Rocket Boys


Homer Hickam

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Themes and Colors
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Rocket Boys, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Cold War and the Space Race

Rocket Boys takes place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War—so to understand Rocket Boys, it’s crucial to understand the Cold War and its ramifications for American society.

Following World War II, the United States—a capitalist, democratic state—and the Soviet Union, or U.S.S.R.—a Communist state—became the two global superpowers. While the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. never directly fought with one another, they came close on many occasions—hence…

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The Individual vs. the Group

Over the course of Rocket Boys, Homer must balance his own needs and ambitions with the desires—and demands—of a group. Homer’s own desires and ambitions are plain from the first chapters of Rocket Boys: he wants to study rockets, study engineering in college, and work for NASA. At first, it seems that these desires are directly opposed to the interests of his community, however, as the people of Coalwood regard Homer either…

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Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance

The most obvious conflict in Rocket Boys is that between Homer’s dreams and the crushing reality he sees around him. Homer wants to build rockets, study engineering at college, and work for NASA, but this career path lies in stark contrast with what his father envisions for him: studying at college and then working in the coalmines of his hometown for the rest of his life. It’s also probable that most, if not…

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Parents and Children

As Homer struggles to complete a successful rocket and win a medal at the science fair, he also finds himself in a conflicted relationship with his parents: his father, Homer Sr., and his mother, Elsie. During the course of Rocket Boys, he learns important lessons about the parent-child relationship, and also learns how to balance his desire for love and attention from his parents with the frustrating reality that he’ll never be…

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Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation

A considerable chunk of Rocket Boys consists of Hickam’s descriptions of how, as a teenager, he went about finding the raw materials he needed to build sophisticated rockets. To get the tin needed to weld a rocket casing, for instance, Homer has to negotiate with Reverend “Little” Richard, who has purchased extra tin for repairing his roof. To get it, Homer has to provide the Reverend with shingles for his roof—and Homer has…

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