The American Dream Webquest at the OS

What is the American Dream?

The term "American Dream" first was used by the American historian James Truslow Adams in his book "The Epic of America" published in 19311. At that time the United States were suffering under the Great Depression2. Adams used the term to describe the complex beliefs, religious promises and political and social expectations.

"The American Dream" has become a widespread term to describe the American Way of Life3 in general, but it is by far not that easy." The American Dream" always has something individual. That is, why till today no one succeeded in giving a universally acceptable definition of the term.

Another reason is the permanent change of the "American Dream", which always made it a highly discussed topic within the American Society. So, not only American authors like T.C Boyle4 in his novel "The Tortilla Curtain"5 are dealing with the topic of "The American Dream", but also Hollywood used and still uses it in a lot of movies, for example in "Pretty Woman"6.

A lot of American historians say "The American Dream" even has its beginnings in the Declaration of Independence and the first European Settlers because the basic idea is that every man and every woman shall, regardless of their birth, achieve what there are able to do. Everybody shall be treated and seen equally and be recognized by others for what they are and have reached, refering to their position.

The Statue of LibertyTo make "The American Dream" come true all Americans have to work together. "The American Dream" is supposed to be for each American, despite all social groups. According to Adams too many Americans have built mistrust towards "The American Dream" because they did not reach what they had hoped for and also had expected.

For a lot of people "The American Dream" is connected to becoming wealthy and the ability to achieve everything if one only works hard enough for it (From rags to riches). For others it is much more and is beyond materialism. For them it is the dream of living a simple, happy and fulfilling life and the most important features being faith and equality. "The American Dream" also is about liberty and America being the country of unlimited opportunities.

Another aspect is that America is Gods' chosen country ("City on the shining hill" meaning the new Jerusalem)7 and all Americans have to bring "The American Dream" to the rest of the world, such as Democracy and American values. Also the idea that immigrants of different nationalities, different ethnic backgrounds and different religious beliefs can be fused into a new nation without abandoning their diverse cultures. The idea of America being a melting pot where everybody can live peacefully together. "The American Dream" has a lot to do with America being a country of immigration, and these immigrants all hoped to live a better life in the new world.

That is where from my point of view lies the paradox because all Americans are descendants of immigrants and nevertheless there are people like Delany and Kyra, protagonists in T. C Boyle's before mentioned novel "The Tortilla Curtain", who in the end even hate the illegal immigrants. Boyle makes this paradox really obvious with the Mexican guy living in Arroyo Blanco who made it and is accepted. This is one reason why nowadays a lot of people say "The American Dream" has become a nightmare.8

Concluded one could say "the American Dream" is the belief of the US-American Society that each individual can, through hard working and strength of mind, achieve everything.

However, it is also highly controversial, because did Martin Luther King realize his "American Dream"? Or Cándido and América did they even get the opportunity to achieve everything, regarding their abilities?

Eva Michels

Sources:
  1. James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America (New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1931)
  2. About the Great Depression
  3. Wikipedia: American Way of Life
  4. Bloomsbury.com - T.C. Boyle
  5. Bloomsbury.com - The Tortilla Curtain
  6. New York Times: Pretty Woman
  7. Worldandnation: Revisiting a 'shining city on a hill'
  8. Freese, P.: The American Dream and the American Nightmare, Paderborn 1987, pp. 5-20.
  9. American Rhetoric: Martin Luther King, Jr. -- "I Have a Dream"
  • Wikipedia: American Dream
  • Viewfinder Topics. New edition. The American Dream, Humankind's Second Chance. ISBN 3526510024 - Klett Verlag, Stuttgart
  • "What is the American Dream?" - Text from the internal BSCW server