By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Jenna Lamia, Adepero Oduve, Sue Monk Kidd
The setting for The Invention of Wings makes a mockery of its subject; i.e. it suggests a glimmer of southern enlightenment in the early 1800s. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a popular novel. However, the trials and tribulations of a wealthy white southern misfit are a pale reflection of Kidd’s counter-point tale.
The counter point tale is about a young black female slave. Kidd should have written about one white woman’s or one black woman’s story rather than juxtapose such monumentally different circumstances. A young white girl’s struggle for identity trivializes the ugliness of a slave’s desire for freedom.
The anguished search for identity (her search for “wings”) by Kidd’s white southern belle is cloying in comparison to a slave’s quest for “wings”. The one pertinent and appropriate point of Kidd’s use of a slave’s tale is one paragraph long. As Kidd notes in the black girl’s dialog with the misfit southern belle, a white girl is only trapped by her mind while a black person’s is trapped by law. Kidd’s black girl notes, a slave can only be free in her mind while a white girl can be free by choice.
Kidd compresses evolutionary change in slavery by writing about two generations of the South, with a younger generation leaning toward manumission and an older generation feeling guilt. The acknowledgement by a white southern father that greed denies his daughter’s opportunity for fulfillment has little credibility; particularly, when the same father denigrated his daughter’s ambition and ridiculed her anti-slavery sentiment. Only on the father’s death-bed, does Kidd suggest there is a hidden agenda behind her father’s earlier disparagement. It feels like a modern writer’s manipulation of audience rather than Southern’ enlightenment. Greed seems a convenient revelatory confession at one’s death.
The South certainly depended on slavery for economic growth in the early 1800’s but greed is only one of many reasons for man’s inhumanity to man. All the world continues to struggle with the truth of human nature. Life is a struggle between anarchic freedom and social justice.
This audio-book narration is nearly pitch-perfect but the subject is ineptly handled. The points made about slavery, the abolitionist movement, and freedom are too simply contrived. Kidd miss-handles the subject with disparate individual tragedies.