The Invention of Wings

Red Thread Symbol Icon

Handful first steals red thread from Sarah as a young girl, in a small rebellion against the many limits on her life as a slave. From then on, red thread becomes the symbol of the revolutionary spirit of the slaves. Handful continues to steal it, evoking the way that every moment of rebellion must be “stolen” from the white masters who own the slaves. Handful also makes the red thread stand for the literal spirits of the slaves, by wrapping a tree in red thread to make it a “spirit tree” that will keep her soul and her mother’s soul safe no matter what harm comes to their bodies. Thread also allows Charlotte and Handful to sew, working on their quilts as their method of telling their own stories. With the red thread, Charlotte and Handful can control some aspect of their lives in a world that otherwise takes all agency away from slaves. The bright red color hints towards the incredible passion and vibrancy of Handful and Charlotte’s spirits.

By the end of the novel, Handful uses red thread to remind herself that slaves are every bit as human and worthy as white people. She marks Denmark Vesey’s grave with red thread after he is executed for planning a slave revolt. When Sarah comes back for the last time to help Handful and Sky escape North, Handful compares Sarah’s hair to red thread as a way to show that Sarah truly understands the spirit and equality of slaves.

Red Thread Quotes in The Invention of Wings

The The Invention of Wings quotes below all refer to the symbol of Red Thread. 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 4 Quotes

The edict from the judges said we couldn't cry, or say his name, or do anything to mark him, but I took a little piece of red thread from my neck pouch and tied it round one of the twigs on a low, dipping branch to mark the spot. Then I cried my tears and said his name.

Related Characters: Hetty Handful Grimké (speaker), Denmark Vesey
Related Symbols: Red Thread
Page Number: 261
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

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:

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.

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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Red Thread Symbol Timeline in The Invention of Wings

The timeline below shows where the symbol Red Thread 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
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...Glancing around to make sure no other slaves see her, Handful slips a spool of red thread into her pocket. (full context)
Friendship Theme Icon
Voice and Silence Theme Icon
Belonging and Religion Theme Icon
...their applique and their spirit tree. Hetty even admits that she stole a spool of red thread and that her real name is Handful. (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
Handful. Handful wraps red thread around a tree in the yard to make a spirit tree. Handful and Charlotte give... (full context)
Part 3: October 1818 – November 1820
Friendship Theme Icon
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Theme Icon
...the breakfast table to go talk to her in the yard as Handful winds fresh red thread around a tree. Sarah apologizes, and Handful thanks her for leaving the books. Nina asks... (full context)
Part 4: September 1821 – July 1822
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
...grave, but Handful creeps after them and marks the grave with a stick strung with red thread . (full context)
Part 6: July 1835 – June 1838
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
...not the same timid girl she was, and says that her hair is shining like red thread . Handful goes out to the spirit tree one last time to gather clippings to... (full context)