Katherine Shannon March 16, 2009

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Katherine Shannon

March 16, 2009

English 1020

Professor Newsom

What is the American Dream Today in America?

Dear Grandma Dunne,

I am writing you this letter to talk with you about the American Dream and inform you of everything that is preventing people from achieving it, especially today, in America. I’m sure you know that the American Dream has changed dramatically from when you were growing up to now. The library of Congress defines the American Dream as “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.” (1) Also when I was researching, I asked some people how they defined the American Dream. One definition I found rather interesting was the one I heard about how this person was taught that the dream is to have what you didn’t have growing up, to give your children more than you had. I can understand where that thought would be generated, especially if someone grew up poor and wanted more than that of what they had. The major issue today is “how to go about attaining it.“ If every man and woman should be able to attain and reach their “American Dream”, then why does it seem like the dream is almost unattainable, especially in these times today around the country?

I found an article on American Studies Today Online. It was very interesting. The article stated that “Traditionally, Americans have sought to realize the American Dream of success, fame, and wealth through thrift and hard work. However, the industrialization of the 19th and 20th centuries began to erode the dream, replacing it with a philosophy of the “get rich quick.” A variety of seductive but elusive strategies have evolved, and today the three leading ways to instant wealth are large- prize television game shows, big- jackpot state lotteries, and compensation lawsuits.” (2) I believe that this shows that people no longer want to achieve things through hard work and sacrifice, but put almost no effort into your life and expect to be a millionaire. This works for some people, but if most people try this strategy, they may never reach what they determine to be “their” dreams, because of the fact that they never wanted to work toward them, but merely have everything fall into place without any effort from themselves.

Would you, personally, have of lived your life differently if you were growing up in today’s society and times? For people in past times, the American Dream was what almost everyone strived for. To live the American Dream took hard work and sacrifice, but not as nearly as much as that which is needed today. You have told me before that when you were growing up, times were different. You went to school up until you graduated from high school. From there, you were able to get a job, met Grandpa, got married, quit working, and your main job then was to raise the family and make sure that everyone and everything was taken care of around the house. Grandpa got his job with Ford before he was even out of high school, and was able to continue to work there even after he came out of the army. That job was enough to not only provide for you and make sure all the bills were paid each month, but that was also enough to raise not 1,2 or 3, but 10 children! I’m sure it wasn’t easy at all, and at times seemed more than overwhelming, but the point is you two made it work! The times were much different than they are today, as you already know.

So much goes on Today in America. With the new times and this ever hated recession that we are experiencing, most people are not thinking about the American Dream, but more importantly are thinking about survival and how they can stretch living expenses further than ever, or at least until they get their next check or unemployment installment. Many can’t even save any money because the money they do have, gets washed down the drain essentially because of bills and ever growing inflation. A lot of Americans today have even swallowed their pride and had to turn to the government for assistance to buy groceries and necessary essentials that everyone needs to just make it by. If you still have a job today, that is being considered almost an accomplishment. With so many people on unemployment, how can anyone look at the bright side of things anymore?

I feel that the major reason that the dream isn’t there for a lot of people today is because times are rough right now. How can someone have things better for their family than their parents had for them when a job is so hard to come by? It used to be that you could graduate high school and then get a good job, without going to college. College in those days was basically just another option. Today, if you don’t go to college, it is proven you will have a harder time finding a job and it is also even harder to find a job that pays more than minimum wage.

College has its draw backs as well. Most parents can’t afford to pay for their child’s college education today. I know that you and Grandpa paid for Catholic school from K-12 for each of your children, and then they were left to pay for college as well. Because of this, in these times today, most college students are resorting to student loans to pay for college in hopes that they will graduate, find a good job, and pay the loans off. What’s the problem with this? Some will take out the loans, go to school, and graduate, but have a problem finding a job, especially today. Some may think that this isn’t so bad, but those loans MUST be paid back starting 6 months after you graduate. You cant even file bankrupsy for student loan debt anymore,

What is anyone supposed to do? Young adults are told they have the best chances of getting a good job if they go to college. They must make sure they weigh the possibilities of each option. I feel that’s why so many college students avoid going to college because they are afraid of the consequences of making a wrong decision. What they should understand is that many people make wrong choices in life. The key is to realize what your doing wrong and to learn from it.

The American Dream should be able reachable by everyone. In The Library of Congress’s background essay, “Thomas Wolfe said, “…to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity…the right to love, to work to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him.” (1) People can interpret this in many ways, but the way that I ultimately interpret it, is if someone tries and works hard enough in life, they will eventually be able to do whatever they set their minds to. The definition of the American dream has maybe changed and shifted within the past couple decades but the point is that the American Dream is still attainable. The main point is that there is STILL what some can call an American Dream. I feel that some just blame the Dream not being handed to them as that it’s not attainable. It is, however. You grew up during The Great Depression, grandma. Times were harder then, then they are right now.

I understand a lot of people lose hope very easily. I think that the sign above the exit of the Red Wings Locker room explains life best : “To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected.” I interpret this as, if you are lucky enough to be part of a family and have friends and support, and a roof over your head, you should be thankful for each day that you are given, don’t take anything for granted and always take advantage of new opportunities when they arise. Living life doesn’t have to always be spectacular and you won’t always get what you want at the time you want it. Living life in America, to many, is living the American Dream. “As Franklin Roosevelt understood, Americans will postpone immediate gratification and endure hard sacrifices - if they must - so long as they are convinced the future can be better than the past.” (3) I sit back and think how many would love to be in my place, have the ability to do almost anything, be encouraged by the people around me, have strong family ties, and a place to call home, even if I don’t own that home.

Thanks for listening Grandma,

Love always,


(1)"What Is the American Dream?" American Memory from the Library of Congress - Home Page. Web. 01 Mar. 2010. http://memory.loc.gov/learn/lessons/97/dream/thedream.html.

Warshasuer, Matthew. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream." American Studies Today Online. Web. 5 Mar. 2010.


Greider, William. "The Future of the American Dream." The Nation 25 May 2009. Print.


Walker, Kamille D. "Un-Mortgaging The American Dream." The Atlanta Tribune May 2009: 27-32. Proquest. Web. 5 Mar. 2010. http://www.proquest.umi.com.

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