The American Dream is, at worst, an abstract concept which is designed to convince people to live beyond their means and, at best, it is a strong ethos which has infiltrated American life at every level and allows people to dream and achieve their potential and beyond all in the name of patriotism and achievement. The idea, which was one closely associated with the vast swarms of immigrants who permeated and carved out their own piece of American culture during the late 1800s and early 1900s is now a cultural reference which features in an array of musical, literary and theatrical settings. Of course, it was the immigrant culture which modern American life grew out of that initiated the idea of the American Dream and originally, America was referred to as ‘The New World’ and was prominently perceived as being a place of hope and glory, a place where anyone in the world could go to in order to find his fortune, and many did. However, as America grew up and the world changed around it, the American Dream quickly became associated with the continued prosperity of America through the societal participation of individuals who work hard, achieve their best and contribute fully.
The original understanding of the American Dream was of America as being a land of mystique which provided many foreigners, who were struggling to survive in their native country, an opportunity to start again. And so, many people left their homes and often their families too in order to seek their fortune in American pastures new. It was this idea alone which lured these individuals to America’s shores and from the 17th Century until the mid-20th Century, millions of Europeans, Asians and Africans immigrated to America. One account of the American Dream is from Jose Mota Cisneros who was formerly from Mexico who describes his reasons for moving to America as being due to the terrible conditions in his own country and ends his account by saying “Have I reached my dream? Yes, I have. The only thing I miss is not being able to see my mother… But I want to remain in the United States. It’s a pretty short answer about the American Dream, but it’s simple” (Leon 4). Cisneros story is similar to millions of others who chose to leave their lives behind in favour of the promise of potential that America held. This is the American Dream in its most tradition context: the idea that anyone can work hard and achieve their personal dreams. It is best described as being an abstract concept because it is something which cannot be defined and it is an individually conceived idea in as much as it means something different to everyone involved. However, its underlying idea is that of freedom and potential – everyone able to fulfil their dreams be that socially, financially or otherwise.
In more modern times, the American Dream has become more closely associated with the idea of American prosperity. Modern America is living proof that the American Dream exists and works as it demonstrates its success everyday through the millions of people who are living and prospering in America today. That said, there are still many issues such as health care and poverty which causes individuals to question the existence of the American Dream. However, it should also be argued that America is still a relatively young nation and that it is still growing and developing all the time, as proven by its recent election of its first African American President, and that as such, it is improving all the time. Equally, the idea of the modern American Dream relies upon the idea of every American pulling, as one, in the same direction. This means, working hard and giving back to community – not just taking and arguably, a lot of the individuals who do not have health care, for example, could give more to society in order to receive more in return. That is, of course, an extremely simplified view of the issue but it is this central idea which fosters the continued belief in the American Dream.
Culturally, the American Dream is routinely discussed in musical, literary and theatrical terms: America’s history can often be tracked in terms of the Dream’s continued mentions in literature – ranging from its earlier conception in works such as those written by Mark Twain and ranging right up through Arthur Miller and F. Scott Fitzgerald, right up to the modern day with authors such as Toni Morrison. Through this, the American Dream tracks America’s progress as a nation: the abolition of slavery, the industrial age and its continued evolution to the modern day. Therefore, it is clear that the American Dream does exist and is present in every aspect of modern America and has been since its inception in the Seventeenth Century – it represents the beliefs and hopes of every America and every generation that is yet to come.
Bloom, Howard & Hobby, Blake. The American Dream. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.
Leon, Harmon. The American Dream: Walking in the Shoes of Carnies, Arms Dealers, Immigrant Dreams, Pot Farmers and Christian Believers. New York: Nation Books, 2008. Print.