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.
Belonging and Religion ThemeTracker
Belonging and Religion Quotes in The Invention of Wings
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.
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.
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.
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?
"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.
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.
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."