The American Dream is the nation’s ethos, a collection of ideas that include representative democracy, liberty, and equality.
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The American Dream is the nation’s ethos, a collection of ideas that include representative democracy, liberty, and equality, and in which freedom is seen as the possibility for personal success and prosperity.
Regardless of social status or birth circumstances, James Truslow Adams stated that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to aptitude or achievement” when he invented the phrase “American Dream” in 1931.
The American Declaration of Independence, which affirms that “all men are created equal” and have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” is frequently cited as the source of the American Dream, according to its proponents. Similar uses of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution are made. According to the document, one of the goals of the Constitution is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
There have been detractors of the American way of life throughout history. The emphasis on individualism and capitalism that Americans place leads to materialism, consumerism, and a lack of worker solidarity, according to some critics. Only 10.5 percent of American workers were union members in 2015. The American Dream has additionally come under fire as a result of American exceptionalism because it downplays the struggles that many Americans face, particularly in light of the lingering effects of American slavery and Native American genocide as well as other instances of discriminatory violence.
Rates of national breakdown are frequently adversely correlated with belief in the American Dream. Evidence suggests that in recent decades, income inequality has increased in the United States while upward economic mobility has decreased. In a poll conducted in 2020, it was discovered that just 54% of US adults believed they could achieve the American Dream, 28% said they couldn’t, and 9% said they didn’t believe in it at all. The American Dream was also less likely to be believed in by younger generations than by older ones.
The definition of the American Dream has evolved throughout history and now encompasses both domestic goals like home ownership and social mobility as well as a larger, international goal like diplomatic predominance.
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The Dream’s historical roots lie in the romanticization of frontier life during colonial times. The colonial governor of Virginia, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, observed in 1774 that Americans “always suppose the Lands further off are yet finer than those upon which they are now settled.” If they reached Paradise, he said, “they would leave if they heard of a better spot farther west.”
Many educated Germans who fled the failed 1848 revolution discovered that America was more politically open than their own country, which they perceived as an aristocratic, hierarchical culture that set the upper limit on their aspirations. A few men did win their wealth after the discovery of gold in California in 1849, which attracted 100,000 men seeking for it overnight. The California Dream of overnight success was thus formed. The California Dream extended across the country in the years following the Gold Rush, according to historian H. W. Brands:
The Puritans’ and Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard” dreams of men and women content to amass their meagre wealth incrementally, year by year by year, made up the ancient American Dream. The new aspiration was to become instantly wealthy through daring and good fortune. After Sutter’s Mill, the golden fantasy only really started to take hold in the collective American consciousness.
There has also been the American dream, which is the idea that everyone should live a better, wealthier, and fuller life with opportunities tailored to their individual talents or accomplishments. The European upper classes have a hard time properly interpreting this ideal, and far too many of us have grown jaded and sceptical of it ourselves. It is a hope of social order in which every man and every woman will be able to reach their full potential and be accepted for who they are, regardless of the fortunate circumstances of their birth or position, rather than just a fantasy of automobiles and big salaries. The American dream, which has drawn tens of millions of people from all over the world to our shores over the past century, was not only a dream of material abundance, though it undoubtedly played a significant role. More than that has been the case. It has long been a desire to be able to reach our full potential as men and women, free from the constraints that past civilizations had progressively established and from the social structures that had evolved more for the advantage of the affluent than for the common man or woman of any class.
Many immigration restrictions were put in place by the American government while Donald Trump was president from 2017 to 2021. In their arguments, critics referred to the American Dream. Trump’s demands for immigrant wealth, according to congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are an effort to transform the American Dream into a “private club with a cover charge.”
The idea of the “American Dream” has been used in popular culture, and academics have found examples of it in works of American literature, including Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884), Willa Cather’s “My Antonia,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy,” and Mark Twain’s ” (1977). Langston Hughes, Edward Albee, John Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson, and Giannina Braschi are a few other authors who have written on the American Dream. The American Dream is also discussed in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman because Willy, the main character, is on the lookout for it.
To make their point, many American authors used American ideals as a theme or other recurring subject in their writing. The American Dream is reachable, all people are equal, the United States of America is the Land of Opportunity, independence is cherished, and everyone can succeed with hard work and persistence are just a few of the values that emerge throughout American literature. In his writings, John Winthrop discussed the idea of American exceptionalism. According to this worldview, Americans are elected as a whole.
