Novel: Hidden Figures

Author: Margot Lee Shetterly

In the novel Hidden Figures, author Margot Lee Shetterly explores the theme of racism and inequality, shedding light on the experiences of African-American women working as mathematicians at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) during World War II. Through an analysis of the characters, plot, motivation, style, tone, and values, we can gain a deeper understanding of this theme and its implications.


The story focuses on African-American women mathematicians, such as Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, who faced racial discrimination and segregation at the NACA. These women were highly qualified and talented, as evidenced by their roles as mathematicians. Despite their qualifications, they were confined to segregated workspaces and faced numerous obstacles in their pursuit of professional advancement.


The plot revolves around the characters’ struggle against racial inequality and segregation. They confront challenges such as limited access to resources, restricted career opportunities, and discriminatory treatment. For example, black computers had to use segregated washrooms, buildings and cafeterias. This plot emphasizes the characters’ determination to overcome these obstacles and make significant contributions to the NACA and the field of aerospace.


The characters’ behavior is motivated by the desire for equality, recognition, and the opportunity to fulfill their potential. They strive to challenge the unjust systems that marginalized them and prove their worth. An example of this is Katherine Johnson’s persistence and dedication to her work, leading astronaut John Glenn to specifically request her to verify his return trajectory from space. Their motivation to excel reflects their resilience and determination in the face of adversity.


The author’s style of storytelling presents a realistic depiction of the racial discrimination experienced by the characters. Through vivid descriptions and personal narratives, Shetterly portrays the challenging realities of racial segregation in the workplace. This style allows readers to emotionally connect with the characters and understand the profound impact of racism on their lives.


The author’s tone is critical and condemning of the racist practices and policies of the time. Shetterly highlights the contradictions between the United States’ fight for freedom and equality abroad and the enforcement of segregation and discrimination at home. This tone exposes the hypocrisy and injustice embedded within the system and invites readers to reflect on the damaging effects of racism.


The characters in the story value equality, justice, and the opportunity to contribute based on merit rather than race. Their commitment to these values is demonstrated through their perseverance and resilience. For instance, Mary Jackson’s report of workplace racism led to an invitation to work for an engineer outside of the segregated area, enabling her to excel and become the NACA’s first black female engineer. The author promotes these values by showcasing the characters’ achievements and challenging the notion of racial inferiority.

In conclusion, the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is about racism and inequality. It shows how unfair treatment based on race affected the characters and the society they lived in. The story follows African-American women who faced discrimination while working as mathematicians. Despite the challenges they faced, they were determined to prove themselves and make important contributions. The author’s writing style and tone criticize the racist practices of the time and highlight the contradictions between fighting for freedom abroad while enforcing segregation at home. The characters’ motivations were driven by a desire for equality and recognition. The book shows that racism harms not only those who are oppressed but also the institutions and the country as a whole. It reminds us of the importance of treating everyone equally and recognizing everyone’s potential, regardless of their race.

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