Sue Monk Kidd's Invention of Wings Literary Analysis Essay

  • Length: 3 pages
  • Sources: 4
  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #51400171

Excerpt from Essay :

Literary Analysis: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd uses symbol and theme in The Invention of Wings to tell the story of Sarah Grimke, her sister Nina and Sarah’s slave Handful, whom Sarah vows to help to freedom over the course of her life. The novel is based on the historical character of Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and activist. To tell the story, Kidd uses the black triangles that Handful’s mother stitches into her quilts to symbolize flight and freedom; likewise, the feathers that Handful and her mother collect to stuff the quilt symbolize the spiritual wings with which one can fly to freedom. Kidd also applies the theme of power in both positive and negative terms: Sarah’s trauma at witnessing the brutality of slavery causes her to develop a stutter, which gives her a degree of powerlessness in terms of speaking her mind; likewise, her youth as a child prevents her from having much power in society. However, she obtains power by way of education: she reads everything in her father’s library (before he realizes this is giving her too much power), and then as an adult she becomes an ardent writer and uses the power of the pen to advocate for abolition. This paper show that the theme of power and the image of the wings work together to show that when power is aligned with a spiritual good like that symbolized by the feathers and the birds in Charlotte’s quilts, real positive social change can be effected.

The symbol of the feather as a literary device serving to bring to mind the need to uplift one’s mind and heart
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to higher things is first provided to the reader when Sarah goes to call Handful’s mother Charlotte, who is stooping over to pick up feathers from the ground. The feathers are used to make comfortable quilts and beds for those who are in power. Sarah only recognizes them as “tidbits she scavenged…small downy feathers” (Kidd 30). However, these tidbits have the ability to soar upward, as the reader next sees when startles Charlotte, who loses the feather, which “fluttered off on the sea wind. It flitted to the top of the high brick wall that enclosed the yard, snagging in the creeping fig” (Kidd 31). The feather symbolizes the spirit that constantly yearns to be free, to climb over the brick walls erected by society (slavery) and the social contracts that prevent the spirit from achieving its aim even when it manages to soar (the creeping fig representing in this sense social mores and doctrines that Sarah must eventually battle as an adult with her pen). Charlotte and Handful are always mindful of the spirit and the desire for freedom, which is symbolized in the quilts that they make with the black triangles—birds that represent the yearning of the slaves who make the comfy things for their masters.

The theme of power is connected to the symbol of the feather. As Campbell points out, Kidd is seeking a way in her books to empower women. For that reason, Kidd contrasts the state of those who have power and those who do not by describing who has the feathers: “the white people on their feather beds, the slaves on their little pallets thin as wafers” (Kidd 140). Yet the fact that Charlotte and Handful collect the feathers that fill the beds shows that the slaves are in touch with the spirit of freedom—and even if they cannot possess, they carry it with them in their intellects and in their hearts and wills:…

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