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Is The American Dream Still Alive?

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Published: Jan 30, 2024

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Introduction, history of the american dream, economic perspective on the american dream, social perspective on the american dream, cultural perspective on the american dream, personal perspective on the american dream, counterarguments to the american dream, references:.

  • Kelly, P. (2020). The American Dream. Forbes.
  • Gallup. (2020). Americans Still Believe in the American Dream.
  • Kochhar, R. (2016). The American Dream: Dead, Alive, or on Hold? Pew Research Center.
  • Wilhelm, H. & Schulte, B. (2020). Is the American Dream Dead? Global Young Voices.
  • Delgado, R. & Stefancic, J. (2001). Understanding Words That Wound.

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thesis statement over the american dream

American Dream Essay: Structure, Outline, Sample, and Topics

11 December 2023

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The American Dream is a recurring controversial topic in modern society. Individuals have developed different arguments to deconstruct what is the American Dream essay in the context of day-to-day life. In the academic setting, learners that engage in this discourse hold the weight of the proper expression of their arguments. A structured essay is analyzed with a focus on the introduction, main body, and conclusion of the five-paragraph essay. The process of topic selection, outline development, and structured writing is exemplified using an essay titled, “The Promise of the American Dream.” Recommendations for narrow scoped topics for exploring the concept are provided as a starting point for students.

In contemporary discourse, there is much controversy over the meaning of the American Dream. Basically, people hold different positions on multiple aspects of the concept in their essays and research papers. During the schooling years, it is important to acquire knowledge. Also, young minds benefit significantly from reflecting on the influence of their recently acquired knowledge on their position regarding controversial topics. Upon completing the reflection essay process, the expression of one’s newly defined position is the next step. An essay on the American Dream is presented to introduce the readers to the basic principles behind the concept. Moreover, the structure of a five-paragraph essay is explored with the support of an outline and a sample essay.

American Dream essay

What Is the American Dream Essay?

1. general description.

The American Dream is a widely known concept, but there is no definition that can be identified as a correct, comprehensive, and precise. Basically, freedom and opportunity are the most critical aspects of the essay on the American Dream. In this case, freedoms are essential to the idea of achieving goals. It because these freedoms provide an individual with the space to live freely without any oppression from their peers or the government. Moreover, equal access to opportunity allows each individual to pursue happiness and prosperity regardless of the social class, gender, race, and other social or cultural factors that stratify society. Therefore, this concept may be defined as a set of beliefs that explain the experience of life that many people are expected to have in an ideal situation, where their freedoms are protected, and no opportunity barriers exist.

2. Unique Experiences

People are born into families that provide them with a unique starting point for their pursuit of desired goals. For example, the financial capability, level of education, and cultural beliefs of an individual’s parents define the foundation on which a person begins to achieve desired goals. As a result, all people may be pursuing the same ideas when writing essays. In turn, it is not a level playing field because some individuals may find themselves in better circumstances than others. Furthermore, it is differentiated at a personal level because individuals with relatively similar starting points may have distinct outcomes. Based on this perspective, it is highly unlikely that any two individuals can attest to going through identical experiences when writing an essay.

3. Belief Systems

Besides the circumstances of the starting points, an individual’s belief system plays a significant role in their strategy of achieving desired goals. For instance, happiness and prosperity are broad terms that have contrasting meanings for individuals because there is no standardized scale for measuring happiness or prosperity. Moreover, one person may consider owning a car and house to be a sign of prosperity. In contrast, another person may believe that providing his or her children with a college education to be prosperity. Hence, these beliefs are imposed on desires goals, which results in variations in the meaning of the concept for each individual to be covered in an essay. In turn, desires goals affected to a large extent by an individual’s beliefs regarding the things that make them happy or prosperous.

Topic Selection for American Dream Essays

1. challenges of topic selection.

The American Dream is a concept that people can examine from a variety of perspectives, which makes the selection of an essay topic for an American Dream paper quite challenging. During the selection of an essay topic, it is essential to remember that no point of view is more superior or correct than another. In this case, the weight of the claim proposed in the American Dream argumentative essay is dependent on the writer’s ability to explain a position logically and convincingly. Moreover, in the presentation of the argument in the essay, it is important to adequately consider competing counterarguments that may arise in the audience’s minds when writing essays. In turn, the failure to evaluate counterarguments critically may undercut the authority of the author, especially when writing for an academic audience.

2. Solution

Equally important, writers should select a topic that has a link with their personal experiences. For instance, an argument concerning the essay about the American Dream gains a sense of authenticity when writers discuss an issue that resonates with their beliefs. It is essential because some passion is embedded in the essay. In this case, as a starting point for identifying the essay topic, writers may identify a “main concept” under review, for example, equal opportunity. Based on the main concept, writers can think through their life experiences and single out events that they consider invaluable in the position taken concerning the main concept (see the example of a simple brainstorming template). Finally, writers should settle on the essay topic that is specific and can be argued out entirely within the constraints of the essay requirements.

3. Example of a Simple Brainstorming Template

  • State the main concept.
  • How has it affected you?
  • How has it affected other people in your life?
  • Do you think the events mentioned above are in line with the American Dream?
  • Specify the issue.
  • Describe the ideal situation.
  • Can the situation be improved?

American Dream Essay Outline

Introduction (approximately 10% of the word count).

  • It is the first statement in the introductory paragraph.
  • The statement should capture the attention of the reader, for example, a unique fact about the topic.

2. Overview of the Topic

  • It comprises of two or more sentences.
  • The statements should contain adequate detail for the reader to understand the thesis statement.

3. Thesis Statement

  • It is a single statement that appears at the end of the introductory paragraph.
  • The statement provides an answer to the essay prompt in the form of a single argument, which summarises the main evidence or rationale presented in the main body.

Main Body (Approximately 80% of the Word Count)

The creation of paragraphs in this section is based on the separation of ideas to ensure that each paragraph presents one original idea. In this case, each paragraph in this section must follow the sandwich rule, which dictates the organization of paragraph elements:

  • Topic sentence – States the main idea for that paragraph.
  • Evidence – Provides the information that is crucial to the paragraph’s idea.
  • Evaluation of evidence – Explains the relevance of the evidence and offers an interpretation of the evidence.
  • Transition statement – Summarises the paragraph and links it to the thesis statement or the next paragraph.

Conclusion (Approximately 10% of the Word Count)

1. Restating the Main Argument

  • The first statement in the paragraph should repeat the main argument presented in the thesis statement.
  • It should not contain the same words as the thesis statement, but keywords can be reused.
  • Provide a detailed overview of the main points of the essay logically.
  • Demonstrate the value of the main points in answering the essay prompt.

Five-Paragraph American Dream Essay Outline Sample

Introduction/Paragraph 1

Hook: Besides the differences in the American populations, they are similar because they pursue the same dream.

Overview of the topic: Outline some of the differences in the American population.

Thesis statement: Creating equal opportunities allows individuals to achieve upward mobility.

Paragraph 2 :

Topic sentence: Breaking down social mobility and its quantification.

Evidence: Definition and measures of social mobility.

Evaluation of evidence: Illustrate how upward social mobility is achieved while referring to the measures.

Transition statement: Introduces the need for self-improvement for social mobility to occur.

Paragraph 3 :

Topic sentence: Opportunity is a requirement for social mobility.

Evidence: The role of education in equipping an individual to utilize opportunities.

Evaluation of evidence: Demonstrate the link between education, access to jobs, and the ability to improve an individual’s quality of life.

Transition statement: Recognise that there are socially constructed limitations on the accessibility of opportunities.

Paragraph 4 :

Topic sentence: Discriminative practices affect an individual’s access to opportunities for social mobility.

Evidence: Identify some forms of discrimination and explain the occurrence of discriminative practices.

Evaluation of evidence: Describe the value of government and organization’s role in managing discriminative practices using policies that uphold equality.

Transition statement: Stress the centrality of equality in the argument for opportunity access and upward mobility.

Conclusion/Paragraph 5 :

Restating the main argument: Emphasise the importance of equality in securing opportunities for upward mobility and the attainment of the American Dream.

