The American DreamWhat is the American dream? Can the American dream be achieved or is it a common misconception? If the American dream is in fact attainable, what limitations does this supposed...

The American Dream

What is the American dream? Can the American dream be achieved or is it a common misconception? If the American dream is in fact attainable, what limitations does this supposed "dream" have? How does the American dream influence our pursuit of happiness? What possibilities are associated with this perceived concept, and what problems may emerge? What authors or literary works address the American dream, and in what way do they illustrate this concept?

Expert Answers
tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Early American Literature thrives on the American Dream because they shaped it. Think of political and religious authors as well as literary ones: Jefferson, Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau and Poe.  Don't forget the women's voices like Bradstreet, Stowe, and Fuller. Literary giants in the early period span Hawthorne, Longfellow, Cooper and Irving. The unconquered land that laid before them in the west was conquerable no matter what anyone told us. No matter how hard life beats us down, we will overcome and conquer. The old adage that so many relied upon was "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps!" That means when life kicks you when you're down, you get back up no mater what obstacles face you! 

Now we have the economy, the recession, gas prices, and a whole slew of things that we can blame our troubles on; but, even in the depression there was that fighting spirit that kept a person going for family and for self. I do think that the attitude of the country is changing to socialism so much so that we want to run to the government to save us from all of our problems, though.  Why can't we find the strength of spirit to unite in our communities and churches and fix things ourselves?

lffinj eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American dream is the idea that you can work hard and benefit from it.  I have always found it interesting that it is not the "Cuban dream," or some other country.  People come to America because in America you can work for someone, or develop your own company.  You can rent or buy a home and some land.  You can do whatever you like.  This is not possible in many places in the world.  It may be a bit more difficult now to own a home or keep a job, due in part to the recession and government policies, but it certainly is possible.

A piece of literature that addresses the American Dream is "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck.  The setting is in America during the Great Depression and the characters are all seeking their own version of the American dream.  Each one has a different dream, but many of them believe it can be achieved.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American Dream generally is taken to mean equality of opportunity- in other words, there are fewer structural impediments for Americans to attain economic success than in other countries. Perhaps this is true for some, but many factors, including our increasing turn away from social programs, as well as the enormous racial and class inequalities in education have convinced me that the American Dream is more rhetoric than reality. I am not suggesting that people can't rise to achieve material success in this country, nor am I saying that we do worse than other countries in encouraging individual achievement. We do better, I think, than most. But I do believe that many people in this country succeed despite the nature of societal structures in this country rather than because of it.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American dream is reality for many people. Through hard work and diligence you can succeed. I know many people who came to America with less than a hundred dollars and in twenty years did something great with their lives. Part of the reason for this is that in the past America was still a growing country and there was a lot of work in many areas. Now things are changing, in my opinion. It is getting harder to get ahead, even with hard work. There is simply less to go around. However, if there is still a land of opportunity, it is America. An anti-American dream work is: A Death of a Salesman.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American Dream is the idea that anyone can improve his or her status in this country through hard work (and possibly some amount of luck).  This is still largely attainable in the United States today, though it is much easier to achieve if you are already a "have."  The fact that it is possible to do can be seen in the fact that I have, for example, an ex-student whose father is a farm worker (not an owner, but a worker) and who has now gone to college and become an aerospace engineer, working on projects that get sent into space.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the American Dream in literature is something that we normally associate with negative examples from literature, such as Willy Loman or Jay Gatsby. I think one of the problems with the American Dream is the way that we have associated it with wealth, whereas perhaps it would be better to think of it as achieving success based on our own idea of what success is. Certainly the USA is a land that is built on the idea, myth or otherwise, that you can be what you want to be.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American Dream is not dead.  I have had students who are currently living that dream, making much more than I ever will, having come from another country and very humble beginnings.  I do think that dream is harder to achieve than it has been in the past.  There is a cycle of poverty and lack of education that are a dead weight around the neck of possibility and potential when it comes to the American Dream.  Some people just don't have a chance.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I always associate "The American Dream" with freedom -- freedom to achieve, freedom to think for oneself and express one's thoughts without fear, freedom to set one's own goals, etc. Although I worry deeply about the future of our country, I am also extraordinarily grateful to have been born here when I was. I would like to believe that the "American Dream" will remain a possibility.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea that hard work will equal success is not always the the case: hence it is a dream for many and a reality for few. I would advocate an exploration of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" to see how ambition and hope is not enough for Willy Loman to succeed.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
At this point, the American Dream is not as achievable as it once was. This is because a big part of the American Dream involves home ownership, and appreciating home values. Now, markets are going down and down, and credit is difficult to get for new homebuyers.
s7a0amoorah | Student

"The American Dream"

The title tells you all.

When you dream you hope for that but you know it's a 'dream'- not going to happen.

A good example of this would be Of Mice And Men.


carol398 | Student

What American dream? All I see is greedy CEO's and politicians.

ahuffer | Student

Other works:

"Harlem" by Langston Hughes

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

"A Raisin in the Sun", by Lorraine Hansberry