It has been said that the American Dream contributed to the development of a unified American experience, but it has also been charged with creating unrealistic expectations. Despite widespread acceptance of the egalitarian American Dream, some observers have emphasised that racial and socioeconomic disparities continue to exist among generations in the modern American wealth structure. According to one sociologist, advantage and disadvantage are frequently related to one’s prior standing in a social group rather than to personal triumphs or failings.
Since the 1920s, many authors have parodied or mocked materialism in the pursuit of the American dream, including Sinclair Lewis in his 1922 novel Babbitt and F. Scott Fitzgerald in his 1925 classic, The Great Gatsby. For instance, Jay Gatsby’s passing reflects the downfall of the American Dream and the pessimism of contemporary Americans.  John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men has the American Dream as one of its central themes. George and Lennie, two pals, envision having their own ranch on property so they can “live off the fatta the lan” and simply enjoy a better quality of life. Later in the book, it is demonstrated that while it is feasible for a select few people to accomplish the American Dream, not everyone can. Many people pursue the American Dream in order to increase their chances of getting wealthy. Some claim that changes in government policies, economic conditions, government restrictions, technological advancements, and the cultural values of the American demography all affect how easy it is to realise the American Dream.
The American Dream and the occasionally gloomy reaction to it have long been recurring themes in American cinema. The traditional pursuit of the American Dream was frequently mocked in counterculture movies from the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, the characters in Dennis Hopper’s 1969 film Easy Rider embark on a journey in pursuit of “the actual America” as represented by the hippie movement, drug use, and communal ways of life.
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In the lives of several political figures, including Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, scholars have looked at the American Dream theme. Numerous local leaders have also adopted this topic, including José Antonio Navarro (1795–1871), a Tejano statesman who served in the legislatures of Coahuila y Texas, the Republic of Texas, and the State of Texas.
Senator Barack Obama of the United States published a memoir titled The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream in 2006. This young black man’s conception of the American Dream contributed to the development of his statewide and national reputations. In the 2008 and 2012 elections, the precise meaning of the Dream was turned into a partisan political issue by at least one analyst. The shared values of all parties in the hope that the American Dream will end many problems and disputes have, to some extent, lessened political tensions.
Four consumerist ideas:
According to Ownby (1999), the new commercial culture addressed four American Dreams. The first was the “Dream of Abundance,” which promised all Americans a plethora of material items and made them feel privileged to live in the richest society on the planet. The second was the “Dream of a Democracy of Goods,” which challenged the aristocratic norms of the rest of the world, according to which only the wealthy or well-connected are given access to luxury. In this system, everyone would have equal access to the same goods regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or class. People were able to create their own unique way of life because to the “Dream of Freedom of Choice” and its ever growing selection of goods. Last but not least, the “Dream of Novelty,” which challenged the conservatism of traditional society, culture, and even politics by introducing constantly-evolving trends, new models, and unexpected new items, extended the consumer experience in terms of purchasing abilities and market awareness. Ownby recognises that the new consumer culture’s aspirations spread from the main cities, but he also points out that these aspirations swiftly reached the remotest and most rural regions, including rural Mississippi.
After 1910, shoppers in rural America no longer had to be confined to small general stores with their expensive prices and limited selection compared to businesses in towns and cities. Ownby shows how the new consumer culture was embraced by poor black Mississippians both inside and outside of the state, which encouraged those who were more ambitious to relocate to Memphis or Chicago.
The current mindset suggests that Americans have the chance to flourish by working hard. The ability for one’s children to grow up, acquire a solid education, and pursue a job without artificial boundaries is included in the Dream. It is the chance to make personal decisions free from previous limitations based on people’s class, caste, religion, race, or ethnicity. Ethnic publications in native tongues were sponsored by immigrants to the United States; the editors frequently preached the American Dream.
The hope of “betterment” and to “improve one’s lot” for oneself and one’s offspring has long served as the heart and soul of the American Dream for many people in both the working class and the middle class. We have all been given the same script: “Work hard, save a bit, send the kids to college so they can do better than you did, and retire blissfully to a warmer place.”
Home ownership has historically served as a status symbol dividing the middle classes from the impoverished in the United States and is occasionally used as a stand-in for obtaining the promised prosperity. The American Dream is sometimes associated with sporting success or immigrant workers’ attempts to adopt the American way of life.
A 2020 American Journal of Political Science study found that when wealth disparity rises, Americans are less likely to trust that the American dream can be achieved. According to a 2022 study published in the same journal, watching “rags-to-riches” TV stories increases Americans’ likelihood of believing in upward mobility.