The Invention of Wings

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Themes and Colors
Friendship Theme Icon
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.
Friendship Theme Icon

The central focus of the novel is the friendship between Sarah and Handful, despite the different worlds these two women come from. As they grow older, Sarah and Handful show each other sides of life that each would never have seen in the slaveholding South – fostering in both the unshakeable belief that white and black people are equals and all deserve freedom. Yet, beneficial as this connection is, Kidd does not pretend that their friendship is easy or uncomplicated. Both Sarah and Handful must overcome prejudices—like Sarah’s guilt as a slave owner and Handful’s pain as a slave—in order to truly support and care for one another. As the years go by, Sarah and Handful endure seasons of distance from and sacrifice for each other, while never losing sight of the great worth of their friendship.

Kidd uses this friendship to showcase the way that personal relationships can lead to the change and growth of policies and laws that help all people. Sarah and Handful use their friendship as evidence that peace and equality between white people and black people is both possible and necessary. The two women bring this knowledge to other important friendships, such as Sarah’s bond with her younger sister Nina or the Quaker minister Lucretia Mott, or Handful’s alliance with Denmark Vesey or her own half-sister, Sky. Together, Sarah and Handful build a community that works to free the slaves and create a world where their complex friendship would not need to be hidden.

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Friendship ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Invention of Wings related to the theme of Friendship.
Part 1 Quotes

People say love gets fouled by a difference big as ours. I didn’t know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt. I didn’t know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe. She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It never was a simple thing. That day, our hearts were Pure as they ever would get.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Sarah Grimké
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Handful acknowledges the complex levels of the friendship she shares with Sarah. Sarah legally owns Handful, introducing a power dynamic where Handful can never be Sarah’s equal and they cannot have a traditional friendship with degrees of give and take. Sarah might be motivated by guilt to treat Handful better than she would really like to, as offering kindness to Handful allows Sarah to assuage her conscience at her family’s part in the horrific lives that slaves often lead. And for her part, Handful might be staying close to Sarah for the advantages that Sarah can give Handful in the house, rather than real affection for Sarah. Sarah’s position as a white woman can shield Handful from the worst punishments of the other Grimké women and can give Handful access to beautiful things that Handful would never otherwise have seen. Though Handful knows there are mitigating factors in the bond between herself and Sarah, she still believes that there is a pure foundation to their relationship. As children, Sarah and Handful can connect on a “pure” level that they will never be able to reach as adult women.


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…I remembered the oath I’d made to help Hetty become free, a promise impossible to fulfill and one that continued to cause me no end of guilt, but it suddenly rang clear in me for the first time: Charlotte said I should help Hetty get free any way I could. Turning, I watched her carry the lantern to my dressing table, light swilling about her feet. When she set it down, I said, “Hetty, shall I teach you to read?”

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker), Hetty Handful Grimké, Charlotte Grimké (Mauma)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarah previously promised Handful’s mother, Charlotte, that she would help free Handful someday, even though her first attempt to emancipate Handful failed. Sarah remembers this oath many times as she grows closer to Handful, but is unable to think of anything to help Handful until she opens up her own definition of “freedom.” Sarah still cannot legally or physically free Handful from a life of slavery, yet Sarah can give Handful the necessary tools to free Handful’s mind from slavery-imposed ignorance. Sarah knows that teaching any slave to read is a rebellious act, having already been chastised for teaching the slave children the alphabet at Sunday School. The ability to read (and write) give slaves the opportunity to broaden their world beyond the plantation or house where they work, and also negates the argument that slaves deserve their position because they are not as intelligent as their white masters. Teaching Handful to read is one step closer to helping Handful free herself, just as important an act in the long run as freeing Handful in body alone.

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.

Part 6 Quotes

She was braver than I, she always had been. I cared too much for the opinion of others, she cared not a whit. I was cautious, she was brash. I was a thinker, she was a doer. I kindled fires, she spread them. And right then and ever after, I saw how cunning the Fates had been. Nina was one wing, I was the other.

