Oprah's Favorite Passages from The Invention of Wings
I was struck here by the imagery of finding happiness where and when you can, and her passion for quilting—finding joy in it.
Late in the afternoon, after the Grimkés had gone off to their plantation and the few slaves left on the premise were in their quarters, mauma sent me into master Grimké's library to find out what me and her would sell for.
I personally keep slave documents listing the value of slaves framed on my wall in California, and in my office in Chicago. But until I read this, I'd never thought of slaves knowing their own ‘value' and how that would affect them, how it might have made them feel. Goosebumps.
Goods and chattel. The words from the leather book came into my head. We were like the gold leaf mirror and the horse saddle. Not full-fledge people. I didn't believe this, never had believed it a day of my life, but if you listen to white folks long enough, some sad, beat-down part of you starts to wonder.
I found that passage stunning in its effect—just as it's stunning to actually see "that leather book." I remember the first time I looked at slave documents and saw the names of real people, cited as property, listed right next to the horse carriage, number of goats and sheep, and shoes that people owned. As a free woman, I couldn't imagine what being equated with shoes or goats might have done to the spirit of a slave girl. That's why that sentence is so amazing. "Goods and chattel." Because what you think when you first see it is ‘Oh my God, you're listed with the horse and buggy, with the ox, with sheep—with how many dishes there are.' How do you live with that knowledge?
He assumed I'd outgrown my rebellions and become like the rest of them—a guardian of slavery. I couldn't fault him for it. When was the last time any of them had heard me speak out against the peculiar institution? I'd been wandering about in the enchantments of romance, afflicted with the worst female curse on earth, the need to mold myself to expectations.
To me that sentence represents what it meant to be a woman in the nineteenth century and later—until we got the right to vote. "I'd been wandering about in the enchantment of romance, afflicted with the worst female curse on earth, the need to mold myself to expectations." That's powerful. How few women of that era actually got that? That's what's excites me about it. When the entire world is molding itself to expectations, which is its own form of slavery, when do you finally figure out this is ridiculous—when do you realize ‘I should be able to live my own life?'
By law, a slave was two-thirds of a person. It came to me that what I'd just suggested would seem paramount to proclaiming vegetables equal to animals, animals equal to humans, women equal to men, men equal to angels. I was upending the order of creation. Strangest of all, it was the first time thoughts of equality had entered my head, and I could only attribute it to God, with whom I'd lately taken up and was proving to be more insurrectionary than law abiding.
I love the brewing insurrection here. It's great. Such a powerful passage. The thing I love about a book like this is you can, you know, it's just like The Butler. People go to that movie and they're like, ‘Oh my God, it's so amazing, this happened in our country.' Uhhh yea, just did. 30 years ago. You can hear about the history of slavery over and over, but when you read about it in the context of a story like this, it allows you to feel it differently. That's what good fiction will do for you.
Part ThreeOctober 1818-November 1820
Then he read something that made the hairs on my arms raise. "She shall receive any six of my Negroes whom she shall choose, and the rest she will sell or disperse among my children, as she determines." Binah was standing next to me. I heard her whisper, "Lord, no." I looked down the row of slaves. There was just eleven of us now—Rosetta had passed on in her sleep the year before. She shall receive any six...the rest she will sell or disperse. Five of us were leaving.
I imagine this was every slave's greatest fear. As bad as the known is, the unknown is worse.
Part SixJuly 1835-June 1838
"When you think of me, you say, she never did belong to those people. She never belong to nobody but herself."
This sentence communicates what true empowerment means.
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.
That reminds me of the first line of the book, that "people could fly." Hetty got to see her mama take flight. "I pulled the quilt around her shoulders, high in the limbs, the crows cawed. The doves moaned. The wind bent down to lift her to the sky." She got to see her mama take flight.
As he left, I peered at Sarah Mapps and her mother, the way they grabbed hands and squeezed in relief, and then at Nina, at the small exultation on her face. She was braver than I, she always had been. I cared too much for the opinion of others, she cared not a whit. I was cautious, she was brash. I was a thinker, she was a doer. I kindled fires, she spread them. And right then and ever after, I saw how cunning the Fates had been. Nina was one wing, I was the other.
This is what's meant by the title, The Invention of Wings. The invention of wings occurs in all sizes, can manifest itself differently in different people—it's all about freedom, about taking flight.
We'd set down every argument the South made for slavery and refuted them all. I didn't stutter on the page. It was an ecstasy to write without hesitation, to write everything hidden inside of me, to write with the sort of audacity I wouldn't have found in person.
This is about finding a voice, about true courage. That is what this book is about. For me, it is the story of coming into your own. About reaching within yourself, no matter your circumstances, and finding your power. That's profound.
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