Summary: Allude to the measures of social mobility, the interaction between discriminative practices and opportunities, and the relief provided by policies on equality.

Sample of Five-Paragraph American Dream Essay

Topic: The Promise of the American Dream

Introduction

Although we are different, we share a single dream. In this case, the American population is composed of people of different genders, races, education levels, religions, and disability statuses. Nonetheless, each American is entitled to the opportunity to make themselves better regardless of the underlying differences. Thus, the American Dream thesis statement is that it is founded on the promise of equal opportunity for upward social mobility.

Social Mobility

Social mobility is a multidimensional concept. It can be assessed using a variety of measures that attempt to quantify the change occurring in an individual’s life. For example, the ability of an individual to move along the social hierarchy may be described as social mobility. In turn, there are different measures of social mobility. However, each one is focused on a specific aspect of average Americans’ livelihood:

  • health status – the susceptibility of an individual to diseases,
  • education – an individual’s highest level of education,
  • homeownership – the capability of an individual to acquire permanent housing.

Upward social mobility implies that an individual can improve their position in the social hierarchy through improving their performance on any of the measures of social mobility. Therefore, upward social mobility is the desired outcome of a successful pursuit of desired goals because it suggests some form of self-improvement.

Opportunity

The opportunity for upward mobility is vital in pursuing the desired goals. Basically, access to opportunity is facilitated by some factors, for example, access to quality education. In this case, an individual that has attended school and acquired the necessary skills has a higher likelihood of securing a job. If individuals acquire jobs, it becomes easier to secure health insurance, buy homes, and improve the quality of life for their families. Moreover, individuals can only attain what they want if they are provided access to basic education, which prepares them to maximize any opportunities. However, it is difficult for an average individual to pursue opportunities without the government’s efforts to increase the ease of access to basic needs.

Equality Policies

Many barriers affect an average American’s ability to access positive opportunities, and it manifests in the form of discriminative practices in society. In this case, discrimination in society may occur based on a variety of issues, for example, gender, disability, religion, and race. Basically, personal biases create ideological differences regarding superiority in the social hierarchy. It pushes individuals to deny others access to opportunities and the necessary skills to exploit those opportunities. Moreover, state and organizational policies against discrimination are created and enforced to maintain equality among Americans. These laws serve to eliminate the barriers that exist between hardworking people and the American Dream. Consequently, equality among individuals ensures that all individuals can take advantage of opportunities regardless of their gender, disability status, religion, race, and other social differences that tend to create boundaries between social groups.

Equality is crucial in the pursuit of the American Dream because it provides each individual with the opportunity to move up the social hierarchy. In this case, people can access upward social mobility by using various measures, which quantify an individual’s quality of life. Moreover, opportunities may exist, but individuals need to be assisted in developing themselves to a level where they can utilize the available opportunities. Hence, equality policies are useful in curtailing the power of discriminative practices in reinforcing social mobility barriers.

American Dream Essay Topics

  • The origin of the American Dream.
  • Intergenerational differences in the definition of the American Dream.
  • The American Dream in contemporary music.
  • Does society still believe in the American Dream?
  • Defining the American Dream through the racial lens.
  • Individualism and the American Dream.
  • The influence of unrestricted surveillance on the American Dream.
  • Health care policies and the American Dream.
  • The impacts of globalization on the American Dream.
  • The rise of right-wing populism and the future of the American Dream.

Summing up on the American Dream Essay

The capacity of a person to participate in the discourse on the controversial essay topic nurtured through the continuous practice of structured essay writing. Basically, the concept may be approached from a different perspective, depending on the individual’s beliefs and personal experiences. Nonetheless, the written presentation of these points of view is achieved through the use of structured essays. The five-paragraph American Dream essay examined in this paper is a useful tool for the expression of any argument on the topic.

To Learn More, Read Relevant Articles

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The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story on the surface, but it's most commonly understood as a pessimistic critique of the American Dream. In the novel, Jay Gatsby overcomes his poor past to gain an incredible amount of money and a limited amount of social cache in 1920s NYC, only to be rejected by the "old money" crowd. He then gets killed after being tangled up with them.

Through Gatsby's life, as well as that of the Wilsons', Fitzgerald critiques the idea that America is a meritocracy where anyone can rise to the top with enough hard work. We will explore how this theme plays out in the plot, briefly analyze some key quotes about it, as well as do some character analysis and broader analysis of topics surrounding the American Dream in The Great Gatsby .

What is the American Dream? The American Dream in the Great Gatsby plot Key American Dream quotes Analyzing characters via the American Dream Common discussion and essay topics

Quick Note on Our Citations

Our citation format in this guide is (chapter.paragraph). We're using this system since there are many editions of Gatsby, so using page numbers would only work for students with our copy of the book.

To find a quotation we cite via chapter and paragraph in your book, you can either eyeball it (Paragraph 1-50: beginning of chapter; 50-100: middle of chapter; 100-on: end of chapter), or use the search function if you're using an online or eReader version of the text.

What Exactly Is "The American Dream"?

The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of race, class, gender, or nationality, can be successful in America (read: rich) if they just work hard enough. The American Dream thus presents a pretty rosy view of American society that ignores problems like systemic racism and misogyny, xenophobia, tax evasion or state tax avoidance, and income inequality. It also presumes a myth of class equality, when the reality is America has a pretty well-developed class hierarchy.

The 1920s in particular was a pretty tumultuous time due to increased immigration (and the accompanying xenophobia), changing women's roles (spurred by the right to vote, which was won in 1919), and extraordinary income inequality.

The country was also in the midst of an economic boom, which fueled the belief that anyone could "strike it rich" on Wall Street. However, this rapid economic growth was built on a bubble which popped in 1929. The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, well before the crash, but through its wry descriptions of the ultra-wealthy, it seems to somehow predict that the fantastic wealth on display in 1920s New York was just as ephemeral as one of Gatsby's parties.

In any case, the novel, just by being set in the 1920s, is unlikely to present an optimistic view of the American Dream, or at least a version of the dream that's inclusive to all genders, ethnicities, and incomes. With that background in mind, let's jump into the plot!

The American Dream in The Great Gatsby

Chapter 1 places us in a particular year—1922—and gives us some background about WWI.  This is relevant, since the 1920s is presented as a time of hollow decadence among the wealthy, as evidenced especially by the parties in Chapters 2 and 3. And as we mentioned above, the 1920s were a particularly tense time in America.

We also meet George and Myrtle Wilson in Chapter 2 , both working class people who are working to improve their lot in life, George through his work, and Myrtle through her affair with Tom Buchanan.

We learn about Gatsby's goal in Chapter 4 : to win Daisy back. Despite everything he owns, including fantastic amounts of money and an over-the-top mansion, for Gatsby, Daisy is the ultimate status symbol. So in Chapter 5 , when Daisy and Gatsby reunite and begin an affair, it seems like Gatsby could, in fact, achieve his goal.

In Chapter 6 , we learn about Gatsby's less-than-wealthy past, which not only makes him look like the star of a rags-to-riches story, it makes Gatsby himself seem like someone in pursuit of the American Dream, and for him the personification of that dream is Daisy.

However, in Chapters 7 and 8 , everything comes crashing down: Daisy refuses to leave Tom, Myrtle is killed, and George breaks down and kills Gatsby and then himself, leaving all of the "strivers" dead and the old money crowd safe. Furthermore, we learn in those last chapters that Gatsby didn't even achieve all his wealth through hard work, like the American Dream would stipulate—instead, he earned his money through crime. (He did work hard and honestly under Dan Cody, but lost Dan Cody's inheritance to his ex-wife.)

In short, things do not turn out well for our dreamers in the novel! Thus, the novel ends with Nick's sad meditation on the lost promise of the American Dream. You can read a detailed analysis of these last lines in our summary of the novel's ending .

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Key American Dream Quotes

In this section we analyze some of the most important quotes that relate to the American Dream in the book.

