“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
The American dream is something common to all people, but it is something that everyone views in different ways. The American dream is different for everyone, but they share some of the same aspects of it. The dream is dependent mainly on the setting of where one lives and one‘s social status. For example, The Declaration of Independence was by Thomas Jefferson, who was an upper class white male. He wanted freedom, but freedom for people like himself that were white landowning males. Martin Luther King, in his I Have a Dream speech, also called for freedom, but mostly for African Americans like himself. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his book The Great Gatsby, that he would have liked to eliminate the idle rich, which he was a part of. Every American dream is somewhat different, but they all relate to the times that one lives in.
In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson asked for equality for white landowning males. His American dream was to be free from Britain and to be treated equally. This dream only included people like himself, that were white men who owned land. The people that signed the document were all part of that class. They were the people leading the revolution, so Jefferson thought they should be the ones reaping the benefits. In the text, it talks about “the merciless Indian Savages.” Obviously they were not included as being equal. Jefferson also wrote “We…the Representatives of the united States of America…” He was referring to himself and everyone who signed The Declaration of Independence, none of whom were women or black. Jefferson also wrote “…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. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” He specifically used the word “men,” when he could have said “all people” instead. This also shows how his dream was for all men to be treated equally. Jefferson’s dream is different from Martin Luther King’s dream in the specifics, but in the whole they are the same dream. Both want equality for their people, the people that are in the same class and race they are in. Jefferson’s dream is fairly different than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dream in principal, but the dreams are similar in that they both want change for the better. Their dreams also focused on the social class they belonged to.
Martin Luther King’s American dream is to have equality for everyone, but namely African Americans. In his I Have a Dream speech, he said, “…we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.” He was saying that even though America is supposed to be a free country, African Americans were really not free and treated equally. King said, “…the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” African Americans were not given good job opportunities. They were isolated and it was hard for them to live comfortably when all the families with white males could have high paying jobs and affords the comforts of life. He also said, “This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.” King was referring to The Declaration of Independence, which had been aimed to gain equality for white males. Colored citizens were not included in it, and this was wrong. King was saying how the document was supposed to promise freedom for all people, but that this was not true at all. African Americans were not free, and they had to live a hard life full of segregation and discrimination. He did not really ask for equality of all people though, like Asian or Hispanic people, but mainly black people like himself. This makes King’s American dream very similar to Jefferson’s American dream because they both wanted equality for their people. The dream is different from Fitzgerald’s dream, but they are similar because they both demanded positive change and they focused on their specific social classes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American dream was to eliminate the idle rich. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald showed his distaste for them. One character, Tom, had an affair with another women. Tom brushed it off as nothing when talking about it. He lied to his wife Daisy quite often, so he could get away from her for a weekend. Fitzgerald showed how this was wrong, and that it should be stopped. Gatsby, another character, would throw parties all of the time. Anyone would come, even if they didn’t know Gatsby. The partiers made a lot of noise at late hours of the night and left big messes for the maids to clean up in the morning. Fitzgerald was showing how the rich are careless. They have no respect for anyone and only think of themselves. Also, when Gatsby died, no one attended his funeral. This showed how all his rich “friends” didn’t even care enough to come to his funeral. Fitzgerald was a part of the idle rich. He had a good amount of money, drank a lot, partied often, and had affairs. His American dream related to the class that he was a part of, just like Jefferson and King. All of their dreams dealt with the part of society they belonged to. Fitzgerald wanted change like the others too, but he wanted to change who he was. Jefferson and King wanted to change other people’s perspective of them.
Jefferson, King, and Fitzgerald’s American dreams shared similarities. All of their dreams had to deal with the social class they belonged to. Jefferson’s dream dealt with white landowning males, King’s dream dealt with African Americans, and Fitzgerald’s dream dealt with the idle rich. All of their dreams also dealt with change for the better. My American dream is to go to college, have an enjoyable job, get married, have kids, and have a nice house. My dream is probably what most upper-middle class people aspire for. This makes my dream similar in that it deals with my social class. It is also a change for the better. I don’t want to live in my parents’ house all my life. The American dream is universal in that everyone hopes for positive change and that the change deals with their place in society. The American dream something that everyone aspires for, even if it is hard to accomplish. It is the thing that keeps people going.
This academia was first published 28 Mar 2005 and last revised 15 Feb 2016.Adam Cap is a sometimes raconteur, rare dingus collector, and webmaster probably best known for SixPrizes (serving as “El Capitan”) and PkmnCards (read: fine art purveyor). He scrapbooks yonder every minute or three.