mariah leaving for good. Even the slaves’ blood families are subject to the whims of their masters. Mother and daughter, like Binah and Phoebe, can be separated for life with no way to fight against this cruelty. Handful is aware of these risks, especially after the disappearance of her own mother, yet she cannot stop herself from growing close to Goodis. Their friendship is a source of comfort to Handful, yet is edged with pain at the idea that Goodis could be taken from her at any moment. This moment highlight another source of pain for slaves, as well as the importance of belonging to a family.

How does one know the voice is God's? I believed the voice bidding me to go north belonged to him, though perhaps what I really heard that day was my own impulse to freedom. Perhaps it was my own voice. Does it matter?

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker)
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarah’s religious fervor and her focus on the beliefs of the Quaker religion eventually lead her to hear a “Voice” telling her to “Go North,” despite the impracticality of doing so as an unmarried woman. Sarah at first wrestles with this pronouncement, uncertain if she should take on the risk and the scandal involved in traveling alone. Yet the more she thinks about it, the more she decides that this is something that she must do no matter the potential consequences. Sarah has spent significant portions of her life searching for a religion that she can belong to, rejecting the Anglican faith of her family because of the Anglican support of slavery, and rejecting the Presbyterian faith for its limits on women. Quakerism’s radical ties to abolition and the possibility of female ministers calls deeply to Sarah. Yet in the end, Kidd asserts that Sarah does not need to find a religion that fits her beliefs—Sarah instead just needs to find the strength to follow her own principles and passions. This voice telling her to go north might be God’s or it might be Sarah’s own subconscious. Either way, Sarah has to follow her heart in order to find a fulfilling life and fight for her principles.

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.

Part 5 Quotes

When autumn came, Lucretia and I attended the women’s meeting at Arch Street where we found ourselves standing in a crowded vestibule beside Jane Bettleman, who glared pointedly at the fleur de lis button I'd sewed at the throat of my gray dress. Granted, the button was ornate and expensive, and it was large, the size of a brooch. I'd freshly polished the silver, so there in the bright-lit atrium, it was shining like a small sun.

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker), Lucretia Mott, Jane Bettleman
Related Symbols: Sarah’s Silver Button
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

As Sarah works toward becoming a Quaker minister, she begins to wear her silver button publically despite the Quaker distaste for flashy dress and signs of opulent material wealth. It calls back to Sarah’s childhood as a rich, slave holder’s daughter – a past that keeps Sarah from belonging completely to her new Quaker community. No matter how committed Sarah is to the principles of the Quaker faith, there will still be people who question her loyalty to the Quakers on the grounds of her appearance. While it would be easier for Sarah to fit into this community and abide by their standards, Sarah refuses to be cowed by other’s judgment. Sarah stays true to herself and her principles, polishing the button until it shines.

Though Sarah’s button upsets other Quakers, it is actually the biggest symbol of Sarah’s Quaker faith. As a young girl, Sarah decided to use the silver button as a symbol of her desire to become a jurist and work to legally end slavery. After a career in law is proven to impossible for a woman, Sarah becomes a Quaker in order to fight against slavery. Sarah’s position as a female minister is one of the few places that women could actually speak out publically. Sarah’s button is a proud symbol of the real actions that Sarah can finally take towards convincing more people to the abolitionist cause and improving the lives of slaves.

Part 6 Quotes

Small red wafers splotched along Mary's neck. "God has ordained that we take care of them," she said, flustered now, spluttering.
I took a step toward her, my outrage breaking open. "You speak as if God was white and Southern! As if we somehow owned his image. You speak like a fool. The Negro is not some other kind of creature than we are. Whiteness is not sacred, Mary! It can’t go on defining everything."

Related Characters: Mary Grimké (Little Missus / Mary Jr.) (speaker), Sarah Grimké
Page Number: 351
Explanation and Analysis:

When Sarah returns to ask Mother for Handful and Sky’s freedom, Mary Jr. takes offense at Sarah’s argument that slavery is wrong. The Anglican religion argues that slaves are naturally inferior to white people, and that it is the duty of all good Christians to “take care” of the slaves for their own good. Sarah exposes this rhetoric for what it is: a justification of oppression that allows white people to continue exploiting the labor and lives of black people while maintaining their own sense of innocence and purity. Sarah’s vehement denial that God is white and Southern echoes Handful’s prayer to the “colored God” earlier in the novel. Handful saw God as white because the only contact with religion she had was the Anglican faith. Sarah now has experience the Quaker beliefs, learning that God is much larger than simply the vision of God that supports the white agenda in the South. Sarah, the most audacious she has ever been, opposes the idea that there is any qualitative difference between white people and black people and that white skin is not the ultimate sign of goodness. Sarah has been working towards speaking out for this radical equality throughout the entire novel, and she finally has the chance to do real good for the slaves of her family by helping Handful and Sky no matter what her mother or sister say.