Facing Up to the American Dream

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jennifer L. Hochschild, with characteristic lucidity, examines the basic “tenets” of the American Dream within the context of recent African American experience. She addresses recent worries and “puzzles” about the dissatisfaction felt by the black middle class and some poor blacks.

The American Dream, Hochschild believes, is “the soul of the nation.” She compares the views, hopes, and fears of whites and blacks. Through data analysis and colorful narrative, she examines how they view each others’ and their own achievements and opportunities.

The rapid economic and political growth among the black middle class and their inclusion in the white middle class may confirm the American Dream in the eyes of many blacks and whites. The presence of black mayors, black professors at major universities, and black partners in prestigious law firms are indications that the American Dream is prevalent and pervasive. Hochschild calls this a “benign picture.”

Although the picture may be accurate in many respects, blacks have paid exorbitant price. Hochschild believes whites never intended for blacks to participate in the American Dream in more than an “unthreatening handful” to create the illusion that racial discrimination is all but eliminated and that everyone is genuinely free.

Middle-class blacks, who represent one-third of the African American population, are anxious about the progress of black people who may be losing the American Dream. At the same time, many poor blacks cling tenaciously to the American Dream, while the remaining tiny number of disenchanted, disenfranchised poor threaten the progress of the black community as a whole.

Hochschild believes that in some ways the American Dream has been a failure because only a handful can realize it in its fullest sense. Whites are kept from recognizing the intricacies of race relations and some setbacks experienced by blacks. Blacks are deprived of knowledge and appreciation of the enormous progress made by them in all areas of American life.

Hochschild’s brilliant scholarly work, written with a rare combination of lucidity and passion, will interest specialists and concerned laymen.