But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. (1.152)

In our first glimpse of Jay Gatsby, we see him reaching towards something far off, something in sight but definitely out of reach. This famous image of the green light is often understood as part of The Great Gatsby 's meditation on The American Dream—the idea that people are always reaching towards something greater than themselves that is just out of reach . You can read more about this in our post all about the green light .

The fact that this yearning image is our introduction to Gatsby foreshadows his unhappy end and also marks him as a dreamer, rather than people like Tom or Daisy who were born with money and don't need to strive for anything so far off.

Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday. As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.

"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all. . . ."

Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder. (4.55-8)

Early in the novel, we get this mostly optimistic illustration of the American Dream—we see people of different races and nationalities racing towards NYC, a city of unfathomable possibility. This moment has all the classic elements of the American Dream—economic possibility, racial and religious diversity, a carefree attitude. At this moment, it does feel like "anything can happen," even a happy ending.

However, this rosy view eventually gets undermined by the tragic events later in the novel. And even at this point, Nick's condescension towards the people in the other cars reinforces America's racial hierarchy that disrupts the idea of the American Dream. There is even a little competition at play, a "haughty rivalry" at play between Gatsby's car and the one bearing the "modish Negroes."

Nick "laughs aloud" at this moment, suggesting he thinks it's amusing that the passengers in this other car see them as equals, or even rivals to be bested. In other words, he seems to firmly believe in the racial hierarchy Tom defends in Chapter 1, even if it doesn't admit it honestly.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (6.134)

This moment explicitly ties Daisy to all of Gatsby's larger dreams for a better life —to his American Dream. This sets the stage for the novel's tragic ending, since Daisy cannot hold up under the weight of the dream Gatsby projects onto her. Instead, she stays with Tom Buchanan, despite her feelings for Gatsby. Thus when Gatsby fails to win over Daisy, he also fails to achieve his version of the American Dream. This is why so many people read the novel as a somber or pessimistic take on the American Dream, rather than an optimistic one.  

...as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes--a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night." (9.151-152)

The closing pages of the novel reflect at length on the American Dream, in an attitude that seems simultaneously mournful, appreciative, and pessimistic. It also ties back to our first glimpse of Gatsby, reaching out over the water towards the Buchanan's green light. Nick notes that Gatsby's dream was "already behind him" then (or in other words, it was impossible to attain). But still, he finds something to admire in how Gatsby still hoped for a better life, and constantly reached out toward that brighter future.

For a full consideration of these last lines and what they could mean, see our analysis of the novel's ending .

Analyzing Characters Through the American Dream

An analysis of the characters in terms of the American Dream usually leads to a pretty cynical take on the American Dream.

Most character analysis centered on the American Dream will necessarily focus on Gatsby, George, or Myrtle (the true strivers in the novel), though as we'll discuss below, the Buchanans can also provide some interesting layers of discussion. For character analysis that incorporates the American Dream, carefully consider your chosen character's motivations and desires, and how the novel does (or doesn't!) provide glimpses of the dream's fulfillment for them.

Gatsby himself is obviously the best candidate for writing about the American Dream—he comes from humble roots (he's the son of poor farmers from North Dakota) and rises to be notoriously wealthy, only for everything to slip away from him in the end. Many people also incorporate Daisy into their analyses as the physical representation of Gatsby's dream.

However, definitely consider the fact that in the traditional American Dream, people achieve their goals through honest hard work, but in Gatsby's case, he very quickly acquires a large amount of money through crime . Gatsby does attempt the hard work approach, through his years of service to Dan Cody, but that doesn't work out since Cody's ex-wife ends up with the entire inheritance. So instead he turns to crime, and only then does he manage to achieve his desired wealth.

So while Gatsby's story arc resembles a traditional rags-to-riches tale, the fact that he gained his money immorally complicates the idea that he is a perfect avatar for the American Dream . Furthermore, his success obviously doesn't last—he still pines for Daisy and loses everything in his attempt to get her back. In other words, Gatsby's huge dreams, all precariously wedded to Daisy  ("He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God" (6.134)) are as flimsy and flight as Daisy herself.

George and Myrtle Wilson

This couple also represents people aiming at the dream— George owns his own shop and is doing his best to get business, though is increasingly worn down by the harsh demands of his life, while Myrtle chases after wealth and status through an affair with Tom.

Both are disempowered due to the lack of money at their own disposal —Myrtle certainly has access to some of the "finer things" through Tom but has to deal with his abuse, while George is unable to leave his current life and move West since he doesn't have the funds available. He even has to make himself servile to Tom in an attempt to get Tom to sell his car, a fact that could even cause him to overlook the evidence of his wife's affair. So neither character is on the upward trajectory that the American Dream promises, at least during the novel.

In the end, everything goes horribly wrong for both George and Myrtle, suggesting that in this world, it's dangerous to strive for more than you're given.

George and Myrtle's deadly fates, along with Gatsby's, help illustrate the novel's pessimistic attitude toward the American Dream. After all, how unfair is it that the couple working to improve their position in society (George and Myrtle) both end up dead, while Tom, who dragged Myrtle into an increasingly dangerous situation, and Daisy, who killed her, don't face any consequences? And on top of that they are fabulously wealthy? The American Dream certainly is not alive and well for the poor Wilsons.

Tom and Daisy as Antagonists to the American Dream

We've talked quite a bit already about Gatsby, George, and Myrtle—the three characters who come from humble roots and try to climb the ranks in 1920s New York. But what about the other major characters, especially the ones born with money? What is their relationship to the American Dream?

Specifically, Tom and Daisy have old money, and thus they don't need the American Dream, since they were born with America already at their feet.

Perhaps because of this, they seem to directly antagonize the dream—Daisy by refusing Gatsby, and Tom by helping to drag the Wilsons into tragedy .

This is especially interesting because unlike Gatsby, Myrtle, and George, who actively hope and dream of a better life, Daisy and Tom are described as bored and "careless," and end up instigating a large amount of tragedy through their own recklessness.

In other words, income inequality and the vastly different starts in life the characters have strongly affected their outcomes. The way they choose to live their lives, their morality (or lack thereof), and how much they dream doesn't seem to matter. This, of course, is tragic and antithetical to the idea of the American Dream, which claims that class should be irrelevant and anyone can rise to the top.

Daisy as a Personification of the American Dream

As we discuss in our post on money and materialism in The Great Gatsby , Daisy's voice is explicitly tied to money by Gatsby:

"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.

That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.105-6)

If Daisy's voice promises money, and the American Dream is explicitly linked to wealth, it's not hard to argue that Daisy herself—along with the green light at the end of her dock —stands in for the American Dream. In fact, as Nick goes on to describe Daisy as "High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl," he also seems to literally describe Daisy as a prize, much like the princess at the end of a fairy tale (or even Princess Peach at the end of a Mario game!).

But Daisy, of course, is only human—flawed, flighty, and ultimately unable to embody the huge fantasy Gatsby projects onto her. So this, in turn, means that the American Dream itself is just a fantasy, a concept too flimsy to actually hold weight, especially in the fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world of 1920s America.

Furthermore, you should definitely consider the tension between the fact that Daisy represents Gatsby's ultimate goal, but at the same time (as we discussed above), her actual life is the opposite of the American Dream : she is born with money and privilege, likely dies with it all intact, and there are no consequences to how she chooses to live her life in between.

Can Female Characters Achieve the American Dream?

Finally, it's interesting to compare and contrast some of the female characters using the lens of the American Dream.

Let's start with Daisy, who is unhappy in her marriage and, despite a brief attempt to leave it, remains with Tom, unwilling to give up the status and security their marriage provides. At first, it may seem like Daisy doesn't dream at all, so of course she ends up unhappy. But consider the fact that Daisy was already born into the highest level of American society. The expectation placed on her, as a wealthy woman, was never to pursue something greater, but simply to maintain her status. She did that by marrying Tom, and it's understandable why she wouldn't risk the uncertainty and loss of status that would come through divorce and marriage to a bootlegger. Again, Daisy seems to typify the "anti-American" dream, in that she was born into a kind of aristocracy and simply has to maintain her position, not fight for something better.

