Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

This is one terrific book.

9780670024780_p0_v3_s260x420

Amazon recommended this book to me, and as a person who loves just about everything Sue Monk Kidd writes, I bought it immediately. AdventureMan had also read a review and said it might be a good book for our book club, so he gets it next. Most of my friends have it on Kindle to read soon.

The book is written in two voices, that of Sarah Gremke’, white, and Charlestonian, of Charleston society families, and the other voice of Hetty/Handful, the slave given to Sarah for her 11th birthday. First Sarah tries to refuse the ‘gift,’ then, using her father’s law books, she writes a letter of emancipation for Hetty, and neither effort works. Sarah and Hetty are stuck with each other, stuck with the times, stuck with their situation, and stuck with the institutions that determine and limit what they will accomplish.

Or are they?

There were times, as I read the book, that I felt like I was going to suffocate. First, the heat and humidity of Charleston, South Carolina, are bad enough without the kinds of close-fitting clothing women were required to wear in that day; the thought of wearing those clothes makes me choke.

The limited expectations for women would stunt and damage the strongest female character in that society where those who thrived were those who were pretty, good at getting married, and good at bearing children, dressing appropriately and socializing endlessly at the same stale events.

Slavery damages everyone. No one should have that kind of power over another human being; studies show that when human beings are given power over another their very worst instincts come to the forefront. Why do we need studies? We have the real world to show us what that kind of power does, how it corrupts the one who holds the power so thoroughly that they don’t even know they are corrupted.

These are stories from my time living in countries where people from poorer countries came to work:

My maid had worked for a family where the men pestered her because she was full time and live-in. They assumed she was sexually available to them and made life very difficult for her. Her mistress saw a beautiful silk blouse she wore, a blouse she had saved for and only wore on her day off, and her mistress borrowed it, stained it, returned it and didn’t take any responsibility for ruining her one really nice blouse. It was never mentioned again. Only when the men complained about this woman was she allowed to leave; her mistress didn’t want the men tempted, she got her passport back and come to work for me. Her previous mistress wanted an ugly maid, and the men were hoping for someone more compliant.

The woman who bought my car had saved and saved, and was working under deplorable conditions in a day care. I told her that she had skills, get another job, and she told me that she hadn’t been paid for three months, and if she left she would never get that pay, and also her employer would never give her her passport or allow her to leave. She was, in effect, a slave.

Most of my friends are very good employers, taking good care of the people who come to work for them, but I have seen those (not my friends) who are violent and abusive. Being a slave is being trapped in an existence with no control over your own life.

Monk makes an interesting comparison of white women’s lives with their limitations being not unlike a variant of slavery. Maybe the conditions were a little better, but the un-free-ness was similar.

Sarah Grimke’ and her sister Angelina, against all odds, break free of family expectations and societal constraints. They forge their own way, with Angelina’s gift for rhetoric and Sarah’s keep legal writing. I had never heard of these women before, and I am so glad Sue Monk Kidd wrote this book to raise their visibility both as abolitionists and as some of the very first proponents for women’s rights to full equality.

As a quilter, I also loved in this book that Handfull’s mother is a quilter, and while she can neither read nor write, she puts down her history in an applique quilt which clearly spells out significant events in her life, and is a tool for passing family history from one generation to another.

Advertisements

January 18, 2014 - Posted by | Biography, Books, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Fiction, Financial Issues, Heritage, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: