The American dream has always been a staple of American culture. When people speak of it, they often refer back to the first half of the 20th century. Despite this, the American Dream is just as relevant to American culture today as it was in the last century. In this essay, we will explore the American dream and just what it is.
Firstly, it’s important to mention the American dream isn’t measured based on what an individual has. It has to be measured on its principles and how they apply to society. Although the American dream isn’t as distinct from the rest of the world as it once was, it still makes America what it is today.
The first part of the American dream is the dream of abundance. The dream of abundance is the ability of America to have a country filled with material goods. It remains the envy of the world today as a nation of producers and consumers. Few countries can match the sheer range of goods America has.
Next, we have the dream of a democracy of goods. This is the ability of everyone to purchase the goods of America, regardless of where they come from and who they are. It links back to the constitutional right of everyone to be free and equal. To fulfil this part of the constitution, the dream of a democracy of goods has to exist.
The dream of freedom of choice is the third part of the American dream and, again, ties back in to the American constitution. It allows people to fashion their own lifestyles using the goods on offer. People have the freedom to be who they want to be, and they aren’t restricted by the supply of goods on offer.
Finally, we have the dream of novelty. This represents a broadening of consumer choice. Fashions are allowed to change at will. It has a deep impact on American society. It means the current skills in demand are forever changing. The people don’t have to specialise in specific areas just to get along in life. They can be sure there will always be a demand for niche skills, which allows them more freedom of choice.
One can say the American dream has been born out of the constitution. It’s the constitution that allows it to exist. Without the rights enshrined in this document, the American dream wouldn’t be able to persevere.
Today, the American dream is still relevant. How people achieve this dream has changed, but the basic principles of it haven’t. The difference today is young people may go to college instead of an apprenticeship to go about their pursuit of the American dream.
In conclusion, the American dream is about both choice in the consumer industry and unlimited freedom of choice. These are principles Americans demand in everything they do. In many ways, the American dream has grown to symbolise more than just the consumer industry. The American dream is a symbol of a strong America as a whole.
“The native American, like the alien immigrant, conceives the better future which awaits himself and other men in America as fundamentally a future in which economic prosperity will be still more abundant and still more accessible than it has yet been either here or abroad ... With all their professions of Christianity their national idea remains thoroughly worldly ... The Promise, which bulks so large in their patriotic outlook, is a promise of comfort and prosperity for an ever increasing majority of good Americans.” (Croly in Lind, 2004)
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Originally the American Dream concept was born out of lack and a genuine need for security shortly after the Great Depression and WW2. Because jobs were scarce, the greatest aspiration for most Americans was securing steady employment and owning their own home. As a result, work ethic and integrity were very strong. The focus was on a wholesome values system, family and community, all of which created pride, real prosperity and real joy. However, over time the same prosperity which resulted from being a nation of producers, also created a nation of consumers, driven not by need but rather by the desire to “keep up with the Jones’s.” (Geela, 2004)
In light of these definitions of the “American dream”, this concept is a recurring theme in a lot of works of literature. The works that are examined for the purposes of this paper refer to the same concept but from a different Perspective. The “Powwow Highway” by David Seals is a story about the journey of two Native Americans’ journey to Santa Fe. Cherrie Moraga's "Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind” included in Names We Call Home` by Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi are the views of a half-Mexican lesbian. Another essay from this book is Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, And Nostalgia by Angela Davis is from the point of view of African Americans.
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The American dream, traditionally, is thought of as achieving a life of prosperity and financial security. It is a dream that Americans strive for that motivates them to work hard. It is a concept that represents the country. (Cullen 2004). The works mentioned are of different topics, written by Americans of different races. These works give readers an idea of an American dream of achievement apart from what is traditionally aspired for.
In Powwow highway, two Native American Indians Philbert and Buddy make an unforgettable journey to Santa Fe to rescue Buddy’s sister, who was thrown in jail as a result of his actions as a tribal activist, against land grabbers who oppress a group of his people. This story explores the Native American’s consciousness, hopes, dreams and aspirations as a part of the American Nation. In a way, it discusses their take on the American Dream, their wish for equity and justice and mutual respect for differing cultures. Their American Dream is one where they are free of oppression from people of other races, to live peacefully and be treated fairly.
