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The American Dream Essay

In: Social Issues

Submitted By JessiSteel
Words 1120
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The American Dream will never truly have a solid definition; it is ever evolving, molding into a new meaning as society develops and changes. It is like a fire; ever turning in one way or another; impossible to grasp, but yet never changing its basic identity. Throughout its history, the United States has endured many trials and obstacles. These trials have changed the way American citizens view the Dream’s preliminary ideals. Regardless of its history and the people involved in its development, America’s dream will always be—at the very least— loosely based on the principles upon which it was founded—those of life, liberty, and the endless pursuit of happiness.
When the United States was initially founded in the late 1700’s, it was viewed as a pioneering wilderness; an escape where a person was free to believe what he or she wanted without opposition. Indeed, a home where people could start a new life, free from the pressures of religion and the government they bore in the lands they came from. Over time, others began to hear of this great new land and they too sought after this dream of freedom. These people saw America as a beacon which gave them hope of a new life.
The interpretation of the American Dream has evolved over time. Conflicts have arisen, injustice has spread, and many have been martyrs as a result of the Dream that they believed in. For instance, in the 1800s, it was the white Southern man’s Dream to own slaves and property. The black man, however, had a very different Dream, which was to be free from the control of their masters. Ultimately, the Civil War was fought and Southern, white men had their Dream shattered while the black slaves realized theirs. After a long and brutal war fighting over President Lincoln’s proclamation that “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free….” (Lincoln), Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address gave inspiration and hope to the black slaves in Southern America. In spite of their differing views on what the Dream was to them, both the white man and the black man desired to ‘live the good life’, be free of obligations or burdens, and ultimately achieve happiness. The only difference was the context of each side’s backgrounds, ethnicities, and status in society.
Ultimately, though, for most American citizens, their goal in life is to be happy. Though there are many different individual dreams, most revolve in one way or another around this idea of happiness; the idea that, in order to truly have lived life successfully, a person must have achieved his or her interpretation of their happiness. For some, that might mean discovering peace through religion; others beg to differ, proclaiming that education is the key to happiness. Success is another thing that many believe is the key to finding their satisfaction in life. To yet another set of people, in order to truly fulfill the American Dream, it means a sense of accomplishment. As John Steinbeck presents in his book Grapes of Wrath, “This you may say of man—when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back.” (Steinbeck 147) This is an ideal image of the emotion behind the American Dream. That no matter how far we stumble and fall, we never let ourselves fall back to our starting point. We push forward, never ceasing, always resolute in being the best we can be—the happiest we can be—the wealthiest—the most at peace.

The modern definition of the American Dream is much more diverse than it used to be. In the past, this Dream meant owning the most land, or having the most slaves, or winning the most wars. Now it means so much more. Many find the American Dream to be about achieving the most fame and glory in their lifetime. Thousands upon thousands of people post videos of themselves on the popular video-sharing website YouTube singing or doing insane stunts in hopes of becoming famous or that they might become the next Justin Bieber.
Many people are still in favor of the idea of money as a symbol of success, but in recent years, as exemplified by television shows, movies and music, society has begun to consider happiness as more about living a simple, easygoing life. Consider this quote by Zac Brown, lead singer of his self-titled country band: “It's funny how it’s the little things in life that mean the most. Not where you live or what you drive or the price tag on your clothes.…” (Brown) In Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr (more famously known as T.I.)’s song “Live Your Life”, he encourages people to “just live your life, instead of chasing… paper.”
A prevalent concept sweeping the nation is that in order to truly be happy and achieve the “American Dream”, a person has to stop living by societal norms, go out, and live his or her individual dream. An example of this idea of individualism is the now-famous concept of “YOLO”, which is an abbreviation for “you only live once”. The concept behind the phrase, which was originally in a song called “The Motto” by Aubrey Drake Graham (more famously known by his stage name “Drake”), is that if a person desires to be truly happy, he must get out of his comfort zone and do things in life that would not ordinarily be considered proper or normal. Or, more succinctly, the modern, popular definition today would be this: experience life or you won’t really live life as it ought to be lived out.
As stated originally, there really is no way to pinpoint the American Dream. Its flame shifts and evolves, more quickly than we ever have time to get used to it. Indeed, even now there is no one American Dream. True, this Dream still involves the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, however it is what the individual American dreams that becomes the corporate Dream. There will be times when many Americans will have the same dream, but it is not about what America dreams, it is about what the individual dreams.

Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Presidential Proclamations, 1791-1991; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives.
Brown, Zac. Chicken Fried. BNA Records, 2003. MP3.

Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. Live Your Life. Atlantic Records, 2008. MP3.

Steinbeck, John. Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking Press, 1939. Print.

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