The Invention of Wings


Sue Monk Kidd

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The Invention of Wings Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd grew up in Sylvester, Georgia. She graduated from Texas Christian University with a B.S. in Nursing and practiced as a nurse into her thirties. Kidd then began to take writing courses at Emory University and Anderson College, then published in the Christian magazine Guideposts and wrote three books regarding her spiritual journey. Kidd’s first novel, The Secret Life of Bees (2002), focuses on life in the South during the Civil Rights Era and became a literary sensation, spending more than two years on the New York Times Bestseller list. The Invention of Wings returns to Charleston, Kidd’s hometown for many years, to examine racial relations in the Antebellum South. Kidd now lives in southwest Florida with her husband and serves on the Writer’s Council of Poets & Writers, Inc.
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Historical Context of The Invention of Wings

Toward the end of the antebellum years in the South, activists began touring the country advocating for abolition to free the slaves. This movement gave rise to women like Sarah and Angelina Grimké, who wrote passionate pamphlets and rousing speeches in defense of the essential human rights of slaves. These efforts soon turned to the issue of gender equality as backlash to the visibility of women in the abolition movement rose. William Lloyd Garrison published a newspaper called The Liberator that published letters and treatises advocating freedom for the slaves. In the novel, Sarah becomes a Quaker minister in order to better speak out against slavery. The Quaker religion became synonymous with the abolitionist cause, as many Quakers formed part of the Underground Railroad – safe houses that helped escaped slaves reach freedom in the North. The slave revolt in Charleston that Handful joins in was also a real event, planned by the actual Denmark Vesey in Charleston in 1822, as slaves took inspiration from the successful Haitian rebellion of 1803 that liberated Haitian slaves from their masters through intense bloodshed. Revolts like this one gained support from slaves in protest against their treatment, though almost all were either ended before they began or failed in execution. These efforts, both peaceful and violent, continued until the Civil War in 1861 that ended slavery in America for good, though the fight for true equality between the races is in many senses still on-going today.

Other Books Related to The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings is a work of Historical Fiction that details daily life in a specific time and place as it explores sexism and racism in the American South, much like works such as The Help by Kathryn Stockett (also another white author writing, somewhat controversially, in the voice of a black character). It also encompasses years of growth and historical change similar to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr or The Blue Door by Ann Rinaldi. With its focus on a powerful female friendship complicated by the disparate circumstances of the two women, The Invention of Wings also is similar to works like My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante or Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
Key Facts about The Invention of Wings
  • Full Title: The Invention of Wings
  • When Published: January 7, 2014
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: Charleston, South Carolina 1803-1838
  • Climax: Sarah returns to her Charleston home, despite the ban due to her abolitionist pamphlets, and manages to sneak her former maid, Handful, to safety in the North.
  • Antagonist: Oppression in American Society
  • Point of View: First person limited, from the perspectives of Sarah and Handful

Extra Credit for The Invention of Wings

Inspiration. Kidd first learned of the historical figures Sarah and Angelina Grimké at an exhibit of Judy Chicago’s artwork called “Dinner Party” that celebrated women’s contribution to history. Kidd could not believe that she had never heard of these sisters from Charleston, though she had lived in the South Carolina city for many years, and decided to dedicate a book to the Grimké contribution to the abolitionist and women’s rights movements.

Recurring Concepts. The Invention of Wings deals with the same themes as Kidd’s first best-seller The Secret Life of Bees – racial dynamics and feminism in the American South. Kidd has said in interviews that she feels constantly led back to these issues after her childhood in Georgia during the Civil Rights Era.