I’m feeling deviant. It is April and I’m writing about two themes that were celebrated in February (Black History) and March (Woman’s History)!!!! Can folks still be interested in the Abolitionist and the Women’s Rights Movement during other months of the year, like April???? I hope so!
The spark that got my attention was “The Invention of Wings” a novel written by Sue Monk Kidd. In this novel there was a lot of “misbehavior”. People just did not want to fit into the molds created by society. This book includes many examples of how slaves kept their histories and their dignity alive and is juxtaposed with how Sarah Grimke’ quietly moved forward towards her goals and place in the world.
Kidd states that ” she was inspired to write this book from attending “The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago, a show celebrating women’s achievements in Western Civilization. Two of the 999 names were the Grimke’ sisters, Sarah and Angelina, originally from a Charleston Plantation that owned slaves. They were the first female abolition agents and among the earliest major American feminist thinkers. Sarah was the first woman in the United States to write a comprehensive feminist manifesto and Angelina was the first woman to speak before a legislative body. In the 1830’s they were arguably the most famous as well as the most infamous women in America.” They traveled around the country speaking on Abolition of Slavery and Women’s Rights. They encountered much more opposition to their work in the Women’s Rights movement then in their work with abolition. They drew large interested audiences in the northern states to hear them speak about Abolition of Slavery.
Kidd referred to dairies, letters, speeches, newspaper accounts and biographical material when creating this novel. She made the characters come to life through her interpretation of the historical materials and Kidd’s introduction to a rich and completely fictionalized character in Hetty Handful, her family and other slaves living on the plantation.
Hetty’s story describes life as a slave in Charleston. Her family roots date back to Africa and the rich tradition of story telling. Hetty’s mother tells stories throughout the book in the form of her actions and her quilts. The black triangles are symbols of wings used in quilts. “Wings give flight to folks who need to believe in something larger then themselves. A magical thinking that allows them to cope.”
Hetty states, ” I pulled the quilt round her shoulders. High in the limbs the crows cawed, the doves moaned the wind bent down to lift her to the sky. ” This is the description when Hetty saw her Mama take flight, as she passed from this world.
The symbol of flight also shows up in the lives of the southern belles, born and raised on the Charleston Plantation. Two of the Grimke’ sisters found the ownership of slaves and the restraints surrounding the lives of women in general and themselves in particular to be unacceptable. When possible they took flight and found a voice and audience for their beliefs.
“Nina spread first. I kindled them. Right there I saw how many the fates had been. Nina was one wing-I was the other.” quoted from Sarah Grimke’
This book offers a rich and well written story. I enjoyed reading about the lives lived within the plantation, both of the family and the slaves that made their lives possible. There are many examples of horrible use of power, but it was balanced with hope for the future. Knowing that the story was based on historic facts was both fascinating and frightening as well. We still face daily struggles between folks who hold power and the rest of the world, but I am grateful that this country has made some progress towards equality.