The American Dream is a concept that has changed in meaning with passing generations. For those who first stepped upon the virgin soil of a new land, it represented freedom, freedom from religious persecution, freedom from oppression. It also offered the opportunities of rising above one's social class. For others who followed, the Dream denoted opportunities for both social and economic freedom with the underlying idea of America as a melting pot of differing nationalities who could live together harmoniously.
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! Statue of Liberty
Sometimes it became one that was more materialistic. The "rags to riches" dream prevailed among many, especially after the Industrial Revolution and into the early twentieth century. Even the poorest held this dream as suggested in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath both set in the Great Depression. George and Lennie, two itinerant workers dream of owning their own farm, and the Joads leave the Dust Bowl in hopes of work in the "promised land" of California. For, in America, money gave people some dignity. However, in the 1920s, this materialistic dream as the main goal in people's lives began to bring with it spiritual and moral corruption as exemplified in F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary portrayal of the Jazz Age.
In the twenty-first century this American Dream of opportunity remains for some; however, for others, the Dream represents the umbrella of an expansive government that will care for them in childhood with things like Head Start programs, then with public school, then with Federal grants and scholarships for college, followed by a Federal job that includes health benefits and a retirement. Sadly, for some it no more than the opportunity to grasp what is free, without the intentions of previous people who wanted to become independent Americans. Rather than the freedom to create one's own existence; it is a dream inverted.
Regarding the choice of two topics, then, the writer can explore
- how the meaning of the concept of "American Dream" has changed
- the "four dreams of consumerism" contained in the American Dream:
- "The Dream of Abundance"-pertaining to the abundance of products that make America a bountiful nation
- "The Dream of a Democracy of Goods" -everyone has access to the products produced in America
- "The Dream of Freedom of Choice" -people can choose their own lifestyles
- "The Dream of Novelty"-with new products and experiences new ideas are formed in society and politics.
(See the link on American Dream below for more details.)