The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Theme: Love

Question: How does the author uses the characters in the novel to demonstrate the theme of Love?


Though not so profound, love is one of the themes that Sue Monk Kidd illustrates in the novel. The two major characters, Sarah and Handful, are extensively used to depict love. Sue Monk Kidd opens up the novel with a scene in Grimke’s house. The daughter of Grimker, Sarah, witnesses a slave being mistreated and she is deeply moved with this act that it affects her speech. Sarah develops a deep desire to free the slaves. At the age of eleventh, a slave girl is presented to her as her personal slave. Because of the horrific treatment she witnessed, she refuses but she is forced. Instead, she decided to become a buddy with the slave girl and treat her decently, protects hers, and empowers her. He begins by exploring the relationship between Sarah and Handful. Some of the aspects illustrated in the novel that shows the theme of love include compassion, loyalty, concern, platonic love, emotional, spiritual and physical support. Other relationships that Kidd has explored include the romantic relation between Sarah and Burke and the one between Israel Morris and Sarah. However, the latter two relationships are very brief.

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The major instance of friendship occurs between Sarah and Handful. At her eleventh birthday, Sarah is given Handful as gift to be her personal slave girl. Handful was a slave to the parents of Sarah, Grimke’s family. Moved with compassion for the little girl, Sarah refuses the offer but she is compelled with the mother to accept it. She opts to use the opportunity to be of help to Handful. Sarah demonstrates love for Handful when she decided to teach Handful how to read even though this was forbidden. As the two grow up, they realize the inequalities between them. However, the two girls forge a close relationship between them which lasted for a very long time. Sarah and Handful become seriously fond of each other and doing nearly everything together. As Handful sings to her, Sarah would in turn read thing aloud to Handful. This became their lifestyle in their childhood. This way of communications make them closer to each other. In the moments that Handful does a mistake, Sarah would do her best to cover it up so that the mother (Mrs. Grimke) would not know. Sarah was driven with deep compassion and love for slaves especially the family of Handful. It is this deep love that moves her to rebel against her father and even lose some of the privileges that were accorded to her. Sarah perceives Handful not as her slave but rather as a close buddy. This friendship bond became so embedded in Sarah’s heart to an extent that when she learnt how Mauma Charlotte, Handful’s mother, was beaten her mother (Mrs. Grimke) she confronts the mother and expresses her disgust with such treatment on slaves. She further demonstrates her love by insisting of going to see Charlotte and while there she hands them a liniment and medicine era. Kidd uses Sarah to demonstrate that love is very powerful and cannot be constraint by race or color (Berne).

As stated by Berne in her article “Taking a Flight’, the author of the novel uses the relationship between Sarah and Handful to reveal the power of cross-racial intimacy and how it can radicalize both parties. The love between Sarah and Handful sets the mood for the entire novel. It also lays the foundation for their pursuit in life. It is evident that Sarah gains momentum to fight for the rights of the slaves after being thrown from her family comfort. In the last portions of the novel, the author shows how Sarah’s love for Handful compels her to travel to Charleston despite being banned. She does this in a bid to fulfill the promise she made that she would do everything possible to free Handful.

The love relationship between Sarah and Burke Williams is also used to enhance the theme of love in the novel. The two seems to have a soft spot for each and develops a romantic love. Sarah is thrilled with their relationship and looks forward to marriage. However, when she learns that Burke has another fiancée she is seriously heartbroken. She if forced to disengage from the relationship. She then resolves never to marry but instead pursue her ambitions. She is embittered by the treatment that women are accorded in the society. Sarah appears very passionate about everything she does. Another instance of romantic love also occurs between Sarah and Israel Morris. Sarah moves in the house of Israel and this strengthens their love. Nevertheless, it does not take long before things take a different turn. Israel asks Sarah to forgo her involvement in ministry in favor of marriage, which she declines. The two relationships (between Sarah and Burke and between Sarah and Israel) are used by author to show how the character handled the issues of love casually. Burke is presented as seeking romantic love with women just to get sex and later dumps them. Israel is depicted as seeking love for his own marital fulfillment.

The author also uses family ties to further illustrate the theme of love. Family ties are characterized by mutual love, support, and compassion. This is evident between Mauma Charlotte and her daughters and the family of Grimke. John Grimke is seriously committed to the welfare of his family, particularly the daughters. He does his best to empower his daughter so as to accord a better future for them. John Grimke loves the daughters so much to an extent that they are given the freedom to pursue their heart’s interest. Motherly love is demonstrated through Mrs. Grimke when she defends the daughters profusely against the ban posed on them by Charleston. Even though, she disagrees with their views and conscience, her love for them compels them to stand and defend them so as to avert the insult against them and the entire family (Kidd 167).

The theme of love is also demonstrated in the relation between Sarah and her father. As the novel proceeds, Kidd’s shows us the strong bond that existed between the two. When Sarah’s father is sick and Sarah is left to attend to him, he uses this opportunity to pour out his heart to the daughter. He seeks forgiveness for the harsh treatment he exposed to due to her convictions.

Another important relationship in the novel that portrays love is the relationship between Sarah and her sister, Nina. The two sisters seem to develop strong love between them that makes them fight for the women rights. The relationship between Angelina and Sarah grows very strong as the novel proceeds. The love between them bonds them strongly that they are each compelled to continues in following their dreams and each of them fights for what they believes is right. Though not so close as they were during their childhood years, the two seems to forge a very close tie in regard to the pursuit of their visions and dreams in life. To Nina, Sarah plays a maternal role. She looks at Sarah as an important figure. Sarah takes this opportunity to enlighten Nina on her way of seeing things. She also takes advantage of their bond to convince and persuade Nina about her opposition to slavery. Nina slowly develops her sister’s ideas and begins showing her dissatisfaction with the society. Ultimately, Nina also becomes a strong advocate for abolition. The author uses the two sisters to demonstrate how love can easily be used as an influence in infusing one’s idea to another person’s. The love between them is very a powerful and supportive force that enables them to jointly fight against slavery.

Kidd demonstrates the familial love through the ties between Mauma and her daughters. This love is pure and sacrificial as only mother’s love can be. Despite of being a slave the rest of her life, Mauma loves her daughters, Handful and Sky and endeavors to accord them good life. She takes her time to teach them about nature and future hope by creating a picture of a possible freedom from slavery one day. Her love for Handful is also seen when she creeps out of the house and hire herself out in a bid to raise money for her freedom and that of her daughter, Handful. Even though she spent the rest of her life as slave and died as a slave, her love for the daughters compelled her to instill hope of a better future free from the evils of slavery.

Throughout the novel, Sue Monk Kidd illustrates the theme of love between different characters. The main character that Sue has extensively used in every instance is Sarah. The love ranges from romantic love to familial love and to love between friends. Sarah, one of the main characters has been used extensively to show how deeply rooted love compels and defines a person’s destiny. The author emphasizes the importance of love in the life of every personage. Through the dialogues between the heroes he explains the meaning of love and its place among the other values. Ultimately when the hero faced a choice between marriage and ministry, he chooses ministry in a bid to fulfill her deepest desire for freedom for women and for slaves. The author shows that true love should be a deeply rooted desire that compels the beholder to act in favor of the recipient.