What is the American Dream and why is it so important to people?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This phrase, first expressed by James Truslow Adams in 1931, is the idea that many of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island clutched emotionally.  Having left their own countries because of poverty, war, or civil or religious oppression, they felt that if they worked hard enough in America they could achieve a quality of life superior to the ones that they had left behind on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  This idea is rooted in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, which states that "all men are created equal," and that they are endowed with "certain inalienable rights." 

Fathers who were vegetable peddlers have dreamt of their sons being doctors, paperboys have dreamt of owning silver mines, a bobbin boy in a cotton mill has dreamt of owning ships.  People in the tenements of New York dreamt of owning homes of their own. Before them, indentured servants,  slaves dreamt of their freedom.

The American Dream was certainly realized by men such as J.D. Rockefeller who owned Standard Oil Company, and Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate who literally rose from "rags to riches."  Another such man who reached the American Dream was Cornelius 'Commodore' Vanderbilt, whose great-great-great-grandfather came to America as an indentured servant.  Vanderbilt, who quit school at age 11, worked on his father's ferry and went on to buy steamboats and railroad.  He is the third wealthiest man in American history after Rockefeller and Carnegie.

In "Mice and Men," by John Steinbeck, the American Dream is what sustains George and Lennie in the depressed era in which they live.  All their dream consists of is a ranch of their own and some rabbits for Lennie to pet.  But, to own anything in the 1930s is truly a dream come true.  Just to rise above the station one is in; to acquire some ownership and level of respect is what the America Dream is about.  To stoop and feel the dirt that belongs to them, to look around and see their property, to have a house of their own, to not be beholden to anyone--that is the dream that George recites repeatedly for Lennie like a mantra, the American dream.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think there would be many answers to this question.  The American Dream, as defined by many, is the belief that with one's efforts and use of freedom, "success" can be evident.  This is where things get a bit complex.  Many interpret this to be a financial condition where monetary growth and preponderance is present.  Within this, the conception of the "American Dream" is one where individuals seek to make money. The foundation of "The American Dream" is an economic one.  This is not the only conception of it, but the one that most grips individuals in its pursuit.  If one wished to conceive of the dream outside of the ream of economics, then I would say that the use of freedom and personal autonomy in self- definition is the critical component of "the American Dream."

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To me, the American dream is the idea that each American can "make it" in life.  It is the hope that each American has that they can get ahead and be whatever it is that they want to be.

I think that this dream is important to people because we all want to believe that we are capable of improving ourselves.  Life would be pretty hopeless if you started out your working career knowing that you would never be anything more than what you are at that moment.  The American dream gives us the motivation to work our hardest so that we (or at worst our children) can improve our lives and become more than what we are at a given moment.

mkcapen1 | Student

For simple men who grew up during the time of the depression the American Dream consisted of having the ability to own one's own property.  Land ownership has always been a symbol of accomplishment in America.  When the Pilgrims came to America they picked their land and planted, raised livestock, and food.  They had a concept of ownership that the Indians did not have.  In the countries prior to their existence in America, the idea of them ever being able to own that which was a prized possession like land was impossible to nearly impossible.

Generations of Americans handed the dream down from one to another.  As American land became more and more settled, the option of owning land also dwindled.  George and Lenny are two souls who were born without.  They want their own piece of the pie.  Land for them means stability, a source of income, and safety.  It is their American Dream.  Things have not changed that much.  Men and women today still think of home ownership as being the fulfillment of the dream.

carlsj101 | Student


carlsj101 | Student

I think the American Dream is to never give up and keep going with life.

carlsj101 | Student


w3moneyw3 | Student

to populate and take over the land and consume everything