The American Dream, Fact or Fiction?

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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The American dream is an idea held by an abundance of people in the United States of America that with hard work, courage and determination one can achieve prosperity. These were morals held by plentiful early European settlers and have been passed on to many generations. What the American dream has become is a question often under discussion.

In the 20th century, the American dream had its obstacles. The Depression caused a lot of difficulties during the late Twenties and Thirties and was almost the opposite of the dream for those affected.

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Racism did not go away, and in some parts of the United States racial brutality was very common. There was controversy about the non-democratic campaign known as McCarthyism which carried on against imagined Communists.

As World War II ended, youthful American families sought to live in the suburbs that they built up. This looked upon as a plan by the apparent victory of the Cold War. The American Dream seems to have abiding demand to many people in other countries. The United States is still appealing for immigrants today, obtaining 1 million legal immigrants annually–the highest rate in the entire world. Although previous generations of immigrants usually wanted to come from Europe, most current immigrants come from Latin America and Asia. Remote amounts of immigrants that aren’t legal also enter the country every year, mostly from Mexico.

The concept of the American dream has been the subject of much criticism. The main criticism is that the American dream is misleading. These critics say that, for various reasons, it simply is not possible for everyone to become prosperous through determination and hard work. The consequences of this belief can include the poor feeling that it is their fault that they are not successful. It can also result in less effort towards helping the poor since their poverty is “”proof”” of their laziness. The concept of the American dream also ignores other factors of success such as the family and wealth one is born into and inheritable traits such as intelligence.

In particular, in the US it is difficult for children of poor families to afford college; not attending college sets upper limits on their career success, and it is essentially impossible to earn a bachelors’ degree — necessary for many fields — in one’s free time once one begins working full-time.

Although there is a stereotypical American Dream, people personalize it to make it their own. The attainability of the stereotypical goal cannot be evaluated because of the variations of this dream. For instance, the most common version is the idea of rags to riches. When Arnold Schwarzenegger came “here with empty pockets, but full of dreams, full of determination, full of desire”” (Schwarzenegger 27), he was fulfilling the dream of an immigrant. While making the Keynote Address at the Republican National Convention in 2004, he stated that he wanted and achieved, success, a career and a family, which he owes to America (27). The traditional concept of rags to riches is not always the foundation of some people’s dreams. In the novel The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s dream is to relive his fantasy with his idealized former lover. He uses the rags to riches portion of the American Dream to an end. He spends his life trying to gain Daisy’s love and subsequently a higher social status. To gain her affection he first had to show her that he was of the same social class as her. It was not her fault that she was not everything he wanted her to be, it was “because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion” (Fitzgerald 95). Gatsby dreams had gone “beyond everything” (95) because he spent his entire life and compromised his morals to make the money he needed to impress Daisy.

It was impossible for him to gain her affection though because of the concept of old money and new money, though such distinctions are much less relevant in today’s society. He could not win her over regardless. After Tom uncovered the truth about Gatsby’s past and he denied it to Daisy, she drew “further and further away into herself, so he gave that up and only the dead dream fought on” (Fitzgerald 134). On the other hand, Willy Loman values being well-liked, which he measured in the number of items he sold. He admires David Single man and thinks there is nothing more satisfying than being able to “be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people” (Miller 61). Willy is hyper-focused on the legacy that he leaves, and he believes this to be possible through the profession of a salesman. The people with whom he does business need to love him so that when he dies, he can have a grand funeral in his remembrance. He believes that this will be true even when contemplating suicide with Ben. Due to the infinite variations of the American Dream, though all stemmed from the hope of bettering oneself or one’s position, suggest there is no single clear-cut formula for the Dream low.

When a dream goes unfulfilled, the way that people react to it defines how they will end up. For example, Papa in the poem “David” comes to America because he wants to “”uncover those buildings”” (Fisher) from the stone. His inability to follow his dreams is a result of the job he is given, which leads to his being “sealed in” (Fisher). The dream that Papa had was not one that he could act upon, and he died completely unsatisfied. Another dream that was not achieved is Gatsby’s. His whole life revolves around Daisy, she is his everything. He needs her love to survive. Although he did not commit suicide he became upset when Daisy did not enjoy his party, and when things became awkward and other similar things. When a person has put all their faith into one dream, they are likely to be upset. Another example of a person whose life has been devoted to one thing is Willy. He had a high probability of being disappointed because he focused on his appearance and how he came across above everything else. His wealth was an indication of how popular he was because the more that he sold, the more friends he had.

He did not allow his family to provide him happiness, instead he only reacted negatively things that were happening within his family. He pushed his family away, betraying them all by sleeping with “The Woman”. When Charley offered him a job, Willy pushed him away in an effort to maintain his dignity, which did not help him get any more money for his family. Although supporting his family was not the foundation of Willy’s dream, as the breadwinner of the family, he needed to keep his family alive in some way or another. His decision to reject Charley’s job offer indirectly compelled him to kill himself, because his family needed the twenty-thousand-dollar insurance money. Someone whose dream went unfulfilled for a while was Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God. She wanted to be loved and happy. She persisted; trying new relationships until she found Tea Cake who made her feel both loved and happy. Janie’s tenacity caused her to finally get what she wanted. Attitude is one of the most important factors that contribute to the outcome of one’s life, and it is no different when it comes to fulfilling one’s dreams.

One tremendous example of an immigrant achieving the so called “American Dream” is Elon Musk. As a child, Musk grew up within a middle-class family in South Africa. He later moved to the United States in his late teens to pursue his individual dreams. During the internet boom Musk “dropped out of Stanford after just two days to become a part of [the internet boom], launching his first company, Zip2 Corporation.” He later sold this this company for just over $300 million dollars to the Compaq Computer Corporation. Musk defines a large aspect of the American Dream through wealth and success. He is the perfect role model of an immigrant achieving the premier American dream for anyone seeking opportunity in the United States.

Another modern-day example of a person achieving the American dream is Oprah Winfrey. When Winfrey was just a 14-year-old teenager she gave birth to a son that never lived and was constantly beaten by her family. She overcame these obstacles by training her beloved broadcasting skills throughout high school, which set her foot on the path to the American Dream. As Winfrey went through multiple TV jobs she finally got her own daytime talk show. Winfrey’s success multiplied and after “adding actor, author, magazine publisher, theater producer and philanthropist to her lengthy resume, Winfrey’s has amassed personal wealth of nearly $3 billion.” Winfrey has shown that an American girl can overcome hardships and doubt and blossom into a successful American citizen living the American dream. Both Musk and Winfrey have both shown that the wealthy successful concept of the American dream can be achieved no matter the circumstances.”

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The American Dream, Fact or Fiction?. (2021, Apr 19). Retrieved from