Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

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The American Dream is a theme present in Hidden Figures. The women pursue careers and families, and work to better their lives. Dorothy Vaughan works as both a math teacher and in a military laundry room to provide for her family. She takes the NACA mathematician job, even though it means she will be far from her family, because it is a good job. Katherine Coleman studies hard and is accepted into an integrated master's program, but she drops out so she can start a family. Years later, she pursues a career in mathematics again. The choices these women make are in the pursuit of happiness—the pursuit of having both a family and moving up in a career. The women are persistent in pursuing their dreams:

Their path to advancement might look less like a straight line and more like some of the pressure distributions and orbits they plotted, but they were determined to take a seat at the table.

Another theme that is significant to the backdrop of the account is conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. The women are hired to assist in the technological pursuits of the United States. Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan are working at NACA during the Cold War. The United States stands up against oppression under Communism, while at the same time black citizens are still oppressed.

Through its inability to solve its racial problems, the United States handed the Soviet Union one of the most effective propaganda weapons in their arsenal.
Newly independent countries around the world, eager for alliances that would support their emerging identities and set them on their path to long-term prosperity, were confronted with a version of the same question black Americans had asked during World War II. Why would a black or brown nation stake its future on America's model of democracy when within its own borders the United States enforced discrimination and savagery against people who looked just like them?

The Soviet Union launches Sputnik in 1957, which triggers a Space Race with the United States. Katherine Johnson is instrumental in working with the Space Task Force to send Apollo 11 to the moon.

Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 354

Themes of Hidden Figures include racism, sexism, and the drive to achieve something. The book chronicles the lives of black women working at NASA as "human computers" who do difficult math by hand and in their heads. It takes place in the 1950s and 1960s.

Racism is a major theme in the book. The author points out that people of color or different religious faiths found it almost impossible to work in jobs in the scientific community. One of the lowest represented people were black women. When the women the author follows went to work at NASA, they weren't even able to work in the same place as the white workers at first because of segregation. As time went on, segregation was overturned but prejudices remained. People saw them as less capable and less likely to achieve because of their skin color. They were kept from the same opportunities and accolades as well.

Sexism is another prominent theme in Hidden Figures. The three main characters are women and that's another thing that causes people to underestimate them and hold them back at work. It was unlikely in the beginning that they would even get their jobs because of their gender and skin color. Women just weren't very likely to get jobs in science or math. For example, the book says that less than 100 women were mathematicians in the 1930s. Mary Johnson, one of the women in the book, was the first black female engineer at NASA.

Finally, personal achievement is another theme in the book. Because of the sexism and racism they faced, it would have been easy for women like Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Goble to give up or find other ways to live their lives. Instead, they pushed back against hardships and worked to make major achievements at NASA. Despite the advances they made in the West Computing unit, the people who worked there were largely uncelebrated because of their skin color. Still, those achievements stood on their own. The book brings those achievements to greater attention and helped show the contributions of the people discussed to millions.

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