In contrast, Myrtle, aside from Gatsby, seems to be the most ambitiously in pursuit of getting more than she was given in life. She parlays her affair with Tom into an apartment, nice clothes, and parties, and seems to revel in her newfound status. But of course, she is knocked down the hardest, killed for her involvement with the Buchanans, and specifically for wrongfully assuming she had value to them. Considering that Gatsby did have a chance to leave New York and distance himself from the unfolding tragedy, but Myrtle was the first to be killed, you could argue the novel presents an even bleaker view of the American Dream where women are concerned.

Even Jordan Baker , who seems to be living out a kind of dream by playing golf and being relatively independent, is tied to her family's money and insulated from consequences by it , making her a pretty poor representation of the dream. And of course, since her end game also seems to be marriage, she doesn't push the boundaries of women's roles as far as she might wish.

So while the women all push the boundaries of society's expectations of them in certain ways, they either fall in line or are killed, which definitely undermines the rosy of idea that anyone, regardless of gender, can make it in America. The American Dream as shown in Gatsby becomes even more pessimistic through the lens of the female characters.  

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Common Essay Questions/Discussion Topics

Now let's work through some of the more frequently brought up subjects for discussion.

#1: Was Gatsby's dream worth it? Was all the work, time, and patience worth it for him?

Like me, you might immediately think "of course it wasn't worth it! Gatsby lost everything, not to mention the Wilsons got caught up in the tragedy and ended up dead!" So if you want to make the more obvious "the dream wasn't worth it" argument, you could point to the unraveling that happens at the end of the novel (including the deaths of Myrtle, Gatsby and George) and how all Gatsby's achievements are for nothing, as evidenced by the sparse attendance of his funeral.

However, you could definitely take the less obvious route and argue that Gatsby's dream was worth it, despite the tragic end . First of all, consider Jay's unique characterization in the story: "He was a son of God--a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that--and he must be about His Father's Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty" (6.7). In other words, Gatsby has a larger-than-life persona and he never would have been content to remain in North Dakota to be poor farmers like his parents.

Even if he ends up living a shorter life, he certainly lived a full one full of adventure. His dreams of wealth and status took him all over the world on Dan Cody's yacht, to Louisville where he met and fell in love with Daisy, to the battlefields of WWI, to the halls of Oxford University, and then to the fast-paced world of Manhattan in the early 1920s, when he earned a fortune as a bootlegger. In fact, it seems Jay lived several lives in the space of just half a normal lifespan. In short, to argue that Gatsby's dream was worth it, you should point to his larger-than-life conception of himself and the fact that he could have only sought happiness through striving for something greater than himself, even if that ended up being deadly in the end.

#2: In the Langston Hughes poem "A Dream Deferred," Hughes asks questions about what happens to postponed dreams. How does Fitzgerald examine this issue of deferred dreams? What do you think are the effects of postponing our dreams? How can you apply this lesson to your own life?

If you're thinking about "deferred dreams" in The Great Gatsby , the big one is obviously Gatsby's deferred dream for Daisy—nearly five years pass between his initial infatuation and his attempt in the novel to win her back, an attempt that obviously backfires. You can examine various aspects of Gatsby's dream—the flashbacks to his first memories of Daisy in Chapter 8 , the moment when they reunite in Chapter 5 , or the disastrous consequences of the confrontation of Chapter 7 —to illustrate Gatsby's deferred dream.

You could also look at George Wilson's postponed dream of going West, or Myrtle's dream of marrying a wealthy man of "breeding"—George never gets the funds to go West, and is instead mired in the Valley of Ashes, while Myrtle's attempt to achieve her dream after 12 years of marriage through an affair ends in tragedy. Apparently, dreams deferred are dreams doomed to fail.

As Nick Carraway says, "you can't repeat the past"—the novel seems to imply there is a small window for certain dreams, and when the window closes, they can no longer be attained. This is pretty pessimistic, and for the prompt's personal reflection aspect, I wouldn't say you should necessarily "apply this lesson to your own life" straightforwardly. But it is worth noting that certain opportunities are fleeting, and perhaps it's wiser to seek out newer and/or more attainable ones, rather than pining over a lost chance.

Any prompt like this one which has a section of more personal reflection gives you freedom to tie in your own experiences and point of view, so be thoughtful and think of good examples from your own life!

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#3: Explain how the novel does or does not demonstrate the death of the American Dream. Is the main theme of Gatsby indeed "the withering American Dream"? What does the novel offer about American identity?

In this prompt, another one that zeroes in on the dead or dying American Dream, you could discuss how the destruction of three lives (Gatsby, George, Myrtle) and the cynical portrayal of the old money crowd illustrates a dead, or dying American Dream . After all, if the characters who dream end up dead, and the ones who were born into life with money and privilege get to keep it without consequence, is there any room at all for the idea that less-privileged people can work their way up?

In terms of what the novel says about American identity, there are a few threads you could pick up—one is Nick's comment in Chapter 9 about the novel really being a story about (mid)westerners trying (and failing) to go East : "I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all--Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life" (9.125). This observation suggests an American identity that is determined by birthplace, and that within the American identity there are smaller, inescapable points of identification.

Furthermore, for those in the novel not born into money, the American identity seems to be about striving to end up with more wealth and status. But in terms of the portrayal of the old money set, particularly Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, the novel presents a segment of American society that is essentially aristocratic—you have to be born into it. In that regard, too, the novel presents a fractured American identity, with different lives possible based on how much money you are born with.

In short, I think the novel disrupts the idea of a unified American identity or American dream, by instead presenting a tragic, fractured, and rigid American society, one that is divided based on both geographic location and social class.

#4: Most would consider dreams to be positive motivators to achieve success, but the characters in the novel often take their dreams of ideal lives too far. Explain how characters' American Dreams cause them to have pain when they could have been content with more modest ambitions.

Gatsby is an obvious choice here—his pursuit of money and status, particularly through Daisy, leads him to ruin. There were many points when perhaps Gatsby ;could have been happy with what he achieved (especially after his apparently successful endeavors in the war, if he had remained at Oxford, or even after amassing a great amount of wealth as a bootlegger) but instead he kept striving upward, which ultimately lead to his downfall. You can flesh this argument out with the quotations in Chapters 6 and 8 about Gatsby's past, along with his tragic death.

Myrtle would be another good choice for this type of prompt. In a sense, she seems to be living her ideal life in her affair with Tom—she has a fancy NYC apartment, hosts parties, and gets to act sophisticated—but these pleasures end up gravely hurting George, and of course her association with Tom Buchanan gets her killed.

Nick, too, if he had been happy with his family's respectable fortune and his girlfriend out west, might have avoided the pain of knowing Gatsby and the general sense of despair he was left with.

You might be wondering about George—after all, isn't he someone also dreaming of a better life? However, there aren't many instances of George taking his dreams of an ideal life "too far." In fact, he struggles just to make one car sale so that he can finally move out West with Myrtle. Also, given that his current situation in the Valley of Ashes is quite bleak, it's hard to say that striving upward gave him pain.

#5: The Great Gatsby is, among other things, a sobering and even ominous commentary on the dark side of the American dream. Discuss this theme, incorporating the conflicts of East Egg vs. West Egg and old money vs. new money. What does the American dream mean to Gatsby? What did the American Dream mean to Fitzgerald? How does morality fit into achieving the American dream?

This prompt allows you to consider pretty broadly the novel's attitude toward the American Dream, with emphasis on "sobering and even ominous" commentary. Note that Fitzgerald seems to be specifically mocking the stereotypical rags to riches story here—;especially since he draws the Dan Cody narrative almost note for note from the work of someone like Horatio Alger, whose books were almost universally about rich men schooling young, entrepreneurial boys in the ways of the world. In other words, you should discuss how the Great Gatsby seems to turn the idea of the American Dream as described in the quote on its head: Gatsby does achieve a rags-to-riches rise, but it doesn't last.

