The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a fictional story loosely based upon the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke. They were born into a wealthy plantation family in Charleston South Carolina in the early 1800’s. The Grimke family, like many of that time and place owned slaves. Sarah and Angelina abhorred the institution and became amongst the most famous, or infamous, abolitionists of the times. They became the front for the movement, primarily writing pamphlets and speaking to women’s groups. When men began to attend the public speaking events, the abolitionist movement was attacked for involving women. As a result, the movement itself was split in two due to gender bias. So Sarah and Angelina became early advocates for equal rights for women.
It is an excellent book, well written, and portraying a life for slaves that was horrific, and a life for women that was disheartening at best. Sarah loves to read books from her father’s library. She is well educated and has decided she wants to be a lawyer. Her dad, and the community refuse to allow her to pursue a professional career. And when they discover that she’s taught a slave nicknamed Handful, to read, they take all but one book away from her, depriving her of her favorite pastime.
Handful lives a torturous life. Maybe not the worse by standards of the times, but certainly that of a slave. At one point she decides to attend a newly founded all black church. The white community decides to shut it down, having all the attendees arrested. The owners of the arrested slaves are offered the chance to pay a fine to free their property. Handful’s owner, Sarah’s mother, refuses to pay. As a result, Handful is forced to labor in a prison where her foot is mangled.
Sarah is gripped with shame for not having the ability to free Handful. And Handful is gripped with cynicism that white society is so dismissive of fellow human beings. In the midst of their different races, they become friends, both horrified by the institution of slavery.