The Myth of Individualism America is famous for the reputation of being the land of opportunity, and for generations immigrants have fled to the United States to experience the freedom and equality our government lays claim to. The fundamental of this reputation is the American Dream, the belief that life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each by hard working regardless of social class or circumstances of birth(by James Truslow Adams).
The American Dream is different for everyone, though it is most commonly associated with success, freedom, and happiness.
The concept of the American Dream seems to have dwindled from where it was in the past few generations. It has gone from success, freedom, and happiness to having lots of money and the nicest possessions. Also, it is believed to be blind to race, sex, or socio-economic status. In today’s society we all hope and strive for this dream, but how many actually achieve the American Dream?
Is it a reasonable goal that Americans should strive for, or is it a myth that only leads to self-destruction? Repeated examples and statistics of the lower-classes, those continually facing the harsh reality that opportunity and equality are empty promises, only prove the opposite.
The countless stories of failure to reach the American Dream significantly override the few success stories that keep the myth alive. However, these few success stories keep Americans, as well as the rest of the world, believing in the false opportunities the American Dream puts forth.
For generations, Americans have been led to believe that the American Dream is realistic. Perhaps the American Dream can only be a myth to the lower classes. According to Maria La Ganga in her article “Tent City, USA,” many former owners of the American dream are living the American nightmare in the tent city, struggle to stay clean and fed. In the same vein, those who attempt to disprove the American Dream are considered un-American, and so are quickly silenced.
However, these few success stories and accusations cannot change the truth; the American Dream is not equally attainable to all. Poor parents cannot offer their children the same attention and motivation as parents of a higher-class can, therefore never providing these children with the belief that they are able to accomplish the American dream. Citizens who live in poverty work long hours for little pay, yet return to a household that in no way symbolizes the hard work put forth.
Within this environment, very few people have the positive outlook to mentor children successfully. In addition, many families do not make sufficient income to provide adequate food, housing or health care, and so then health conditions are drastically different than those of the upper class. Although many Americans are proud of the free-trade economic structure in the US, capitalist policy is only widening the gap between rich and poor, keeping the lower-class away from attaining their American Dream.
The American Dream was founded on the backs of small business-owners and farmers who at one time had the ability to become self-made men, but as Stephen Cruz pointed out in his interview with Studs Terkel, “It’s getting so big. The small-business venture is not there anymore. Business has become too big to influence”. Because the capitalist economic structure supports private ownership and growth and opposes government intervention to prevent it, companies have grown big enough to have the characteristics of monopolies.
Due to this, small companies or farmers cannot possibly compete with larger stores or corporate farms that can easily buy them out or price them out of business. Additionally, capitalism presents another oppressive strength that is beyond individual control: class domination. Therefore, even though America prides itself on being a “classless society”, a class system is unavoidable with a free-trade economic system because the private and individualistic characteristics force a distinction between the haves and have-nots.
Class distinction provides not only feelings of inferiority for the lower-classes, but monetary inadequacy as well. Higher-class children have an advantage from birth since they are guaranteed large sums of money at some time in their lives. Furthermore, it is known that it takes money to make money in a capitalistic system and so the inheritance laws only widen the gap between the rich and poor, keeping the lower-class exactly where they started: on the bottom. The American dream can only offer empty promises of equal opportunity to ucceed. People are driven to work hard by the notion of success without having almost any chance to succeed. However, because the American Dream is so deeply embedded in our culture, it greatly influences our perception of others and our perception of success. The “all you need is hard work to succeed” mindset has encouraged Americans to flaunt costly possessions to give the persona of a hard worker, while Americans who do not own extravagant objects are looked at as lazy or incompetent.
In reality, most cases are opposite. It is undeniable that an American laboring long hour for minimum wage works harder than an American who doesn’t maintain a job because he lives off inheritance money, but that is not what the myth has taught us. Even for those who have completed the American Dream, it’s not necessary a happy ending. In the story Ragged Dick, Horatio Alger writes about a young man’s progress from poor background that searches for wealth.
In this story Dick has gone from rags to riches, immediately after his success he wants to move to a nicer quarter of the city? But will this move satisfy his wants? Even though Dick is moving to a better part of town, there will always be a place that’s even better than this. The American Dream has taught us that each American has an equal opportunity to succeed and because it has been accepted for generations, the myth continues to make us blind to the many inequalities that prevent the lower class from reaching their dream.
Therefore, the American Dream will only leave lower-class Americans as they continue to see their dreams die, while they watch the dreams of the higher-class blossom The American Dream does not offer hope, but rather keeps Americans in the same class they were born into. The pattern will persist from generation to generation, making the rich richer and forcing the poor to become poorer unless action is taken. This vicious cycle is a result of a blinding myth that not only gives false hopes, but prevents the inequalities of America from taking center stage.
It seems as though the myth cannot be weakened, but then after all, with a little hard work, one can do anything. Works Cited Terkel, Studs. “Stephen Cruz. ” Rereading America. Eds. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford/ St. Alger, Horatio. “From Ragged Dick. ” Rereading America. Eds. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford/ St. Ganga, Maria La. “Tent City. ” Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles] 26 Mar. 2009. The Standard. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. .