All of Gatsby's hard work for Dan Cody, after all, didn't pay off since he lost the inheritance. So instead, Gatsby turned to crime after the war to quickly gain a ton of money. Especially since Gatsby finally achieves his great wealth through dubious means, the novel further undermines the classic image of someone working hard and honestly to go from rags to riches.

If you're addressing this prompt or a similar one, make sure to focus on the darker aspects of the American Dream, including the dark conclusion to the novel and Daisy and Tom's protection from any real consequences . (This would also allow you to considering morality, and how morally bankrupt the characters are.)

#6: What is the current state of the American Dream?

This is a more outward-looking prompt, that allows you to consider current events today to either be generally optimistic (the American dream is alive and well) or pessimistic (it's as dead as it is in The Great Gatsby).

You have dozens of potential current events to use as evidence for either argument, but consider especially immigration and immigration reform, mass incarceration, income inequality, education, and health care in America as good potential examples to use as you argue about the current state of the American Dream. Your writing will be especially powerful if you can point to some specific current events to support your argument.

What's Next?

In this post, we discussed how important money is to the novel's version of the American Dream. You can read even more about money and materialism in The Great Gatsby right here .

Want to indulge in a little materialism of your own? Take a look through these 15 must-have items for any Great Gatsby fan .

Get complete guides to Jay Gatsby , George Wilson and Myrtle Wilson to get even more background on the "dreamers" in the novel.

Like we discussed above, the green light is often seen as a stand-in for the idea of the American Dream. Read more about this crucial symbol here .

Need help getting to grips with other literary works? Take a spin through our analyses of The Crucible , The Cask of Amontillado , and " Do not go gentle into this good night " to see analysis in action. You might also find our explanations of point of view , rhetorical devices , imagery , and literary elements and devices helpful.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Theme of the American Dream in Literature: Guide & Topics

The American Dream theme encompasses crucial values, such as freedom, democracy, equal rights, and personal happiness. The concept’s definition varies from person to person. Yet, books by American authors can help us grasp  it better. Many agree that American literature is so distinct from English literature because the concept of the American Dream influences it heavily.  

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In this article, our custom writing team will focus on the theme of the American Dream in literature. We will give examples of books that discuss the concept and suggest some essay topics. Read the full article to learn more!

  • 🗽 Definition & History
  • 📚 The Theme in Literature
  • 📝 Essay Topics

🔍 References

🗽 the american dream theme & its history.

We all, as human beings, have the desire to fulfill our dreams. To achieve them, we put forth the effort. The idea behind the phrase “hard work pays off” is closely related to the American Dream. Let’s look at the term’s history and how its meaning evolved.

The term was coined back in 1931 by James Truslow Adams. He defines the American Dream as “the pursuit of a happier and a better life for all citizens of every rank.” In his book Epic of America , he also mentions that the American Dream is “a dream of a land where life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

The roots of the idea behind the American Dream can be traced back to Colonial Period. First settlers and pilgrims from England saw the States as a promised land of opportunities. They wanted to build a new nation on those lands, free from the old order.

The 1920s or the Jazz Age is the time when the American Dream was at its peak. It is the time of the Harlem Renaissance, economic growth, and technological progress. It is also the time when the idea of the American Dream becomes “corrupted.” In other words, the concept focused on wealth and materialism rather than the ideas of freedom and equality. One of the reasons for that was increased consumerism in American society.

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Core American Values & The American Dream

The American Dream played a crucial role in constructing the nation. Since America is a country formed through immigration, people needed something that could unify them.

Unlike other countries, the early colonies featured a mix of nationalities with different histories and cultures. However, people who came to America all shared the hope to find opportunities and achieve independence. The ideas that laid out the basis for constructing the American nation can be referred to as the American Dream.

The picture shows the core national values associated with the American Dream.

Although James Adams first used the term in Epic of America , the idea behind the American Dream goes back to the 4th of July, 1776. It is the day The Declaration of Independence was signed. The declaration reflects the values associated with the American Dream.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. The Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson, one of the declaration’s authors, explicitly emphasizes the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is the key to everything that the Dream encompasses.

The ideas of Benjamin Franklin have also influenced the formation of the American Dream. In his Autobiography , he tells a story of a man who came from nothing and achieved success through hard work.

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Franklin defines himself as an example of an ideal American citizen. He emphasizes that his success can be imitated by any American who strives for success and works hard. Franklin’s life became an example of self-improvement. He believed that if people follow his model, America can become a prosperous country with self-aware citizens.

The American Dream in Literature

From the very beginning, the theme of identity has been prominent in American literature. The US was a land of promise, a New World where everyone dreamed of a just, forward-thinking society. When America began to form its own culture during the revolutionary period, many started to question what it meant to be American.

Literary works of that time were, in a way, a self-discovery. They reflected the ideas, values, and aspirations of the American people. For that reason, along with self-identity, they focused on freedom, racial discrimination, gender, equality, and individualism.

📚 Examples of the American Dream in Literature

It’s true that the theme of the American Dream is present in almost every work of American literature. It is seen as either a positive or a negative phenomenon by various authors.

For instance, the poem I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin describe the American Dream as something that can help the country develop and bring positive changes to society.

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In contrast, the following works talk about the vanity of the American Dream:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald,
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck,
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry,
  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

The American Dream in The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby raises a lot of social and psychological questions. One of the book’s topics is the American Dream and how it fails people’s expectations. You can learn more about this and other themes in the novel from our article on the themes in The Great Gatsby .

Fitzgerald depicts the American Dream as something materialistic. It comes in the form of wealth, success, and social status—things that don’t guarantee happiness.

The American Dream posits that anyone who works hard can achieve success in the United States, no matter their social class. The novel questions that idea. Specifically, it criticizes how materialistic the American Dream became when the initial ideas were about freedom and equality. The Great Gatsby shows how consumerism had corroded and corrupted one of the country’s foundational ideas. 

How does the Great Gatsby Represent the American Dream?

The protagonist of Fitzgerald’s novel, Jay Gatsby, is the proof that the American Dream, despite people’s expectations, can’t be achieved. From the outside, Gatsby looks like a successful man who paved the way for himself. In reality, however, his life is miserable. He stays an outsider in the eyes of elite society and has no one who truly cares about him.

Jay Gatsby is a romantic character who believes in love and achieving dreams. He pursues wealth and influence as a way to fulfill these dreams. He is too blinded by his passion for Daisy, whom he idealizes, just like people idealize the American Dream.

In the end, Gatsby’s naivety and unwillingness to see the truth bring him to his downfall. Through the character of Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald shows how corrupted the American Dream became. You can learn more from our article on the characters in The Great Gatsby .

The Great Gatsby: American Dream Quotes

Here are some quotations from Fitzgerald’s novel that demonstrate how the idea of the American Dream is depicted in the book:

I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness. The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1
He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. The Great Gatsby, Chapter 9
If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. The Great Gatsby, Chapter 7

American Dream: Death of a Salesman

The play Death of a Salesman talks about the difference between reality and dreams. The main character, Willy Loman, is a tragic hero. He is flawed because he refuses to accept reality and keeps living in the illusion he had created for himself. Eventually, it leads him to his downfall resulting in his death.

In his play, Arthur Miller criticizes the American society of the 1940s for its materialistic values. The author shows the struggles that each character has to go through in an attempt to achieve their American Dream.

Rather than directly criticizing the American Dream, the play talks about the confusion that comes with it. It condemns how people start to see material success as their way towards happiness and elevate it above everything else. Want to learn more? Feel free to read our summary of Death of a Salesman .

American Dream Quotes: Death of a Salesman

Here are quotations that reflect the idea of the American Dream in Miller’s play:

Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it. Death of a Salesman, Act 1
Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff—he’s not lazy. Death of a Salesman, Act 1
It’s who you know and the smile on your face! It’s contacts, Ben, contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore Hotel, and that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked! Death of a Salesman, Act 2

American Dream in Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck’s novella tells the story of two migrant ranch workers who search for new job opportunities. The narrative takes place during the Great Depression. It touches on various topics such as friendship, loneliness, race, gender, and economic class.

