John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck book cover
Start Your Free Trial

How might one briefly summarize John Steinbeck's essay "Paradox and Dream"?

Expert Answers info

Verdie Cremin eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write2,994 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

In his essay "Paradox and Dream," John Steinbeck makes a number of arguments, including the following:

  • Americans tend to be "a restless, a dissatisfied, a searching people."
  • Partly for this reason, they act excessively, taking everything to an extreme.
  • Americans often hold views that are not only extreme but self-contradictory.
  • Americans tend to be obsessed with being financially secure and will do almost anything to achieve that goal.
  • In numerous ways, American behavior is fundamentally inconsistent and involves trying to square circles and embrace opposites. In short,

Americans seem to live and breathe and function by paradox . . .

  • In particular, Americans like to consider themselves self-reliant, yet they are often anything but. Their lives, more and more, involve the possession of fewer and fewer practical, useful skills.


The paradoxes are everywhere: We shout that we are a nation of laws, not men-and then proceed to break every law we can if we can get away with it. We proudly insist that we base our political positions on the issues--and we will vote against a man because of his religion, his name, or the shape of his nose.

  • Americans are inconsistent in such other ways as in their attitudes toward gender roles, their attitudes toward advertising, their various fears, their views of entertainment, and their views of art.
  • The aspirations of Americans have little to do with the actual lives most of them live, and when their aspirations are achieved, they are often quickly discarded for new ones.
  • Americans are increasingly transient and unsettled.
  • The American obsession with status leads to an obsession with constant change.
  • The dreams of Americans seem to reflect realities of the nation’s past and seem connected with birth in the United States.
  • In American myths of morality (such as those associated with the Old West),

virtue does not arise out of reason or orderly process of law--it is imposed and maintained by violence.

  • The deepest aspirations of Americans

describe our vague yearnings toward what we wish were and hope we may be: wise, just, compassionate, and noble. The fact that we have this dream at all is perhaps an indication of its possibility.



check Approved by eNotes Editorial