What is the American Dream?
The American Dream, sometimes in the phrase "Chasing the American Dream," is a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of prosperity and success. In the American Dream, first expressed by James Truslow Adams in 1931, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence which states that "all men are created equal" and that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Home ownership is sometimes used as a proxy for achieving the promised prosperity; ownership has been a status symbol separating the middle classes from the poor. Sometimes the Dream is identified with success in sports or how working class immigrants seek to join the American way of life.
Since its founding in 1776, the United States has regarded and promoted itself as a beacon of liberty and prosperity.
The meaning of the "American Dream" has changed over the course of history. While historically traced to the New World mystique — especially the availability of low-cost land for farm ownership — the ethos today simply indicates the ability, through participation in the society and economy, for everyone to achieve prosperity. According to the dream, this includes the opportunity for one's children to grow up and receive a good education and career without artificial barriers . It is the opportunity to make individual choices without the prior restrictions that limit people according to their class, caste, religion, race, or ethnicity.
Historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book Epic of America:
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, also too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
He also wrote:
“ The American Dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.”
(Paraphrase) - Using the article as a guide, paraphrase the definition of American Dream.
(Infer) - According to James Truslow Adams, is being rich and owning a lot of material possessions all that is necessary to achieve the American Dream? If not, what else does Adams suggest is necessary?
(Context Clues) – Using context clues, try to define the term “ethos” as it appears in paragraphs one and four.
(Evaluate) – According to the article, “the United States has regarded and promoted itself as a beacon of liberty and prosperity.” Do you think America is still generally viewed as a place where liberty and prosperity are attainable for all people? Why or why not?
(Apply/Connect) – Think of a real person who has achieved the American Dream. Be sure to explain how he or she has met all of the criteria mentioned in the article.