The main characters, George and Lennie, wish to own a farm. They hope that they will eventually buy land and fulfill their dream if they work hard. George and Lennie’s dream farm is the representation of the American Dream and its fragility.

In his book, Steinbeck argues that the American Dream of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is an illusion and can’t be achieved. The author shows the reality of poor workers trying to make it in America.

Through the book’s characters, it becomes evident that such things as skin color, social status, and gender still affect our position in society. It also reflects how lonely people become while trying to pursue their American Dream.

Of Mice and Men: American Dream Quotes

Here are some interesting quotations that illustrate how the American Dream is portrayed in Steinbeck’s novella:

And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. Of Mice and Men, Chapter 2
I seen too many guys with land in their head. They never get none under their hand. Of Mice and Men, Chapter 4
Then – it’s all off?” Candy asked sulkily. George didn’t answer his question. George said, “I’ll work my month an’ I’ll take my fifty bucks an’ I’ll stay all night in some lousy cat house. Or I’ll set in some poolroom til ever’body goes home. An’ then I’ll come back an’ work another month an’ I’ll have fifty bucks more. Of Mice and Men, Chapter 5

📝 American Dream Essay Topics

In this part of the article, we introduce a list of topics on the American Dream. You can use them for inspiration in your essay:

  • Describe a character that you think exemplifies the American Dream.
  • Write about an author who criticizes the American Dream in his books.
  • Analyze a poem that depicts the American Dream as a positive phenomenon.
  • Do you think the American Dream is achievable?
  • Describe how the American Dream has changed over time .
  • Which historical events affect the emergence of the American Dream?
  • Describe the American Dream of today.
  • Does the American Dream influence world literature?
  • How is the American Dream reflected in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works?
  • The Lost Generation and the American Dream.
  • The representation of the American Dream in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath .
  • Describe Langston Hughes’ version of the American Dream.
  • Depiction of the American Dream in movies .
  • What is the original meaning of the American Dream?
  • Allegory in Edward Albee’s The American Dream .
  • The failure of the American Dream.
  • Martin Luther King’s version of the American Dream.
  • Describe Jack Kerouac’s vision of the American Dream in On the Road .
  • Do you think in The Sun Also Rises Hemingway is skeptical about the American Dream?
  • Did Benjamin Franklin’s definition of the American Dream get lost?

We hope that you found this article helpful and learned something new. If you liked it, feel free to share it with your friends.

  • How the American Dream Has Changed Over Time: Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
  • The Colonial American Dream: Encyclopedia.com
  • American Dream: Corporate Finance Institute
  • The American Dream, Equal Opportunity, and Obtaining the Vote: The University of Maine
  • Of Mice and Men: Key Terms and Concepts: San José State University
  • The American Dream and Literature: De Paul University
  • How the American Dream Turned into Greed and Inequality: World Economic Forum
  • Fitzgerald’s Critique of the American Dream: Bridgewater State University
  • Defining the Dream: The Institute on the American Dream: Penn State University
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Theme of Loneliness, Isolation, & Alienation in Literature with Examples

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Student Opinion

Do You Think the American Dream Is Real?

thesis statement over the american dream

By Jeremy Engle

  • Feb. 12, 2019

What does the American dream mean to you? A house with a white picket fence? Lavish wealth? A life better than your parents’?

Do you think you will be able to achieve the American dream?

In “ The American Dream Is Alive and Well ,” Samuel J. Abrams writes:

I am pleased to report that the American dream is alive and well for an overwhelming majority of Americans. This claim might sound far-fetched given the cultural climate in the United States today. Especially since President Trump took office, hardly a day goes by without a fresh tale of economic anxiety, political disunity or social struggle. Opportunities to achieve material success and social mobility through hard, honest work — which many people, including me, have assumed to be the core idea of the American dream — appear to be diminishing. But Americans, it turns out, have something else in mind when they talk about the American dream. And they believe that they are living it. Last year the American Enterprise Institute and I joined forces with the research center NORC at the University of Chicago and surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,411 Americans about their attitudes toward community and society. The center is renowned for offering “deep” samples of Americans, not just random ones, so that researchers can be confident that they are reaching Americans in all walks of life: rural, urban, exurban and so on. Our findings were released on Tuesday as an American Enterprise Institute report.
What our survey found about the American dream came as a surprise to me. When Americans were asked what makes the American dream a reality, they did not select as essential factors becoming wealthy, owning a home or having a successful career. Instead, 85 percent indicated that “to have freedom of choice in how to live” was essential to achieving the American dream. In addition, 83 percent indicated that “a good family life” was essential. The “traditional” factors (at least as I had understood them) were seen as less important. Only 16 percent said that to achieve the American dream, they believed it was essential to “become wealthy,” only 45 percent said it was essential “to have a better quality of life than your parents,” and just 49 percent said that “having a successful career” was key.

The Opinion piece continues:

The data also show that most Americans believe themselves to be achieving this version of the American dream, with 41 percent reporting that their families are already living the American dream and another 41 percent reporting that they are well on the way to doing so. Only 18 percent took the position that the American dream was out of reach for them
Collectively, 82 percent of Americans said they were optimistic about their future, and there was a fairly uniform positive outlook across the nation. Factors such as region, urbanity, partisanship and housing type (such as a single‐family detached home versus an apartment) barely affected these patterns, with all groups hovering around 80 percent. Even race and ethnicity, which are regularly cited as key factors in thwarting upward mobility, corresponded to no real differences in outlook: Eighty-one percent of non‐Hispanic whites; 80 percent of blacks, Hispanics and those of mixed race; and 85 percent of those with Asian heritage said that they had achieved or were on their way to achieving the American dream.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— What does the American dream mean to you? Did reading this article change your definition? Do you think your own dreams are different from those of your parents at your age? Your grandparents?

— Do you believe your family has achieved, or is on the way to achieving, the American dream? Why or why not? Do you think you will be able to achieve the American dream when you are older? What leads you to believe this?

— Do you think the American dream is available to all Americans or are there boundaries and obstacles for some? If yes, what are they?

— The article concludes:

What conclusions should we draw from this research? I think the findings suggest that Americans would be well served to focus less intently on the nastiness of our partisan politics and the material temptations of our consumer culture, and to focus more on the communities they are part of and exercising their freedom to live as they wish. After all, that is what most of us seem to think is what really matters — and it’s in reach for almost all of us.

Do you agree? What other conclusions might be drawn? Does this article make you more optimistic about this country and your future?

— Is the American dream a useful concept? Is it helpful in measuring our own or our country’s health and success? Do you believe it is, or has ever been, an ideal worth striving for? Is there any drawback to continuing to use the concept even as its meaning evolves?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

The Problems of the American Dream: False Hopes and Hurtful Judgments

Access full-text files, journal title, journal issn, volume title.

While the American Dream for so long has been built into the story of America, few have sought to question whether the dream is a healthy and attainable dream for our country to believe in today. The American Dream arose out of the idyllic and utopian stories of America. It quickly spread as a source of hope amidst a time of war and difficulties. The idyllic story of the dream has become more inflated and focused on monetary success ever since. My thesis aims to compare the teachings and belief of the American Dream story with facts. Statistics show at the same time as the American Dream has become more exaggerated, income mobility has decreased. My thesis explains we must strive for a more attainable dream, and we must do more to help people reach this modified dream. First, we should not teach that every person can become rich from poor. Statistics show that rag-to-riches story of rising from poor to multimillionaires are highly uncharacteristic, and these stories should not be the praised and searched for goal of the dream. Americans will continually be disappointed if this is the ultimate target, and, thus, will grow to disbelieve and resent the dream. Instead, the dream should be for all to reach a point where they can live a modest and sustainable lifestyle. Second, once we shift our focus on the American Dream, we can all play a part to help the struggling families reach this goal. While my thesis provides several recommendations for ways in which the government can help Americans be able to afford basic necessities in life, the dream is not just dependent on the government. My thesis encourages every American to help revise and implement the American Dream for all.

