In his essay "Paradox and Dream," John Steinbeck makes a number of arguments, including the following:
- Americans tend to be "a restless, a dissatisfied, a searching people."
- Partly for this reason, they act excessively, taking everything to an extreme.
- Americans often hold views that are not only extreme but self-contradictory.
- Americans tend to be obsessed with being financially secure and will do almost anything to achieve that goal.
- In numerous ways, American behavior is fundamentally inconsistent and involves trying to square circles and embrace opposites. In short,
Americans seem to live and breathe and function by paradox . . .
- In particular, Americans like to consider themselves self-reliant, yet they are often anything but. Their lives, more and more, involve the possession of fewer and fewer practical, useful skills.
The paradoxes are everywhere: We shout that we are a nation of laws, not men-and then proceed to break every law we can if we can get away with it. We proudly insist that we base our political positions on the issues--and we will vote against a man because of his religion, his name, or the shape of his nose.
- Americans are inconsistent in such other ways as in their attitudes toward gender roles, their attitudes toward advertising, their various fears, their views of entertainment, and their views of art.
- The aspirations of Americans have little to do with the actual lives most of them live, and when their aspirations are achieved, they are often quickly discarded for new ones.
- Americans are increasingly transient and unsettled.
- The American obsession with status leads to an obsession with constant change.
- The dreams of Americans seem to reflect realities of the nation’s past and seem connected with birth in the United States.
- In American myths of morality (such as those associated with the Old West),
virtue does not arise out of reason or orderly process of law--it is imposed and maintained by violence.
- The deepest aspirations of Americans
describe our vague yearnings toward what we wish were and hope we may be: wise, just, compassionate, and noble. The fact that we have this dream at all is perhaps an indication of its possibility.