Explain the significance of the article "the" in the title/phrase "The American Dream."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I tend to think that the article of "the" in front of "American Dream" helps to bring out the national consciousness that is such a part of its construction.  The idea of "the American Dream" is one in which individuals from all different narratives come to America and find that if they work hard and do what is asked of them, they, too, can find success.  The use of the article "the" helps to convey a shared experience that is part of American consciousness or even American mythology.  If the article was changed to the nonspecific and ambiguous "an," the forceful nature of the dream within the contours of what it means to be American would be lost.  It is here where I think that the use of the article "the" brings out a shared understanding and communication.  It is also in this use that writers in the 20th Century were able to play off the American Dream as a part of their writing.  Thinkers like Fitzgerald and Miller were able to use the notion of "the American Dream" as the basis for their dramas to explore how the narrow and specific focus of "the" American Dream is able to result in a nightmarish situation.  In the use of "the" one sees specificity, which becomes the source of the mythic resonance of both what it means to be an American and also what it means to struggle under the weight of "the" dream.

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