This same concept is exhibited in “Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind”. “Moraga draws heavily on her personal experience as a mixed-race lesbian who lived in a strongly heterosexual, racially divided world. She discusses the difficulty of being a "mixed-blood Mexican" in a predominantly white world. Moraga, during some of her writing, seems content to be ill-defined and have public self rather than a private self. She claims, "In her world, I'm just white..." Later, she learns to define herself by her own measures, rather than by the opinions and statistics of those around her. (Doyle, 2004)
The essay is about the thoughts of the author about her identity as one who is raised in the ways of two cultures. In examining her words, one can see the reflection of another “American Dream” that is as non-traditional as the author herself. Moraga’s essay talks about self-validation, about security. It is not financial security she is referring to but personal or emotional security-one that is provided by acceptance. In short, this essay talks of living in America and being accepted into society, as both a Mexican and a white girl; to be accepted It is the same aspirations that most Americans have, but colored by the concept of being bicultural and by the fact that the author is a lesbian. The recurring theme in these two works of literature is that aspect of the traditional American Dream of being accepted into society.
Meanwhile, Angela Davis’ essay “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, And Nostalgia” has another take on the American Dream. The author is a prominent figure in the history of African Americans in the United States. As one reads her essay, one figures out that she wishes to be remembered, to be more than a fashion statement. She talks of her hopes that what she represented in this country will not be forgotten or taken for granted by the younger generation. The author’s take on the American Dream seems to be from the perspective of having “been there and done that”. It speaks of having had the chance to pursue that American Dream. However, the American dream she is talking about is more than just having the means to live comfortable. Davis seems to be referring to having the voice to proclaim the truth, to make a difference. Her American dream is to be given a fair and equal treatment as all other people in the country, regardless of race or color. These works give readers an inside look into what these authors value, as representation of the “American dream”. Such thought are strongly expressed in another article (Geela 2004) that discusses the concept of the American Dream:
“In the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, we’ve been looking for solutions and fulfillment in all the wrong places. The solution to restoring our economy, our failing systems and ourinstitutions, as well as our sanity, is through the spirit. That’s because whether we realize it or not, we are spiritual beings experiencing the human experience and not the other way around. As such we were meant and designed to live a life of meaning and purpose by recognizing the unity of life and living in harmony with universal laws that are characterized by integrity and the honoring of all living things. Total prosperity and peace are dependent on the strength of our spirit.” (Geela 2004)
In the United States’ Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers: "…held certain truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." (Library of Congress, 2002)
The works examined takes readers back into that time in American History when life liberty and the pursuit of happiness was what constituted the American Dream. Seals’ work simply tells of the views of the Native Americans as seen in the views of the characters of his story as they journeyed on the Powwow Highway. Philbert Bono represents the idea of honoring the past and preserving identity while living in the present America when he said “The stories of our ancestors. How they solved problems. Often the problems never change. Nor the people.” (Seals, 1989)
“I live up to the mixed-raced legacy his people have betrothed to me” (Moraga, 1996). This statement meanwhile represents what the author has come upon in the conclusion of her essay. It reflects an understanding of her status and identity, and more importantly, self-acceptance before the acceptance of others.
"It is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo. (Davis. 1996) This on the other hand, is a quote from “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, And Nostalgia” It reflects the authors reflection on being remembered, of having made a difference in the lives of Americans
In short, these literary works give their own take on the “American Dream” that has become defined more by financial stability than moral aptitude. The book and the essays recall minding an American dream based on the values that were founded in integrity and humanity. “The focus was on a wholesome values system, family and community, all of which created pride, real prosperity and real joy” (Geela, 2004).
During an age where capitalism and consumerism pervades in society, these works give a glimpse of the aspirations of Americans of different races, and what they deem valuable, what their American Dream is. With their beliefs and convictions, these authors give others hope, that the American dream is not something people need to pursue relentlessly through jobs. It redefines the American dream to something that is ethereal- one that is affiliated with the concepts of justice, equality, acceptance, unity and peace.
- Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation:Oxford University Press, 2003
- Davis, Angela. “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia”. In Names We Call Home:Autobiography on Racial Identity, ed. Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi, New York, Routeledge.
- Doyle, Mar “Self-Validation and Social Acceptance”. 2004. Serendip. Retrieved on3 May 2008
- Geela. The Politics of the American Dream” 2004 Women’s Radio.Retrieved on 5 May 2008
- Lind, Michael. “Are we till a middle-class nation?” February 2004 Atlantic.com.5 May 2008. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/01/are-we-still-a-middle-class-nation/302870/
- Moraga, Cherrie (1996), "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind," in Names We Call Home:Autobiography on Racial Identity, ed. Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi, New York, Routeledge.
- Seals, David. “The Powwow Highway: A Novel. New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Plume Books, 1990
- “What is the American Dream?”19 December 2002. The Library of Congress.Retrieved on 4 May 2008