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The concept of the American dream is by far the most explored topic in the American culture for well over a century now, possibly because it captures every American’s aspiration for wealth. Tenets of this dream propose that anything is possible in the United States if you want it badly enough and this has been captured in every variation of the definition of the term. There has also been the continued development of the term to include Providence, and a birthright component for each American with the proponents of the ideology believing that it is the ultimate goal for every American. In the time of its inception, the American dream, which was described in the book “The Epic of America,” define the dream to encompass a land where life would be fuller and richer for every citizen, offering each one an opportunity according to their ability or achievement (Ştiuliuc, 2011). Such is also captured in the declaration of independence by Jefferson where each American was entitled to pursue their happiness.
A closer look at the dream and its omnipresence in the American culture, traceable even before the coining of the term, pass a very contemporary idea that many identify with. It then becomes a national identity, enshrined in people’s daily living from the creation of the US, which was inspired by the idea of a New World during the time of the Revolution and legitimized through a constitution. John Winthrop, for instance, gave a speech in 1630, entitled City upon a Hill, detailing his vision of a society that accorded everyone a chance to prosper provided they worked in unity, following the teachings of the Bible (Deneen, 2012). Despite the absence of the explicit use of the word dream, elements of the American dream can clearly be traced in the speech. As such, it is arguable that the inception of the term was a statement of an already known idea, the aspiration of every American to have a better life.
However, the dream has continually evolved from just having a car, a home, youth to politics and economics as classes interacted, and people started writing about their new experiences of equality. Initially, people had made a rush to acquire land and set down roots on the expansive land that had been made available for homesteaders, rendering the dream individualistic and competitive. The early 20th century saw this turned around as Americans realized a shared dream for the masses where citizens could work together and make life better for everyone. This new pursuit unveiled a new understanding of the dream, which would now ensure that every American had a safe and a healthier future.
Currently, keeping up with the American Dream has turned into a pricey endeavor especially with the televised “good life’ continually becoming unrealistic and more extravagant, and the accruing of debt as goods can be purchased through credit. This eliminates the needs for saving since the dream is not purchasable through credit. Part of the credit menace can be seen in the early 21st-century mortgage crisis that saw a significant number of Americans lose the very life they had worked hard to accomplish (Wyly, Moos, Hammel, & Kabahizi, 2009). Homes were lost, and the dream started becoming a mirage, especially for the younger generation who believed they could not surpass their parent’s achievements. Although the dream lingers on, there is a call for a different understanding of it.
Many people now include personal freedom as an important component of the dream, with a shift from simply attaining affluence to enjoying life with the little one has. As such, a growing number of Americans, especially the younger population, now believe the American dream is unattainable. The class shift may be responsible for the current demographics showing an increasing decrease of the middle-class Americans who are key in furthering of the American Dream. The class mobility has led to members of the middle-class shift either to the class below or above with the middle constricting with time.
Again, the dream has changed from simply owning land, a home or even a good life to include having the largest homes, having the most expensive cars and the trendiest clothes. With these new developments, the Dream appears to be for the few, and one can no longer see the dream in action. It is now a struggle to keep the family fed, especially after the recession with good schools only affordable to the wealthiest. Prioritization of needs has become a common practice as many Americans realize that they can no longer afford what they once could. With these changes in the dream, it is understandable to see why many people believe that the American Dream is no longer feasible, with the changing understanding of the dream greatly responsible.
In effect, the American dream describes a land of opportunity, a land where everyone had an equal chance to prosper and have a good life. Its pursuit had then become everyone’s goal as it had been in many American visionaries. However, there has been a major redefinition of the concept that has almost rendered the American Dream an exclusive ambition for the society’s most affluent. It is no longer about having land, a car, and a house; it is now about having the most expensive things in life. Many youths have, as a result, given up on the dream and now work just to get by. A new approach to understanding the dream is called for, to ensure that this sense of identity is not lost and that the intended definition of the concept remains unambiguous with the changing
Deneen, P. J. (2012). Cities of Man on a Hill. American Political Thought, 1(1), 29–52.
Ştiuliuc, D. (2011). The American Dream as the Cultural Expression of North American Identity. Philologica Jassyensia, 7(2).
Wyly, E., Moos, M., Hammel, D., & Kabahizi, E. (2009). Cartographies of race and class: mapping the class-monopoly rents of American subprime mortgage capital. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2), 332–354.
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