Why does the police officer's attitude change towards Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary so drastically?
Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are driving to work at NASA together when their car breaks down. The police officer approaches their car to find out what they are doing. The setting is the South in the early 1960s, when racial tensions were beginning to escalate.
When he first speaks with them, he talks down to the three women. This is clear from the way he speaks—his tone and his overall attitude. However, once the women tell him that they work at NASA and are important members of a research team, his attitude changes drastically. The reader can interpret this in a number of ways.
First, the setting of the story is an era when the Southern state in which they lived was opposed to integration. Moreover, young women at that time had few employment options. Most who did not marry immediately upon coming of age either became teachers, secretaries, or even nurses, if they were educated. Those women who did not have sufficient skills or education for those vocations sought domestic work. Thus, when the police officer first sees them, he prejudges their situation. There clearly is some class and racial distinction in his mind.
However, when they explain to him that they work at NASA, this changes the interaction between the officer and the women drastically. First, it elevates the women in his eyes. He realizes that they are not teachers or secretaries, but are obviously highly educated and work in the field of science. Moreover, the space race was crucial to Americans at this time, and NASA therefore occupied a special place in people's minds. Thus, he wants to help them get to NASA so that they can continue the important work that they are doing for the country.
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