Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327
Written by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is a nonfiction book that chronicles the little-known history of the African American women who worked for NASA during the height of the Space Race against the Soviet Union.
From an analytical standpoint, I will focus on the theme of the text. First, I will briefly summarize the various narratives contained within the book.
Shetterly biographies four women in the book, three of whom worked as human “computers” during an age when computer technology had not yet rendered computational work by hand obsolete. One of these women is Katherine Johnson, who is noted for her contribution to the Mercury and Apollo missions. Another is Dorothy Vaughan, a human computers supervisor who is noted for being the first African American woman to supervise her own staff in the computing department. The third of these is Mary Jackson, who after pursuing her education while working full time, is noted as NASA’s first African American female engineer.
Finally, Shetterly profiles Dr. Christine Darden, who became the first black woman to receive the highest rank within NASA. Each of these women suffered discrimination and pushback because of their race and sex, which Shetterly shows did not impede their successes.
Shetterly addresses thematic ideas such as perseverance and discrimination. Each woman profiled in the book achieves unprecedented success through her determination, intelligence, and grit. Society’s negative attitudes about African Americans and its continued segregation up into the 1960s hindered the women significantly, forcing them to fight even harder for the respect they deserved.
Overall, Shetterly weaves a biographical work of non fiction to show just how much of an impact these women had on United States history. Without their contributions to the fields of aeronautics, engineering, and mathematics, the U.S. never would have made it to the moon—or anywhere else beyond earth’s atmosphere. This highlights an individual’s potential to have a significant impact regardless of the obstacles one faces.
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