illustrated portrait of American author John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

Start Free Trial

How would you briefly summarize John Steinbeck's "Paradox and Dream"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.



See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial