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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd



The_Invention_of_Wings Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. Read more . . .

We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

(Penguin Random House, published January 7, 2014)

Book Club Party Ideas

Decorations

In The Invention of Wings several characters kept certain objects close as a reminder of a significant event or as a talisman.  Hetty wore a neck pouch filled with such items.  I made Hetty’s neck pouch filled with acorn, twigs and leaves from the Spirit Tree and other items Hetty collected – the fleur di lis button from Sarah’s blue dress worn on the day Hetty was given to Sarah, and red thread used to wrap around the Spirit Tree.

spirit_bag (1)


Book Club Menu

Eleven year old Sarah was served a plate of sausage, shrimp and grit cakes when she ended her three day protest against owning Hetty.

Charleston Shrimp and Grits Cakes

Grits_Cake_and_Shrimp-med

Southern Cheese Puffs

Cheese_Puffs-med

I was just dying to use my little blackbird pie vent for this post, and blueberries were in season, so I whipped up a Berry Pie .

Berry_Pie

Spiced Blackbird Cookies

Blackbird_Cookies]


Book Club Resources

Reviews

  • “A powerful story of rebellion and heroism. . .The remarkable courage and hope found in The Invention of Wings is a reminder that we all have those wings – and tells us a lot more about how we got them.” – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • “Kidd has managed to avoid both condescension and cliché, creating an unforgettable character in the slave Handful, the emotional core of her utterly engaging third novel.” – The Boston Globe
  • “If this isn’t an American classic-to-be, I don’t know what is. . .this book is as close to perfect as any I’ve ever read.” – The Dallas Morning News
  • “Kidd has done a marvelous job of capturing two special and vibrant voices. . . I can’t recall reading a book about slavery that presented in such vivid and heartbreaking detail just what the daily life and labor felt like.” – The Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • “Exhilarating. . .powerful. . .By humanizing these formidable women, The Invention of Wings furthers our essential understanding of what has happened among us as Americans – and why it still matters.” – The Washington Post

Discussion

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.
1. The title The Invention of Wings was one of the first inspirations that came to Sue Monk Kidd as she began the novel. Why is the title an apt one for Kidd’s novel? What are some of the ways that the author uses the imagery and symbolism of birds, wings, and flight?

2. What were the qualities in Handful that you most admired? As you read the novel, could you imagine yourself in her situation? How did Handful continue her relentless pursuit of self and freedom in the face of such a brutal system?

3. After laying aside her aspirations to become a lawyer, Sarah remarks that the Graveyard of Failed Hopes is “an all-female establishment.” What makes her say so? What was your experience of reading Kidd’s portrayal of women’s lives in the nineteenth century?

4. In what ways does Sarah struggle against the dictates of her family, society, and religion? Can you relate to her need to break away from the life she had in order to create a new and unknown life? What sort of risk and courage does this call for?

5. The story of The Invention of Wings includes a number of physical objects that have a special significance for the characters: Sarah’s fleur-de-lis button, Charlotte’s story quilt, the rabbit-head cane that Handful receives from Goodis, and the spirit tree. Choose one or more of these objects and discuss their significance in the novel.
Read more ...


6. Were you aware of the role that Sarah and Angelina Grimke played in abolition and women’s rights? Have women’s achievements in history been lost or overlooked? What do you think it takes to be a reformer today?

7. How would you describe Sarah and Angelina’s unusual bond? Do you think either one of them could have accomplished what they did on their own? Have you known women who experienced this sort of relationship as sisters?

8. Some of the staunchest enemies of slavery believed the time had not yet come for women’s rights and pressured Sarah and Angelina to desist from the cause, fearing it would split the cause of abolition. How do you think the sisters should have responded to their demand? At the end of the novel, Sarah asks, “Was it ever right to sacrifice one’s truth for expedience?”

9. What are some of the examples of Handful’s wit and sense of irony, and how do they help her cope with the burdens of slavery?

10. Contrast Handful’s relationship with her mother with the relationship between Sarah and the elder Mary Grimke. How are the two younger women formed-and malformed-by their mothers?

11. Kidd portrays an array of male characters in the novel: Sarah’s father; Sarah’s brother, Thomas; Theodore Weld; Denmark Vesey; Goodis Grimke, Israel Morris, Burke Williams. Some of them are men of their time, some are ahead of their time. Which of these male characters did you find most compelling? What positive and negative roles did they play in Sarah and Handful’s evolvement?

12. How has your understanding of slavery been changed by reading The Invention of Wings? What did you learn about it that you didn’t know before?

13. Sarah believed she could not have a vocation and marriage, both. Do you think she made the right decision in turning down Israel’s proposal? How does her situation compare with Angelina’s marriage to Theodore? In what ways are women today still asking the question of whether they can have it all?

14. How does the spirit tree function in Handful’s life? What do you think of the rituals and meanings surrounding it?

15. Had you heard of the Denmark Vesey slave plot before reading this novel? Were you aware of the extent that slaves resisted? Why do you think the myth of the happy, compliant slave endured? What were some of the more inventive or cunning ways that Charlotte, Handful, and other characters rebelled and subverted the system?

16. The Invention of Wings takes the reader back to the roots of racism in America. How has slavery left its mark on American life? To what extent has the wound been healed? Do you think slavery has been a taboo topic in American life?

17. Are there ways in which Kidd’s novel can help us see our own lives differently? How is this story relevant for us today?

(Discussion questions from Penguin Random House).
Penguin’s Book Club Kit pdf download HERE


Author

005__E7C4802-Edit-2Sue Monk Kidd was raised in the small town of Sylvester, Georgia, a place that deeply influenced the writing of her first novel The Secret Life of Bees. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970 and later took creative writing courses at Emory University and Anderson College, as well as studying at Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and other writers conferences.  (Please click here for info on Sue Monk Kidd)

The Invention of Wings available to purchase at Amazon.com.


Sarah_Grimke  Angelina_Grimke

(Please click here for more information on the Grimke sisters)



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