Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 191

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The Big Sea is an autobiography by Langston Hughes, which details his experiences as a young African American writer in a society that imposes racial and social barriers. The main theme of the memoir is the social and political conditions of the United States during the mid-20th century. The book not only examines the institutional racism in the South, but also the technically "hidden" systemic racism in non-Southern cities of the United States.

This is illustrated when Hughes recounts the time he had trouble securing his dorm room at Columbia University—a prestigious, traditionally-liberal Ivy League school in the heart of New York City—despite the fact that Hughes' father paid for the dorm room in advance. This summed up the theme of Hughes' autobiography: that even a middle-class African American male like him can experience bigotry in a supposed liberal global alpha-city like New York.

In this sense, the book is a study on the concept of the American Dream. Based on the writer's observation and firsthand experiences, this dream of attaining success, security and happiness is filled with limitations and stipulations based on primitive tribalistic mentalities like racism.

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