The American Dream: A Person's Experience May Affect Their Interpretation of the American Dream Because of Their Previous Value, and Obstacles They Had to Overcome Before and After Coming to America

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The American Dream is interpreted and other pieces are examined and connected for American Studies

Submitted: November 30, 2016

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Submitted: November 30, 2016

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The American Dream has been a part of American life ever since the immigrants came to the United States, often believing the Dream was to have mass amounts of wealth, a good house, and a paying job, but also progress. Although the dream is not commonly thought of now, with the dream being more a part of United States history, it is still relevant through the values it possesses; wealth, progress, and equality. Depending on where a person came from, their interpretation of the American Dream may vary based off what their previous values were before and what they had to overcome before and after coming to America.

In an article called The Roaring Twenties, by Brenda Barth, the 1920s is shown as one of the most prosperous times. During the early 1910s, during the years of the Great War, now known as World War I, the American economy was at an all time high, with both the Allied and Central powers taking out loans and buying war supplies (Barth). An immigrant from the time, Isabel Belarsky, recalls what immigration was like around the time period in the article, As Lady Liberty turns 125, immigrant recalls passage, by David Ariosto; “Come to America, where there’s gold on the streets…” (Ariosto 2). At the time of Belarsky’s crossing, America was in the Great Depression, but the rumors of immense riches would still circulate from immigrant to immigrant; sending the message that the American Dream would always include riches and fortune. Along with money, housing, consumer goods like appliances, and automobiles were part of the dream, and they were made more accessible than ever with the credit system. In an article called The Roaring Twenties, by Brenda Barth, the credit system coined the phrase; “Live now, pay tomorrow…” (Barth 1). During the 1920s, the American Dream became even more accessible than ever, with even those who could not initially afford to buy luxury items now could, and with empty jobs from the war, making money would be easy.  

America was not only a world leader in commerce, but also in the progress of science and technology, immigrants showed the country that anyone could make a life for themselves; an Irish immigrant, Andrew Carnegie commanded the steel industry after learning the Bessemer Process. Skyscrapers, automobiles, electricity and light bulbs, all were a product of this time period, the majority were made possible because of immigrants (A&E Networks). During World War I, African Americans came from the South to work in the unoccupied jobs of the Northern mills and factories, fighting for equality amongst the other citizens. Even before then, women, like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, they fought for women's equality, mostly, the right to vote, which was finally granted by the 19th Amendment in 1920 (HBO). Americans fighting for equality always had their obstacles they must overcome, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City, a discarded match or cigarette was thrown into a wastebin, setting the scraps that were in it ablaze and soon spread. The fire escapes were faulty, and due to the lack of workplace regulations, the doors to the stairwells were locked; the workers in the building either were burned alive, died of smoke inhalation, or fell to their deaths from windows or on the fire escape when it collapsed. The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire became the worst New York workplace disaster until the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, and this disaster lead to America changing and reforming workplace regulations; giving workers more rights and equality (A&E Networks).

A great amount of these values can be found in the novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, such as money and progress, and a small amount of equality. The novel depicts a man named Jay Gatsby, trying desperately to be with a woman named Daisy, as a rich man, Gatsby attempts to impress Daisy by hosting lavish parties in his home; but this does not work. Eventually, Gatsby and Daisy spend more time together, during an outing, one of the two, hit a woman named Myrtle with Gatsby’s roadster. The lover of Myrtle, George Wilson, decides to avenge Myrtle by going to Gatsby’s home and shooting him, before taking his own life. The novel ends after Gatsby’s murder, depicting an epilogue where Gatsby is forgotten by the majority of his friends, and those who attended his parties, including Daisy. During the entirety of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby uses his fortune to impress Daisy; he attempts this the entire novel but ultimately fails. While money is still a priority, Gatsby’s version of the American Dream most likely was just to be with Daisy. Another character, Jordan Baker, is more of a modern women than most of her time period; That was for the golf tournament. She had lost in the finals the week before” (Fitzgerald 43). Baker shows an example of a woman who believes in women’s rights, she does not act like a typical housewife of the era; she played sports, which women rarely did in the 1920s. This example shows that progress and equality for women was still occurring, evident by the fact she acts more masculine than other women of the era, her American Dream was most likely just to be treated as equally as a man would have in the era. According to this novel, Fitzgerald’s view of the American Dream is progress, but with an addition, having someone in life to love. Evidence that supports this is Gatsby’s attempts at a love affair with Daisy, and not caring for anything else, but Jordan is completely independent, and is living life to the fullest doing traditionally masculine activities such as golf, which was extremely rare among women of the 1920s.The Great Gatsby contained the values and aspect of the 1920s, evident by the values of the characters and their American Dream.