Related Characters: Sarah Grimké (speaker), Angelina (Nina) Grimké
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:

When Nina is caught writing inflammatory letters for the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, Sarah and Nina are told to recant their radical views in order to remain a part of the Quaker meeting in Philadelphia. With Sarah’s support, Nina refuses to take back the letter. Sarah explains how well the two sisters work together, complementing each other’s strengths as activists. Sarah is the brain, cautiously thinking through every plan. Nina is the heart, passionately pursuing abolition at all costs. Sarah furthermore compares them to two wings on a bird, bringing in the bird imagery that Handful has used throughout the book to stand for freedom. Sarah and Nina too need to find freedom, as women who are told to keep their opinions to themselves in order to preserve their place in polite society. Nina, braver (or at least less cautious) than Sarah, shows how each subsequent generation can work towards a more progressive and equal society. Together, Nina and Sarah can fly above those critics, and hopefully help slaves gain wings as well – that is, help the slaves reach freedom and equality.

I watched her fold her few belongings on top of the quilt and thought, This ain't the same Sarah who left here. She had a firm look in her eye and her voice didn’t dither and hesitate like it used to. She'd been boiled down to a good, strong broth.
Her hair was loose, dangling along the sides of her neck like silk vines, like the red threads I used to tie round the spirit tree, and I saw it then, the strange thing between us. Not love, is it? What is it? It was always there, a roundness in my chest, a pin cushion. It pricked and fastened.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Sarah Grimké
Related Symbols: Red Thread
Page Number: 355
Explanation and Analysis:

When Handful decides that she and her half-sister, Sky, are running from the Grimké house for good, Sarah comes back to do whatever she can to make sure that Handful and Sky reach the North safely. Handful notices a marked difference in Sarah, now that Sarah has finally devoted her life to her passion for ending slavery. As a young child, the horror of slavery and her repressed feelings about it caused Sarah such psychological trauma that she stuttered and stammered as she tried to speak. Now Sarah can speak smoothly and clearly because she is honest and forthright about fighting for abolition. Speaking against slavery empowers Sarah just as it also helps the slaves that she advocates for.

Handful also compares Sarah’s hair to red thread, which has symbolized Handful’s strong spirit and desire for freedom. Now, the reference to red thread acknowledges how Sarah too sees Handful’s incredible inner courage and will also fight to help those who are still enslaved reach freedom. At this moment, the bond between the two women is clearer than ever. Sarah and Handful have a deep, complex friendship that forms a solid foundation underneath all of the trials and troubles that they face throughout their lives. Like the stitches in the quilt that Handful sews, Sarah and Handful are bonded together in a way that slavery and injustice cannot break.

Sarah put her hand on my arm and left it there while the city heaved away. It was the last square on the quilt… I thought of mauma then, how her bones would always be here. People say don’t look back, the past is past, but I would always look back… When we left the mouth of the harbor, the wind swelled and the veils round us flapped, and I heard the blackbird wings. We rode onto the shining water onto the far distance.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Sarah Grimké, Charlotte Grimké (Mauma)
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles
Page Number: 359
Explanation and Analysis:

As the boat pulls away from the Charleston harbor and takes Handful and Sky towards freedom in the North, Sarah and Handful stand together at the rail and watch the city fade into the distance. Handful calls this moment “the last square of the quilt,” imagining that her journey out of slavery completes her mother’s story quilt. The last square of the quilt shows Handful and Sarah together, able to interact as equals at last. Throughout Charlotte’s life, Charlotte used her quilt to take back her life story from the white masters who try to silence Charlotte’s voice. Handful finally escapes a life of slavery and achieves Charlotte’s dream of a life where her voice is just as strong as anyone else’s voice. Handful keeps Charlotte’s legacy in mind as she moves into her future, keeping her mother’s memory alive. The book ends with the same image of blackbird wings from the blackbird legend in the first chapter. As Charlotte said in the beginning, the slaves did find their wings once again.