The narrator identifies his mother as the catalyst for his father's pursuit of the American Dream; she was a teacher familiar with the life stories of men such as Lincoln who achieved greatness despite humble roots, and once the narrator was born, she became "incurably ambitious" for him and his father.
After a decade of unsuccessful chicken farming, the narrator describes his father as "discouraged." As they walk into town with their meager belongings in a wagon, he notes that "people who have few possessions cling tightly to those they have. That is one of the facts that make life so discouraging." The family's first attempt to achieve the American dream ends in failure.
The family's next business venture is a restaurant; it is moderately successful, and the father becomes ambitious in his own right and tries to build on that success and make the restaurant a destination for people seeking entertainment, as well as food. His scheme falls flat, and though at the end of the story the family still has the restaurant, readers are left with the impression that the family will continue to struggle to get by.
For the narrator's family, the American Dream is elusive. The narrator conjectures that before embarking on his quest for the American Dream, his father "was, I am sure, intended by nature to be a cheerful, kindly man," but at the story's end, the last view of him that the narrator describes is that he is "dropped on his knees." He has failed to "rise in the world" despite years of hard work, suggesting that the American Dream is a myth.