Another piece of literature that contains the American Dream is Charlotte Perkins’ The Yellow Wallpaper, which depicts a woman being locked into an old nursery because her husband believes she is insane. The story is told from the woman’s perspective, all she wants is to be free to be able to live her life normally and be able to leave the nursery, which is beginning to contribute to her insanity, as she is starting to hallucinate. Her American Dream is equality, to be able to do what she wants and not have to listen to a man, just like Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby (Gilman).

Depending upon what an immigrant is told upon coming to America, their interpretation of the American Dream can differ; for example, Belarsky’s rumors of ‘gold on the streets’ could have led her to believe that America could make her rich like the famous tycoons on Wall Street. The majority of the time an immigrant is told what life will be like in America usually just becomes an empty promise as immigrants arrive expecting a new life, but are placed in the basically the same living arrangements they had in the country they tried to leave behind. Not just rumors can build up an immigrant’s arrival to America, tough conditions in mills in their home country may have them tired and seeking a new life; with the rumors of a better life in America, they most likely believe they’re escaping the tough conditions, but they’re actually not. Similar to some parts of The Great Gatsby, life for immigrants was difficult, as shown in As Lady Liberty turns 125, immigrant recalls passage, this view of life was not available for characters like Gatsby or Daisy, but for George Wilson, this was an everyday sight. Immigrants would often struggle to achieve the American Dream, as their normal living arrangements would be made in tenement houses, like the one’s mentioned in Belarsky’s first views.

The American Dream is even relevant today, although it has become increasing difficult to achieve as time passes. Money in the United States has always been a major part of life, with the country in a national debt, striking it rich like the gold miners of the late 1800s is almost impossible. In an article by CNN’s Heather Long, Is anyone worried about America’s $19 trillion debt?, an interviewee states this; “I think it really scares us that we're staring at $20 trillion in debt, not knowing how our grandchildren will repay it," says Bob Kuck…” (Long). With a national debt that’s only growing, it will mean that the economy will suffer as the U.S. government struggles to pay the current debt it’s faced with; 2016 presidential candidates plans for the oval office predictions only increase the debt further (Long). Progress is another thing, there will never be a point in history where humans ceased to progress into new technologies. The ability to create progress in today’s society has become greatly difficult, with such a large amount of pre existing inventions and innovations, progress is not as common as it used to be; and a great amount of creativity is required to be able to solve some of the world’s constraints. The current world also has the constraints of the environment, with the increased efforts of reduced energy consumption, as well as the effort to combat climate change by decreasing pollution. Inequality from history is now racism, and that has been greatly addressed, back in the 1960s, segregation was ended and African Americans and whites were mixed together. Ever since the 1960s, racism has become easier to deal with each day; it’s still a problem, but not nearly as serious as it was back in the early to mid 1900s. The Great Gatsby also shows relevance to today's interpretation of the American Dream with wealth and progress, but especially with romance; today in American society, some of the best selling pieces of media like books, movies, music, etc. involve some kind of romance at some point. People expect to find the person of their dreams, it has become a part of every culture’s dream, American or not, The Great Gatsby’s romance, while dated, is no different. The Great Gatsby overall tone is relevant as well with the financial aspect of the book, with almost every main character rich, but some hovering above poverty, and views of some below poverty. The experiences of previously mentioned George Wilson can be viewed similarly to the immigrant Isabel Belarsky, who was also previously mentioned; as both were barely above poverty and lived in the tenant housing area of New York City, shown the poorer side of the 1920s. When Belarsky arrives to America, she arrives expecting what people have spread rumors of; lavish conditions and plenty of money to be made, but once she finally reaches Ellis Island and enters the city, she realizes that this is entirely false (Ariosto). Belarsky came to America under the impression it was the best way to make money and escape poverty, which can be viewed as her American Dream. When readers are introduced to Wilson in The Great Gatsby, he runs a broken down car garage, barely able to preserve in making enough money to support himself. His American Dream greatly resembles Belarsky’s, in terms of escaping poverty; similar to Gatsby’s American Dream, he also wishes to find someone to love.

