The American Dream in Literature

The American Dream in Literature

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The ideology of the American Dream can be traced back to the flood of immigration in the early twentieth century. Families from European Countries sailed on boats from months to read the great promise America held. They left their home countries and everything they had to lead successful and prosperous lives in the US. Another form of the American Dream arose in the 1950s after the US successfully win World War II. Young men came back to their young wives and had many children, hence the name “baby-boom generation.” Soon Levittowns sprung up around the country, cookie-cutter houses divided by pristine white picket fences, to handle the population increase. In Arthur Miller’s 1949 classic, Death of a Salesman, the antagonists American Dream is to retire comfortably, pay off the house he raised his family in, and for his sons to have a steady job and settle down with a woman. His dreams are much like those of elder parents who want not only the best for themselves, but also the best for their family. My American Dream is different then those listed about though being prosperous and happy is a theme that ties them all together. Instead of the perfect conforming dream of the 1950s, I would have a more Cosmopolitan twist to it. Though everyone’s American Dream is different, they all have the some underlying tone: to be successful, comfortable, happy, and prosperous.
The American Dream was prevalent in 3 different time periods of American History. In the sixteenth century, Englishmen persuaded colonists to move to the “New World” by promoting America as the land of plenty, the land of opportunity, and the land of destiny. By the start of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Europeans came by the boatloads to the country of spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties. Many left because of famine in their home country and wanted to raise their families in a better place. The term “American Dream” was coined in James Truslow Adams’ 1931 book The Epic of America where he states, “the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement." The last American Dream movement was in the 1950s after America had won World War II.

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Young men came back to their young wives and had many children, i.e. the “baby boom”. Across America, Levittowns sprung up like weeds. These neighborhoods of cookie-cutter properties divided by perfect white fences were the epitome of the American Dream. While men slaved away at office jobs, the wife would be home cooking and cleaning until her fingers bleed, the dog and the cat would be playing in harmony, and the daughter and son were quietly reading their Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys classics. The American Dream was a fake façade of perfection; no family was ever like the Cleavers.
In Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman, the protagonist Willy Lowman struggles with mental and physical degeneration. He tries to live vicariously through his grown sons, Happy and Biff, but realizes his life is empty and all of his work he’d done for his company is worthless. He believes that if a man is well liked and attractive then he will inevitably be successful and get all the material comforts offered in America. With early signs of schizophrenia, Willy is enclosing himself in his social world and onlookers, including friends and family, are pushed away from him. His American Dream of success is fleeting, as he is getting older and senile. While he is failing, he pushes his sons to be everything he wasn’t. They have gone through life just like their father, big dreamers of success but they aren’t proactive. But even worse, Willy dies before he can see one of his most important dreams come true, to see his sons settle down and have a family. When his sons aren’t up to par, he becomes infuriated. Slowly but surely, his American Dream in his psyche and his lack of his American Dream in reality slowly combine. His infatuation with the dream of success blinds him from other more important things in his life, such as his family, his mental health, and simple living costs for his home. Though this can be considered a character flaw, his yearning for success and making a comfortable home for his family is selfless. He never becomes the dream he wanted so badly, and dies poor, practically alone, and unfulfilled.
My American Dream is that if you have good morals, a proactive approach to things, and ready to take on challenges, then success is waiting for you. I believe self-made wealth is more attractive then inheriting a large amount of money or marrying a man based on the size of his wallet. I will marry for love and raise a family in an apartment in the heart of a cosmopolitan area. The norm of Levittowns and white picket fences are long gone and the working father and stay at home mother will not pertain to my family. I would raise a family in the city because it teacher independence and social awareness. It had so much more to offer than the country. I don’t wish my family would conform to the social norm of a daughter and a son, a husband that goes to an office, and little old me who cooks and cleans. I believe that in America today, men and women still aren’t peers, but I would want my husband and I to be on the same playing field. When it comes to success and financial prosperity, I don’t believe that money will bring happiness, but it will lessen the stress of paying bills. I would loathe ending up like the over wealthy that throw away their money on frivolous items to make their life better, to fill that void in their life with materialistic items.
Though all these American Dreams above are all different, the main underlying tone of success, comfort, happiness, and prosperity. The American Dream of success is all the same, people came to the United States to make money and be able to afford food, a house, and other needs for their family. Willy Lowman may sometimes put himself before his family, but his need for success will help the whole family out in the end. I want to have a successful career that makes me happy, and the monetary value I make isn’t a competition. Through out America’s history, success has been achieved in many ways, but being prosperous while maintaining your morals is the best way to do it. It’s tragic to see how many people want personal financial happiness and in doing so, forget their family. The most common would be a doctor who always work at the hospital but bring home fairly large checks and the lawyers who stay at the office at all hours just to bring money to the family. Willy Lowman must leave his family constantly in order to bring a paycheck, and that’s how he must bring success and bring in an income to the family. The true American Dream would be to make a fortune, but do it with your family in mind and to be financially successful, but to not throw it away on useless opulent items. If you lose everything, you will only have your family to help back you up, so family should always be number one.
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