Thornton Wilder's Our Town addresses expectations of normalcy in terms of a historically oriented American Dream. What modern day cultural texts do the same thing?

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Thornton Wilder's play makes one small town the iconic Everytown, USA. With the Stage Manager to guide us, we see the characters experience and sometimes overlook their daily hopes and fears. Through Emily, caught in a limbo of the newly departed, we are forced to think about fleeting mortality.

In considering modern interpretations of these and other themes as related to a normalized American Dream, you will have to decide which aspects resonate with you. Perhaps an aspect of American life that resembles or draws on your own heritage? Many works by writers who are immigrants or whose parents were consider the changing meanings. Jamaica Kincaid, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Chang Rae Lee all come to mind.

"Modern" drama of the mid-late-twentieth century frequently deployed the theme. Edward Albee wrote a play titled "The American Dream." Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun takes its title from a Langston Hughes poem that asks, "what happens to a dream deferred?"

Think as well about how our norms change. What percentage of people now live in small towns? What problems do they face in achieving their dreams that are different from the past? Most of Russell Banks's novels, such as The Sweet Hereafter, consider such questions.

A third way to think is to address inverting the abnormal or the nightmare side of the normal dream. Quite a lot of TV lately takes that theme, such as Riverdale or Stranger Things.

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Although their styles and genres are very different, both Thornton Wilder's play Our Town (1938) and Sandra Cisneros' short story "Woman Hollering Creek" (1991) show how a young woman anticipates a normal life pursuing the traditional American Dream. The protagonist of "Woman Hollering Creek" is a young Mexican woman, Cleofilas, who leaves her home to marry an American man who lives in Texas. More than perhaps the man himself, Cleofilas is attracted to the lure of America. She imagines money, and she envisions herself wearing modern fashion like the women on television. Her house, she expects, will be lovely enough to cause her friends to be jealous, and the couple will add on to it when the children come. 

As in Our Town, however, the young woman doesn't really get to experience much of the American Dream. Emily Webb Gibbs marries young and has a few years of running the farm with her husband and has one child, but she dies bearing her second child. Cleofilas also has one child when the story opens and is pregnant with her second. However, she has never really experienced the American Dream. Her husband is abusive and a philanderer. Two American women take it upon themselves to help Cleofilas escape back to Mexico, and only at that point, as she is leaving the country, does Cleofilas really experience the joy and freedom that can be hers. 

While Our Town paints a sweet though sad picture of life in small town America for a young woman, emphasizing the joys of family and simple pleasures, "Woman Hollering Creek" is a story of empowerment and the ability of a woman to overcome an ill-advised decision before it completely ruins her life. Although in one sense Cleofilas doesn't experience the traditional American Dream, the story gives a glimpse of one woman in particular, Felice, who does. Felice has a job, drives a pick-up, and is obviously empowered. The story shows that the American Dream is alive and well in Texas for women who choose to holler, not in sadness or pain, but in power and joy. 

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