The Invention of Wings

Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles Symbol Analysis

Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles Symbol Icon

Charlotte is the seamstress for the Grimkés, but she also uses sewing to assert her own autonomy. Charlotte sews a story quilt that tells the experiences of her life as a slave. This quilt gives Charlotte a voice in a world that constantly tries to silence slaves and women (and particularly female slaves). Using this quilt, Charlotte can take back some agency to share her specific perspective no matter what other people may say about the proper place of Black women. The quilt gives Charlotte hope to keep fighting for a better life, and later gives Handful the same inspiration when Charlotte disappears. Handful finishes the quilt for her mother, completing the story that Charlotte wants to tell that teaches Handful about her own background and history. Handful takes strength from the quilt to continue rebelling against slavery the way her mother did.

A prominent feature of the quilt’s design is black triangles, which stand for blackbird wings. The wings symbolize Charlotte and Handful’s desire to fly free from the boundaries of their lives as slaves. The imagery of freedom as blackbird wings follows through the novel at each turn when Handful confronts the limits placed on her life. Handful covers the quilt she sews for Denmark Vesey with black triangle wings to symbolize the hope she places in the slave revolt to reach freedom. Yet the revolt fails and Handful imagines that the birds have died the next time she sees the quilt. Still, Handful keeps her hope for freedom alive and continues to sew black triangles on quilts, adding more to her mother’s quilt when Charlotte returns. Though Charlotte passes on before reaching freedom, Handful and Sky take Charlotte’s quilt, with all the black triangles on it, to the North when they escape to freedom.

Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles Quotes in The Invention of Wings

The The Invention of Wings quotes below all refer to the symbol of Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of The Invention of Wings published in 2015.
Part 2 Quotes

There were ten good-size squares. I spread them out cross the frame. The colors she'd used outdid God and the rainbow. Reds, purples, oranges, pinks, yellows, blacks, and browns. They hit my ears more than my eyes. They sounded like she was laughing and crying in the same breath. It was the finest work ever to come from mauma’s hands.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Charlotte Grimké (Mauma)
Related Symbols: Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Part 6 Quotes

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles Symbol Timeline in The Invention of Wings

The timeline below shows where the symbol Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles 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
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
Instead, Charlotte spends her rare spare time sewing quilts with black triangles that stand for wings. Handful helps Charlotte by finding feathers and other... (full context)
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...the story of how their ancestors had wings. The next morning, Mauma gives Handful a quilt and tells Handful that she must now sleep outside Sarah’s door. Mauma warns Handful never... (full context)
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...she was separated from her family and the stars fell from the sky. Grandmother made quilts using the applique of the Fon people, with black triangles for blackbird wings. (full context)
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
...goes on, telling how Grandmother worked the fields and taught Charlotte everything she knew about quilts. Charlotte became the family’s seamstress and Grandmother started up a “spirit tree,” wrapping a tree... (full context)
Friendship Theme Icon
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
...chance she gets. Handful learns how to sew and helps her mother sew a new quilt covered in black triangles. Charlotte rebels in small ways whenever she can, botching sleeves or... (full context)
Part 2: February 1811 – December 1812
Friendship Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful. Handful and Charlotte begin to sew a story quilt, sitting under the spirit tree. Handful worries over Sarah strutting through society and mourns the... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Charlotte sews figures into the quilt squares, promising to explain the whole story to Handful once the quilt is finished. Handful... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...around the cellar room at night, watching the sky and sewing more of her story quilt. Handful can’t wait to see the finished product, but pretends to sleep as her mother... (full context)
Friendship Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
As Charlotte works on the quilt, Handful thinks about Sarah and Burke, unable to imagine Sarah marrying a man who never... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...night, Handful finds the key to open Charlotte’s trunk. She takes out the bundle of quilt squares and lays the squares out, marveling at all of the vibrant colors. Handful can... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
...proudly next to the number 1884, something that means little to Handful. Handful pieces the quilt together and spends the whole day sewing, stuffing, and finishing the quilt. Handful cuts all... (full context)
Part 3: October 1818 – November 1820
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful goes to her cellar room and lies on the story quilt, thinking about the way that Charlotte told her story. Handful has taken over sewing duties... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
...asks Denmark if he knows what happened to Charlotte. Handful then unwraps her mother’s story quilt for Denmark. Denmark sees himself on the last square and tells Handful that 1884 were... (full context)
Part 4: September 1821 – July 1822
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful gets busy making a quilt for Denmark to hide his lists, covering the front with red and black triangles for... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
...for safety, then goes to Denmark’s house. He has not been arrested, and even the quilt with the lists is untouched, though Handful thinks the black triangles now look like a... (full context)
Part 5: November 1826 – November 1829
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful shows Charlotte the story quilt that she finished and Charlotte is pleased that Handful got the order of all the... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
...away, but begins to sew more squares of her story to add to the story quilt. (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful. Handful works on the sewing for Missus while Charlotte sews nothing but her story quilt. As they work, Charlotte tells more about life in the plantation and the many times... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...find it. Charlotte laughs and tells Handful to look inside the lining of the first quilt they made together, the one covered in red and black triangles. All the money is... (full context)
Part 6: July 1835 – June 1838
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
...is weak and unable to do much other than go over and over her story quilt. Handful listens as best she can as she sews all the new clothes and linens... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
One afternoon, Charlotte shuffles out to the spirit tree with the story quilt wrapped around her shoulders. Handful rushes out to her, and Charlotte tells Handful that she... (full context)
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Handful. One Sunday in spring, Handful rolls down the quilt frame and checks on the stash of money in the black triangle quilt, then spreads... (full context)
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
In the wake of Little Missus’ insult of the story quilt, Handful’s hatred of being a slave crystalizes. Handful tells Sky that they are leaving, soon.... (full context)
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
...Sky comments that the rabbit is outfoxing the fox. Sarah agrees to hide Charlotte’s story quilt in her trunk. Handful notices that Sarah is not the same timid girl she was,... (full context)
Friendship Theme Icon
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Equality and Intersectionality Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...into the distance, and Handful pictures the scene as the last square on her mother’s quilt. Handful hears blackbird wings flapping as the boat sails off into the open water. (full context)