So what is my definition of the American Dream? It involves me sitting on a porch in the midst of a warm summer, drinking a mint julep or a frosty glass of ice water while in my rocking chair staring at the empty space between myself and a blossoming cherry tree without a care in the world. A picturesque setting that at the current time seems hardly possible, or at the very least far-fetched, because I know the enormous amount of work it will take to make my dream come to fruition. In the middle of rising gas prices, political unrest and an increasingly volatile separation of social classes it would be easy for one to assume that The American Dream is nothing more than a fleeting wish or a defunct and old way of thinking. When surrounded by adversity and human suffering, how could we continue to believe that such a lifestyle is possible when those that have lived it are no longer the norm but a statistic given a monetary number or classification such as the 99%? Yet regardless of the current circumstances it is impossible to ignore the signs that while at first glance it may appear to be no more, the dream is alive and well…possibly closer to reality than we may believe.
No matter whom you ask, the answer will always vary to the question of “What is the American Dream?” According to Frederic Carpenter, the American dream “has never been defined exactly, and probably never can be. It is both too various and too vague” (Carpenter), so how does one gauge a dream? For some, it may be material items and others it may be spiritual happiness, regardless of what it may be the modern truth is that we are all individuals and because of so, our dreams are our own. Bob Herbert, a columnist for the New York Times, states in his article Hiding from Reality that “however you define the American dream, there is not much that’s left anymore” (Herbert) by pointing out the current state of our country, it should be noted that the first definition listed for Dream in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep” (Dictionary) which means that a dream is merely an extension of ourselves. If a dream is an extension of ourselves and what we desire is to live comfortably, then our perception of the American Dream is shaped by our own imagination and would make this dream closer to reality than we’ve been told.
Let’s take a closer look at the origins of the term “The American Dream”. Although the concept has been around since before our country was founded, the American Dream was popularized in 1931 when James Truslow Adams defined it in his book The Epic of America as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement…”(Stiuliuc) His definition embraces the ideological belief that is found in our Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights and among these rights are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (Congress). He continues by explaining that this dream is unique because unlike our European brethren that has a social hierarchy, every man and woman is capable of reaching the fullest of stature regardless of fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. A dream that has shaped our country from its inception giving hope to all that we cannot be told who we are or what we’re capable of by anyone other than ourselves.
The American Dream continues to be a staple of the social psyche as it has become the driving motivation behind all those that wish to achieve greater. It is an idea that is as timeless as history itself and unlike the man or woman that used it to forge new paths and become better than what they were told to believe, an idea cannot die. From those searching to find gold in the wild frontiers of the west to immigrants travelling from war torn countries in search of a better life, we gain the knowledge that it is because of hardships that we are capable of realizing our dreams. A dream is what we strive to achieve in the face of reality, it is what allows us to rise above the nightmare of circumstance and deny the naysayers the ability to limit what is possible. A cold reminder that we must appreciate where we’ve been in order to reap the benefits of where we are going because we will never know if the grass is greener on the other side if we do not conquer the mountain in front of us.
When applied to current times, it is hard to believe the American Dream is close even though we’ve barely gotten out of the recent Great Recession, millions are still out of work and even more have lost their homes. We are reminded that as long as we are willing to put in the work to see our dreams become reality, then we’ve got the only opportunity we need to see out this dream. By changing our perception that the dream is now our own and recognizing the fundamental belief that we are created equally, we begin to see that comfort with ourselves allows for the appreciation of the smaller points in life. This progression of thought will allow us to be open minded to the idea that it is no longer The American Dream, but My Dream. I want you to say this to yourself and read it aloud: The American Dream is hope and always has been. The hope that I can practice any religion without persecution, the hope that one may start with nothing and end up a something, the hope that I am not defined by what I was but what I am. It is this hope that has created My Dream and knowing this reminds me with each passing day that hope is a dream that never sleeps.