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thesis statement over the american dream

The Tortilla Curtain

T. coraghessan boyle, ask litcharts ai: the answer to your questions.

Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon

Through his exploration of the four protagonists’ desires, Boyle presents a unique picture of the frequently invoked “American Dream.” In Boyle’s view, there is a depth to this dream that tends to go unacknowledged. On the surface, the “American Dream” is one of economic prosperity, social mobility, and overall self-sufficiency—goals all firmly rooted in an ideology of individualism. Both of the novel’s main couples desire these aspects of the Dream for themselves. But Boyle shows that underneath these more practical desires, there exists a deeper desire to feel that one has found one’s place within a community. In this way, The Tortilla Curtain shows that an oft-overlooked aspect of the American Dream is the dream of belonging.

As Cándido reflects on his home country of Mexico, he thinks that everybody there wanted, as he did, “a house, a yard, maybe a TV and a car too—nothing fancy, no palaces like the gringos built—just four walls and a roof. Was that so much to ask?” Cándido and América both hope for economic stability in the States, but América also articulates a more complex, emotional aspect of this dream. While in the neighborhood of Canoga Park, waiting alone for her husband, América reflects on how badly she “wanted to belong in one of those houses.” She thinks of how the people who live in those houses “were home, in their own private space, safe from the world.” On the one hand, the desire América expresses here is consistent with the more individualistic and materialistic aspects of the American Dream: she wants privacy, ownership, autonomy. But on a more nuanced level, América’s desire to feel that she belongs speaks to her yearning to feel at home in the United States itself, to not feel like an outsider.

Boyle shows that even Delaney and Kyra , who have ostensibly achieved the Dream, given their affluent lifestyles, experience this deeper longer for a sense of belonging. At a neighborhood meeting that Delaney attends in order to speak about the death of his wife’s dog Sacheverell , he realizes that he doesn’t recognize many of the people in attendance. He experiences a “faint uneasy stirring of guilt” and tells himself “he should be more rigorous about attending these meetings […] he really should.” The only character Delaney claims as a friend is Jack Jardine , whom he initially dislikes due to his openly racist views. These details speak to Delaney’s loneliness and his unspoken yearning to feel that he is actually part of a community, but they further suggest that perhaps his desire to feel a greater sense of belonging fuels the bigotry he increasingly exhibits over the course of the novel. Meanwhile, Kyra’s attachment to the Da Ros house (a property she is attempting to sell) represents a similar need for belonging; Kyra feels more at home at the Da Ros house, it would seem, than anywhere in Arroyo Blanco, as evidenced by the fact that she finds herself daydreaming about never leaving the Da Ros house, “not ever again.” Thus, even the characters who have already attained the superficial aspects of the American Dream hunger for this deeper aspect of it.

Boyle’s depiction of the American Dream exposes the deeper drives and desires that animate what might otherwise seem to be a purely material striving. He suggests that beyond desiring “four walls and a roof” and economic self-sufficiency, Americans of all races and economic classes wish to feel that they belong in their communities, in their families, and in their country.

Belonging and the American Dream ThemeTracker

The Tortilla Curtain PDF

Belonging and the American Dream Quotes in The Tortilla Curtain

He thought of the development he’d grown up in, the fenceless expanse of lawns, the shared space, the deep lush marshy woods where he’d first discovered ferns, frogs, garter snakes, the whole shining envelope of creation. There was nothing like that anymore. Now there were fences. Now there were gates.

Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon

He sat up and railed […] he told her his fears, outlined the wickedness of the gabacho world and the perfidy of his fellow braceros at the labor exchange, tried to work the kind of apprehension into her heart that would make her stay here with him, where it was safe, but she wouldn’t listen. Or rather, she listened—“I’m afraid,” she told him, “afraid of this place and the people in it, afraid to walk out on the street”—but it had no effect.

Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon

His skin was light, so light he could almost have passed for one of them, but it was his eyes that gave him away, hard burnished unblinking eyes the color of calf’s liver. He’d been damaged somehow, she could see that, damaged in the way of a man who has to scrape and grovel and kiss the hind end of some irrecusable yankee boss, and his eyes showed it, jabbing out at the world like two weapons. He was Mexican, all right.

A moment ago she’d been out there on the road, exposed and vulnerable—frightened, always frightened—and now she was safe. But the thought of that frightened her too: what kind of life was it when you felt safe in the bushes, crouching to piss in the dirt like a dog? Was that what she’d left Tepoztlán for?

What he wanted to tell her was how angry he was, how he hadn’t wanted a new car […] how he felt depressed, disheartened, as if his luck had turned back and he was sinking into an imperceptible hole that deepened centimeter by centimeter each hour of the day. There’d been a moment there, handing over the keys to the young Latino, when he felt a deep shameful stab of racist resentment—did they all have to be Mexican?—that went against everything he’d believed in all his life. He wanted to tell her about that, that above all else, but he couldn’t.

She looked at that coyote so long and so hard that she began to hallucinate, to imagine herself inside those eyes looking out, to know that men were her enemies—men in uniform, men with their hats reversed, men with fat bloated hands and fat bloated necks, men with traps and guns and poisoned bait—and she saw the den full of pups and the hills shrunk to nothing under the hot quick quadrupedal gait. She never moved. Never blinked. But finally, no matter how hard she stared, she realized the animal was no longer there.

The baby moved inside her and her stomach dipped and fluttered. All she wanted was to belong in one of those houses, any of them, even for a night. The people who lived in those houses had beds to stretch out on, they had toilets that flushed and hot and cold running water, and most important of all, they were home, in their own private space, safe from the world.

He felt exultant, infused with a strength and joy that made a mockery of his poverty, his hurts and wants and even the holocaust that had leapt out of his poor cookfire in the depths of the canyon. He had a son, the first of his line, the new generation born on American soil, a son who would have all the gabachos had and more.

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The American Dream in the 21st Century Research Paper

Introduction.

  • “I Too” and the Dark Side of American History
  • The American Dream in the 21st Century

The King is Dead… Long Live the King

  • Conclusions

Works Cited

Annotation page, gathering research, thesis statement.

The United States of America have always been considered the land of the free. What drew many migrants to abandon their homes and seek fortune thousands of miles away was the promise of a place where race, nationality, and religious views did not matter. The US was the place where anyone could make their own future. This idyllic picture was described by numerous (predominantly white) poets and writers, such as Walt Whitman. His poem, titled “I Hear America Singing” celebrates democracy, the sense of community, and individuality of every person in the country. However, the simple ideal of living a self-sufficient and independent life was always built at someone else’s expense. After the first decade of the 21st century, the situation is different. As a small minority is accumulating power and riches, even fewer people are allowed access to the vaunted ideal of an age gone by. The United States of America never did provide a chance to access the American Dream, as throughout its history, that dream was being achieved through suffering of the oppressed and enslaved.

“ I Too” and the Dark Side of American History

If we investigate Walt Whitman’s poem, we could see many people being occupied and doing their jobs to sustain themselves: the carpenter, as he “measures his plank or beam,” the mason, as he “makes ready for work,” the boatman as he praises “what belongs to him and his boat,” the woodcutter, the mother, the young girl. All seem to be present in this idyllic picture (Whitman). However, there are no farmers, and for a very good reason. The song was written and published in 1860, one year before the outbreak of the American civil war. During that time period, cotton farming was the main driving force behind the US economy. It brought money into the economy and kept it going. Whitman’s praise to the individualistic and self-sufficient culture of white people in America excludes the black slaves, whose labor enabled all these carpenters, masons, boatmen, and others to pursue their vocations and earn their “American Dream.” This feeling was emphasized in a poem by Langston Hughes, titled “I, Too.” It can be read as a follow-up and an accusation towards Whitman’s piece, as it adds to why there are no black people in the picture: “I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes” (Hughes)

The poem highlights the plight of the black people in an unjust society, where the fruits of their labor are claimed by the owners in order to fuel the economy and provide other white people, even those who do not own slaves, with employment and upkeep. The 1860 US census states that out of 31.5 million Americans, over 4 million were black slaves, and that the total amount of people occupied in the farming sector was over 10% (Lindert and Williamson 278). It is the labor of these people that allowed the country to afford to build its industry and set up a base for fulfilling the American Dream. To reach that dream, however, you had to be trained in a craft, you had to be educated, and you had to be white.

