American Dream

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For many immigrants, the Statue of Liberty was their first view of the United States, signifying freedom and personal liberty. The statue is the American Dream icon.

The American Dream (The Dream) is a phrase referring to the supposed freedom that allows all citizens and all residents[1] of the United States to pursue their goals in life through hard work and free choice (see Immigration to the United States).

The phrase's meaning has evolved over the course of American history. The Founding Fathers used the phrase, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The American Dream often refers to the opportunity for immigrants to achieve greater material prosperity than was possible in their countries of origin. America has been viewed as a land in which one's prospects in life are defined by one's talents and energy rather than by one's family wealth or political connections. This hope includes the opportunity for one's children to grow up and receive an education and its consequent career opportunities. It is the opportunity to make individual choices without the restrictions of class, caste, religion, race, or ethnic group.


[edit] Counterculture

The counterculture of 1960s' America introduced for the first time an American Dream directly opposed to the traditional "Dream".[citation needed] Whereas tradition stressed monetary gain, the hippie movement valued spiritual gain. Since then, the spectrum has continued to widen to include less generalized, more personal definitions.

A great deal of literature has been written in attempts to discover and define modern, counterculture variants of the American Dream. Examples include several Hunter S. Thompson titles, such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Jack Kerouac's On The Road.

Others have been written to critique or ridicule the concept, such as John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby about the extreme selfishness of adultery, bootlegging and social climbing.

The dramas Death of a Salesman and A Raisin in the Sun are examples of marginalized citizens striving to or failing to achieve the American Dream.

Many films explore the topic of the American Dream. One such film is 1969's Easy Rider, in which characters make a pilgrimage in search of "the true America."

[edit] The American Dream in the 21st Century

In recent years, the concept of the American Dream as a national ideal has been studied by various organizations. The conclusions of these studies indicate that during the 1990s to the 1920's and 2000s, a period of remarkable wealth for the U.S., an increasing amount of people confess having lost faith in the American Dream.

Consider these statistics:

1. In 1995, a Business Week/Harris poll found that two-thirds of those surveyed believed the American Dream had become harder to achieve in the past ten years, and three-fourths believed that achieving the Dream would be harder still in the coming decade.[2]

2. In 2006, a CNN poll found out that more than half of those surveyed, 54 percent, considered the American Dream unachievable. [3]

3. In 2008, JWT's American Dream in the Balance survey reported that only 52 percent believed that the American Dream was alive and well. Similarly only 48 percent said that the American Dream was an important part of their family history.[4]

This lack of faith in the American Dream is especially seen among the younger generations. In the JWT survey, 47 percent of Millennials (born between 1978 and 1990) and 44 percent of Gen X-ers (born between 1965-1977) said they don't think their generation believes in the American Dream. This compares with 34 percent of Boomers (born between 1945-1964) and 26 percent of Matures (those born before 1945).[5]

[edit] The American Dream and the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

President Barack Obama used the theme of the American Dream in many of his campaign speeches. He often described the Dream as a "promise." Consider some of his remarks from the 2008 Democratic National Convention:

What is that promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect. It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road. Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology. Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work. That's the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper. That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.


During the course of the campaign, American voters of both parties increasingly saw him as an embodiment of the American Dream. In JWT's American Dream in the Balance survey, when asked "Whose life is more of an American Dream story--John McCain or Barack Obama?" 58 percent answered Obama's.

[edit] Origin

Historian and writer James Truslow Adams coined the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book Epic of America:

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.[7]

He also wrote:

The American Dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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