The idea of the American Dream goes back nearly 100 years. It promises equal opportunities for advancement for all who work hard to achieve their dreams. The term American Dream was first used in 1931 by James Truslow Adams, who included it in his book “The Epic of America” and thus gave a name to the prevailing sentiment of individual freedom and equality of opportunity.
Its fundamental idea had already manifested since the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. Among other things, it described the detachment of the people from their unjust rulers and the self-determination that went with it. In the 16th century, persecuted religious communities began to leave Europe and settle on the East Coast. In the centuries that followed, many immigrants also wanted to start anew in America and leave behind their complex lives in their homeland to flee war and persecution. Throughout the centuries, the American Dream has been based on the sentiment that the United States is the land of opportunity where anyone can achieve anything.
The American Dream is meaningful today, as it still attracts many immigrants and thus shapes the country. People leave everything behind in their home country to catch the American Dream to live better, wealthier, and happier. According to a 2020 survey, 37 percent of Americans surveyed believe that the American Dream is still relevant; however, they think it is now harder to achieve than it was for previous generations.
The term the American Dream lends itself to discussing the topic on several levels. For example, economic well-being vs. appreciation and care for others who do not enjoy high social status. Are those terms alike, or does one take priority over the other?
As a country shaped by immigration, how achievable is the American Dream for Native Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics? How much is each individual to blame for failing to achieve the goals set? Is equality of opportunity a reality or a widespread myth?
Hollywood still holds on tightly to the American Dream. Discuss how Gary Marshall’s movie “Pretty Woman,” starring Julia Roberts as the prostitute Vivian and Richard Gere as the wealthy financial investor Edward, buys into the sentiment of the American Dream. How is the topic of vast class differences resolved, if at all?
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