The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns


Isabel Wilkerson

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Themes and Colors
Migration and Freedom Theme Icon
History, Memory, and Identity Theme Icon
The Legacy of the Migration Theme Icon
The Economics of Racism Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Decision, Consequence, and Regret Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Warmth of Other Suns, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Migration and Freedom

In The Warmth of Other Suns, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration—when millions of Black Americans moved from the South to the North and West between 1915 and 1970—through the eyes of three representative protagonists. Ida Mae Brandon Gladney grows up as a sharecropper on a Southern plantation and moves to Chicago in 1937. George Swanson Starling is a Florida citrus picker who flees to New York…

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History, Memory, and Identity

At the beginning of The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson argues that the Great Migration is “perhaps the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.” Even though it affected virtually every American, most Americans know very little about it—if they have even heard of it at all. Historians have studied sub-branches of it in detail, but there is no accessible, well-researched work about it as a whole. This is why Wilkerson spent 15…

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The Legacy of the Migration

Isabel Wilkerson narrates the Great Migration through the eyes of three particular migrants in order to make history tangible for her readers and emphasize the profound emotional drama involved in the decision to migrate. However, she also recognizes that limiting her book to these specific narratives would mean muddling the bigger picture of the Great Migration. This is why she juxtaposes Ida Mae, George, and Robert’s stories with a clear sociological analysis…

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The Economics of Racism

For a century after the Civil War, Southern state governments devoted vast resources to creating the elaborate system of legal segregation commonly known as Jim Crow. Its purpose was to keep Black people subordinate to white people in every sphere of life. Its creators were zealous racists, but mere prejudice wasn’t their primary motivation. One telling episode makes this clear: when hundreds of thousands of Black workers started migrating north, white Southerners actually launched…

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Love and Family

American migration stories are often framed in individualistic terms, but the Great Migration was fundamentally a family affair. Family connections determined when, where, and how people migrated—in the era of the Great Migration, almost every Black American in the South had family in the North, and vice versa. So it’s only logical that, when Wilkerson’s protagonists choose to leave the South, they decide as families and for their families’ sake. On the one hand…

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Decision, Consequence, and Regret

The Warmth of Other Suns, like the lives of its protagonists, hinges on a single dilemma: whether to stay or to go. Isabel Wilkerson spends the first half of the book exploring how Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster made the agonizing decision to leave the South behind forever. And in the second half, she describes how this decision completely transformed the rest of their lives, both for better and…

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