One could argue that things have changed much in the 21st century. America just had its first black president, and there are numerous projects and initiatives in place to help out black people get better education, opportunities, and chances of living the American Dream. This is not the case, however, as the dynamics of the economy shifted. The blacks are still an underprivileged minority, as 50 years of relative political compassion could not undo the effects of 300 years of oppression (Lindert and Williamson 283). This time, however, a good portion of the working white population is suffering too. Unable to exploit the population domestically, many companies have turned overseas, forcing the employment rates and wages to plummet. According to Henderson, over a half of American teens say that the American Dream, for them, represents the ability to provide for themselves and their family as well as owning a house and a car (Henderson). The majority of young Americans do not own these items, instead being stuck in a perpetual debt starting from college. At the same time, companies and corporations utilize the labor of migrants or allocate overseas, to report staggering rates of growth. As always, the American dream has to come at someone’s expense.

Seeing that only 1 in 8 Americans is currently capable of attaining the American Dream, contemporary pundits tried to question the legitimacy of demands made by people who were denied it (Jenkins). The article published by the Daily Beast states that a good portion of young Americans are living alone, are child-free, or do not pursue successful career paths in search of a deeper meaning (Goff). Therefore, they should not be entitled to the “American Dream” of having a house, a car, a family, and two children.

However, this logic is based on the fact that the modern generation does not have the desire to fit into a traditional narrative. In modern America, having a car is often necessary just to get to work, and having a family with children while renting an apartment is difficult and expensive (Morello et al.). In other words, young Americans avoid starting families because they cannot support them, and not because they do not want to support them (Pinkster). “The American Dream” is not a desire for pointless consumerism but rather a need for the very basics for creating and sustaining a family. There is nothing “excessive” in wanting a job that pays well, a car to drive to that job, and to own a roof under one’s head.

The American Dream was never meant to be for everyone. The idyllic picture of the past is forever smeared by injustices that were dealt to the black population of the US left a terrible mark that will be felt for many generations to come in the form of crime, violence, lower living standards, unemployment, and shorter lifespans. Many years have passed since Langston Hughes wrote his poem about being an American, too. There has been progress, but the police, the country, and the state are still treating the majority of black individuals as second-class citizens. Modern generations, on the other hand, are suffering from issues that were not directly their fault, and are being blamed by older generations for not standing up to the task. Nowadays, the economy is based on offshore companies using Chinese and Indian workers, underpaid migrant labor, and the military complex. The truth of the world remains the same: for the majority to prosper, someone else has to pay for it.

Goff, Keli. “The American Dream is Dead, and Good Riddance.” The Daily Beast, 2014, Web.

Henderson, Samantha. “American Dreaming.” Scholastic Math, vol. 26, no. 1, 2005, p. 6.

Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” Poets.org, Web.

Jenkins, Chris L. “Clinging to Dreams of a Better Life.” Washington Post, 2008, Web.

Lindert, Peter H., and Jeffrey G. Williamson. “Unequal gains: American growth and inequality since 1700.” Juncture, vol. 22, no. 4, 2016, pp. 276-283.

Morello, Carol, et al. “Achieving American Dream Fades as Certainty for Many.” The Washington Post, 2013, Web.

Pinkster, Joe. “Teenagers are Losing Confidence in the American Dream.” The Atlantic, 2015, Web.

Whitman, Walt. “I Hear America Singing.” Poets.org, Web.

The United States of America never did provide a chance to access the American Dream, as throughout its history, that dream was being achieved through suffering of the oppressed and enslaved.

Planning Page

  • Opening Paragraph

Thesis: The United States of America never did provide a chance to access the American Dream, as throughout its history, that dream was being achieved through suffering of the oppressed and enslaved.

  • Whitman describes an idyllic picture of America.
  • The picture involves only whites.
  • Hughes adds the portion not shown in Whitman’s song to America.
  • Black people did work without payment or recognition.
  • Black people still have trouble achieving the American Dream.
  • 300 years of oppression cannot be undone by a few decades of support.
  • White working class is suffering too.
  • Teens lose hope in the American Dream.
  • The King is Dead … Long Live the King.
  • Only 1 out of 8 Americans can achieve the American Dream
  • Contemporary pundits blame generational laziness rather than generational poverty.
  • The American Dream contains the necessities needed for a healthy family structure.
  • Teens adapt their expectations to realities, rather than have the realities adapt to their expectations.
  • America never provided the American Dream for everyone.
  • Exploitation moved overseas.
  • Good life always is paid for by someone else.
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2024, March 22). The American Dream in the 21st Century. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-dream-in-the-21st-century/

"The American Dream in the 21st Century." IvyPanda , 22 Mar. 2024, ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-dream-in-the-21st-century/.

IvyPanda . (2024) 'The American Dream in the 21st Century'. 22 March.

IvyPanda . 2024. "The American Dream in the 21st Century." March 22, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-dream-in-the-21st-century/.

1. IvyPanda . "The American Dream in the 21st Century." March 22, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-dream-in-the-21st-century/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "The American Dream in the 21st Century." March 22, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-dream-in-the-21st-century/.

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    Theme of the American Dream in Literature: Guide & Topics. (20 votes) The American Dream theme encompasses crucial values, such as freedom, democracy, equal rights, and personal happiness. The concept's definition varies from person to person. Yet, books by American authors can help us grasp it better.

  16. Defining the American Dream: A Generational Comparison

    The American Dream is defined in this work as, "a dream of a 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" (p.375).

  17. Do You Think the American Dream Is Real?

    Jairo, Miami: "My American dream lies where courage, freedom, justice, service and gratitude are cherished and practiced. I dream of that America that fought for me to become who I am today.

  18. American Dream Essay: Secrets of Successful Writing

    How to Write an American Dream Paper Introduction? A good introduction must prepare the reader for the thesis statement. So ideally, each presentation should include: A hook for the American dream essay; The thesis statement that is the last sentence in the introduction paragraph; Stating the main idea of the paper explicitly. Body Paragraphs

  19. The Problems of the American Dream: False Hopes and Hurtful Judgments

    The American Dream arose out of the idyllic and utopian stories of America. It quickly spread as a source of hope amidst a time of war and difficulties. The idyllic story of the dream has become more inflated and focused on monetary success ever since. My thesis aims to compare the teachings and belief of the American Dream story with facts.

  20. PDF American Girls Living the American Dream: A Study of The American Dream

    This thesis examines how the American dream and identity are closely linked in a dialectical relationship and how this relationship influences young immigrant women's identities in ... that time in history happened between 1881 and 1920 when over 23 million people immigrated to the United States (Jenkins "Cities and Industry" 163). As she ...

  21. Belonging and the American Dream Theme Analysis

    LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Tortilla Curtain, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work. Through his exploration of the four protagonists' desires, Boyle presents a unique picture of the frequently invoked "American Dream.". In Boyle's view, there is a depth to this dream that tends to go ...

  22. PDF The American Dream: From a Latino Perspective

    the phrase 'American Dream' that will evidence the realities of the struggles for those who aim to achieve the American dream, specifically, Latino immigrants in the U.S. According to a study conducted by Pew Research, Latinos are more likely than the general U.S. public to believe in the American Dream and to agree that with hard work,

  23. The American Dream in the 21st Century Research Paper

    6. 300 interviewed children seek happiness as their dream (p. 6). 600 interviewed children see wealth as their dream (p. 6). Having a car, a house, and a good job is still the American dream (p. 6). Web. Migrants have better outlooks for an American dream than locals (p.1).

  24. Charging elephant kills an American woman on 'bucket list trip' in Zambia

    An American woman who was on what she had called her "last big trip" was killed when a charging elephant flipped over the car she was traveling in at a national park in Zambia.. The "aggressive ...