Another piece of literature that can be connected is the autobiography, Stronger, by Jeff Bauman; in the book, he attempts to learn how to walk, along the way, overcoming obstacles. In the novel, Bauman attends the annual 2012 Boston Marathon to support his girlfriend, Erin, who was running in the race, but as told by both the novel, and by history, the marathon was bombed, injuring hundreds and killing three spectators. Bauman, who was at the epicenter of the bombing, lost both of his legs above the knees, and without the use of prosthetics, would never walk again, and for months, was confined to a wheelchair. After overwhelming support, Bauman begins to learn how to walk with donation-bought prosthetics, and conquered a great amount of obstacles. Bauman had to overcome the intense pain of his now over sensitive nerves that came with losing limbs; “My whole body hurt. They had me on morphine for the worst of the pain, but it still felt like I’d taken one of those movie beatings where the bad guys kick you a few extra times in the stomach for good measure, even after you’re down” (Bauman, 40). Bauman overcame this the pain to achieve his American Dream, to be able to walk again and return to the life he had before the bombing as much as he possibly could. Before the bombing, his American Dream was to finish college and have a successful career and be with his girlfriend Erin, but this quickly changed after the bombing, adapting into learning how to walk and return his life to as normal as Bauman could possibly get it. In contrast Jay Gatsby also had to overcome great hardships in an attempt to achieve his social status as portrayed in the Great Gatsby; in particular, working as a janitor and assistant aboard a yacht and becoming inspired to become a wealthy man, in the process, he even changed his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. After becoming wealthy, Gatsby attempts to begin a love affair with another character named Daisy, which lead to his American Dream changing from become wealthy to being with Daisy, like Bauman’s dream change after the Boston bombing. In Stronger, Bauman overcame the challenges that the bombers threw at him with the detonation of the bombs at the marathon finish line; adapting and dedicating himself to learn how to walk, while Gatsby adapted his life goals from becoming rich to loving Daisy and being in a relationship.

From a historical standpoint, the American Dream has wavered between the difficulty of achievement, with events such as the Great Depression where the stock market crashed and burned, taking the wealthy with it; while still having to support those who can barely support themselves. Where in the years before, as previously mentioned, making a living and buying commercial goods was extremely easy. Eventually, America returned to financial stability after World War II, but never returned to financial prosperity the country once had in the 1920s, even today. The American Dream is achievable for any American citizen, but as time progresses, their efforts will have to increase as the country turns to the younger generation to solve problems like the national debt and pollution becomes increasingly frequently (Boston.com). The American Dream has changed the course of history, with the encouragement of immigrants who come to the United States with high hopes, and continues today, with many people still focusing on money, progress, and equality. Anyone’s view of the American Dream varies from person to person, it all depends on what their previous values are compared to America’s, and the obstacles they had to overcome before and after coming to America.

The future prospect of the American Dream is questionable, but it still is alive, it just is not discussed or advertised as much as it once was, as told through Jessica Dickler article for CNBC, American dream is not dead. In the article, it is revealed that as told through a report taken in 2016, a large amount of Americans believe that they are currently living the American Dream; “...63 percent of Americans believe they are living the American dream, according to a recent report, up from 59 percent in 2011” (Dickler). These Americans who state that they’re living the American Dream have credited determination and hard work as the largest contribution to their financial success. Today, increasing amount of Americans believe that their own work and self-confidence has caused their financial prosperity, and as the years progress, the percentage of Americans who believed they’ve achieved the American Dream have decreased by four percent in five years (Dickler). As told in Boston.com’s article, 30 fastest-growing jobs by 2020, there are a substantial amount of growing jobs that will provide more opportunities to be able to achieve the American Dream. As shown by statistics, a great amount of rising career options have a large annual salary with high job increase percentage (Boston.com). Although hard work and determination is the key to succeeding in achieving the American Dream, new career opportunities will open up the economy to aid Americans efforts at achieving the American Dream.

 

References

Ariosto, David. "As Lady Liberty Turns 125, Immigrant Recalls Passage." CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Barth, Brenda. The Roaring Twenties. 2016. Print.

Cities: America--The Story of Us. A&E Networks, 2010.

Barth, Brenda. Women's Suffrage. 2016. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York City: Scribner, 2004. Print.

Long, Heather. "Is Anyone Worried about America's $19 Trillion Debt?" CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 6 Oct. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

Iron Jawed Angels. Dir. Katja Von Garnier. Perf. Hillary Swank and Frances O'Conner. Iron Jawed Angels. HBO, 15 Jan. 2004. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Small & Maynard [Boston] 1899: 1-9. Print.

Bauman, Jeff, and Bret Witter. Stronger. New York: Grand Central, 2014. Print.

Dickler, Jessica. "The American Dream Is Not Dead." CNBC. CNBC, 04 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Boston.com Staff. "30 Fastest-growing Jobs by 2020." Boston.com. The Boston Globe, 30 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

 


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