8 Enlightening Hidden Figures Discussion Questions

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Hidden Figures" by Margot Lee Shetterly. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Are you looking for Hidden Figures discussion questions? Particularly, are you looking for discussion questions that explore adversity, prejudice, and other themes from the book?

The following Hidden Figures discussion questions, explore many major themes in the book. You can use them in book club or educational settings, and hopefully they can serve as a jumping off point for a rich discussion of the book.

Exploring Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race tells the story of a group of African-American women who, over a period of over 25 years, made major contributions to the US space program during its golden age. Overcoming racist and sexist discrimination, these women established themselves as brilliant mathematicians and engineers and helped lead the United States to victory in some of the pivotal moments of the Cold War-era space race—including John Glenn’s 1962 orbit of the Earth and the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

The scene of their success was the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It was here, in the heartland of American segregation, that a group of extraordinary women, including Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson, helped their country break through the color barrier and leap into the great unknown.

The Story of West Computing

Pioneering black female engineers and mathematicians like Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson left an indelible mark on NASA, the struggle for African-American civil rights, and the United States itself. 

When, on July 20, 1969, the men of the Apollo 11 mission finally walked on the surface of the Moon, it was the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of a nation, as well as decades of research, advocacy, and struggle on the part of NASA’s black scientists and engineers.

The story of the women of West Computing is one of hope and triumph over the harshest adversity. It is also one of empowerment—these women exercised real agency and control over the course of their lives. They were protagonists who acted upon America and shaped its destiny, actors in the great drama of the nation’s history. 

These Hidden Figures discussion questions can help you understand the story and work with others to go over ideas and themes.

Hidden Figures Discussion Questions About Unpacking Prejudice

With these Hidden Figures discussion questions, think about how prejudice and discrimination inhibit lives and careers.

  1. Has prejudice ever prevented you from doing something you wanted to do and were capable of doing? Describe what happened in a few sentences.
  2. What can you do in the future to help ensure that you are judged based on your abilities rather than the group you happen to belong to?

Hidden Figures Discussion Questions About Overcoming Adversity

Think about how people like the women of West Computing helped each other overcome obstacles. These Hidden Figures discussion questions can help you understand other perspectives and lived experiences.

  1. Have you ever served as a mentor or guide to someone who was trying to follow in your footsteps? Briefly describe the experience.
  2. What made you want to lend a helping hand to this person?
  3. Do you think people who have achieved success have a responsibility to pay it forward to those who come after? Explain why or why not.

Exploring Hidden Figures Themes

With these Hidden Figures discussion questions, explore the main takeaways from the book.

  1. Why do you think the culture and environment at Langley were more conducive to integration, during an era when much of the country wasn’t?
  2. Briefly describe the historical context during which most of the action in Hidden Figures is set. Why do you think this background is important for understanding the achievements of this group of women?
  3. What do you think was the bigger hurdle for the women of West Computing to overcome: being black or being female? Briefly describe your reasoning.

These Hidden Figures discussion questions can help you get started in your discussion, and understand some of the major themes in Hidden Figures. You can also use them as a jumping off point to form your own Hidden Figures discussion questions, and determine what ideas you want to explore when you discuss the books.

8 Enlightening Hidden Figures Discussion Questions

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Margot Lee Shetterly's "Hidden Figures" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Hidden Figures summary:

  • How brave black women were instrumental to the American space race
  • How they confronted racism and sexism to forge a better future
  • Their enduring legacy in American history

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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