The Invention of Wings spends significant attention on the true horrors of the everyday life of a slave, exploring the ways that slavery harmed black people, as well as the lesser known (and less extreme) injuries that the institution of slavery caused to white people in the American South. Through a focus on the experience of urban Southern slaves, Kidd gives attention to the unconscionable pain that slaves faced beyond the evils of plantation slavery (the kind usually depicted in historical fiction). Handful and her family undergo intense physical and emotional pain at the hands of their white masters, scenes of trauma that force harsh examination of these injuries as the first step towards acknowledging the historical pain of slavery and giving an opportunity to begin healing these wounds. Even those who benefit economically from slavery, such as the slave-owning Grimké family, suffer the psychological damage of slavery, as the practice sows distrust, apathy, bitterness, and weakness of mind and body in the members of the Grimké family.
With all of the evils of slavery on display, Kidd turns to the numerous ways that slaves resisted their treatment, from civil disobedience to active violence. Slaves such as Handful, Charlotte, or Rosetta feign unintelligence or disability to avoid certain labor, reclaiming their time and their personhood away from their masters. Most slaves even have an alternate name that denotes their true identity rather than the identity that the masters give them. Apart from this everyday resistance, Handful also feels called to join the violent rebellion planned by Denmark Vesey, a movement that gave many slaves hope of freedom despite the deplorable circumstances of their lives. White people too, of course, must resist slavery not just because they are the ones responsible but also as a way to keep their own principles and self-worth intact, as shown by Sarah’s depression when faced with the injustice of every slave’s life before she begins to actively protest slavery. Kidd brings to light not just the terrible effects of slavery on everyone involved, but also the importance of resisting and overcoming slavery in order for all people to achieve and maintain self-respect.
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance ThemeTracker
The Evils of Slavery and the Necessity of Resistance Quotes in The Invention of Wings
I was shrewd like mauma. Even at ten I knew this story about people flying was pure malarkey. We weren’t some special people who lost our magic. We were slave people, and we weren't going anywhere. It was later I saw what she meant. We could fly all right, but it wasn't any magic to it.
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.
Night after night, I endured these grand affairs alone, revolted by what objets d’art we were and contemptuous of how hollow society had turned out to be, and yet inexplicably, I was filled with a yearning to be one of them.
The slaves moved among us... without being seen, and I thought how odd it was that no one ever spoke of them, how the word slavery was not suitable in polite company, but referred to as the peculiar institution.
Goods and chattel… We were like the gold leaf mirror and the horse saddle. Not full-fledge people. I didn’t believe this, never had believed it a day of my life, but if you listen to white folks long enough, some sad, beat-down part of you starts to wonder. All that pride about what we were worth left me then. For the first time, I felt the hurt and shame of just being who I was.
… When mauma saw my raw eyes, she said, “Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth."
She'd immersed herself in forbidden privileges, yes, but mostly in the belief she was worthy of those privileges. What she'd done was not a revolt, it was a baptism.
I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I'd lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I'd grown comfortable with the particulars of evil.
"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.
I drew myself up, glaring at their angry faces. “…What would you have the slaves do?” I cried. “… If we don’t free them, they will free themselves by whatever means.”
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.
Mauma's back… She has scars and a full head of white hair and looks old as Methusal, but she's the same inside. I nurse her day and night. She brought my sister with her named Sky. I know that's some name. It comes from mauma and her longings. She always said one day we'd fly like blackbirds.
“Course, you’re tired. You worked hard your whole life. That’s all you did was work.”
“Don’t you remember me for that. Don’t you remember I’m a slave and work hard. When you think of me, you say, she never did belong to those people. She never belong to nobody but herself.”
We'd set down every argument the South made for slavery and refuted them all. I didn’t stutter on the page. It was an ecstasy to write without hesitation, to write everything hidden inside of me, to write with the sort of audacity I wouldn’t have found in person.
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.