The United States is known for many things. But it is perhaps best known for the American Dream. The American Dream, simply defined, is the belief that the American way of life makes it possible for anyone to prosper, succeed, and achieve one’s dreams no matter where one comes from or one’s station in life. The concept is rooted in American values such as democracy, freedom, and equality, which are believed to give people equal access to opportunity and the chance to better their lives. For hundreds of years, people have believed in the American Dream. So much so that Americans and foreigners alike have called this country the Land of Opportunity. Though the American Dream may seem a permanent feature of the American way of life, the reality is that it is far from being a fixed ideal. The American Dream took on different forms over the centuries, including being a noble vision of a free society in its earlier days and a myth for the underprivileged many today.
In its noblest form, the American Dream is the vision of a democratic, free, and equal society. When the United States won its independence, the Founding Fathers established a political and social system that sought to grant people the power to govern themselves. Being a democracy means that people had the ability to form a government that puts public good over personal interest. As a result, people are supposedly equal before the law, which means that everyone has equal access to education, employment, and the opportunities to advance in life. Therefore, people are supposedly given the power to take control of their destiny and thrive through hard work. As the Declaration of Independence states, all individuals have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This version of the American Dream also has its origins in the experience of the settlers. Even before the United States gained its independence, it was seen by European settlers as a place of new beginnings—an uncharted frontier that held the promise of success for those who worked the land.
This noble vision of the American Dream proved to be true to a certain extent. For hundreds of years, the United States has been a place where people can make a fresh start and build themselves from the ground up. One such example is the story of immigration. Millions of people from around the world have come to America in search of better prospects. They came for many reasons; to escape poverty in their homeland, to seek freedom from tyranny, to search for their destiny. True to the promise of the American Dream, countless people found the kind of success that they could only once dream of. Through hard work, immigrants from Europe, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere have built better lives here, ultimately contributing to the growth of this country and getting woven into the fabric of American society.
Although the American Dream was true for many, it did not always stay true to the noble vision that it was originally intended to be. The American Dream was once an abstract idea—a vision that represented liberty and self-sufficiency. But it soon became more narrowly defined as the pursuit of material wealth. It became synonymous with finding financial success. Criticisms of the American Dream emerged in the 20th century as people started to question the concept. A prominent example is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel “The Great Gatsby.” Detailing the decadence of the prosperous, Gatsby’s novel has become the symbol of how a corrupted view of the American Dream can lead to individual and social demise.
While the American Dream remains a source of fascination for many both in the United States and the world at large, the late 20th and early 21st centuries offer a drastically different view of the concept. If it was once considered a reality, it is now regarded as more of a myth. Contemporary society has come to re-examine the American Dream by contrasting it against the realities of American history. Results show that while the American Dream has been attainable for some, it is but a distant dream for many. Indeed, for every person who achieved their American Dream, many others failed. Many Americans have come to terms with the fact that hard work is not enough to achieve success. Moreover, there are factors beyond their control that prevent them from moving up. Consider, for instance, how the average student today is already steeped in crippling debt even before graduating, or how most people have no access to quality healthcare due to outrageous prices, or how ethnic and racial minorities are far more likely to suffer discrimination. Even the United States’ legacy of slavery, colonization, and oppression of Native Americans cast the American Dream in a different light. The long-standing inequalities among Americans is more than enough proof of the American Dream’s mythical status.
As the noble aspirations of the American Dream crumbles in the face of the harsh realities facing people, it comes as a question whether people should continue to look up to this uniquely American vision. Some people certainly still do. It may be true that the American Dream will remain. It may also be true that its value lies in its ability to inspire people. But now people must be more open to accepting that it is far from perfect. Only by accepting that it is fundamentally flawed can American society begin to move towards addressing the problems that have made the American Dream a myth for many.