In The Big Sea, Hughes tells an intimate story not only of a struggling writer but also of an individual striving to overcome racial barriers to success. Thus, the book provides young readers with an important study of American cultural and social conditions in the first two decades of the twentieth century. This autobiography was not specifically written for young adults, but Hughes’s prose style and sense of detail make the work readable, relevant, and informative for that audience. Without being self-serving, the book contains an inspiring story tinged with social criticism.
Through his autobiography, Hughes shows the hardships of being African American in the United States. The tone of the book is not bitter, but Hughes occasionally comments on the stupidity and injustice of the color line. For example, after telling about the trouble that he had obtaining a dorm room at Columbia University despite the fact that his father had paid the deposit well in advance, Hughes comments that through his life he often experienced “that strange astonishment on the part of so many whites that a Negro should expect any of the common courtesies and conveniences that other Americans enjoy.” Hughes also makes it clear that racial barriers forced his father to go to Mexico, where he could practice law and build a business on his own merits.
The portrait that Hughes paints of himself is of a person always willing to work for what he needs but always determined to do what he wants. He worked in menial jobs to survive, but he was still able to...
(The entire section is 641 words.)