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Essay Reading Quiz (1)Based on your reading of Kamp, Jillson, and Cullen what common answers are found between the three readings regarding these four questions:1) How does each reading define the dream?2) What historical details are given and how do they connect to the dream?3) What examples of the successful dreams are given–common American Dreams?4) What of patterns of inclusion/exclusion regarding access to the dream and issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality are discussed? Your goal is to demonstrate that you understand “ALL” the readings. You should address all of them in your answers. Simple bullet points under each question will suffice, but be detailed and specific. You must have more than four (4) items per question. Please address the readings and learning modules as part of your response. Avoid, phrases such as: “I think,” “to me,” “in my opinion,” and “I agree.” Simply present your argument with supporting material from the documents. Feel free to use quotes & sentences from the documents as well.Be specific and provide detailed examples. Read every one of the attached documents and answer each question correctly and thoroughly explain each answer. Make sure you read each document thoroughly.



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Rethinking the American Dream |
4/28/09 6:01 PM
Closing a Summer Cottage, Quogue, New York, a 1957 Norman Rockwell art-directed Colorama
by Ralph Amdursky and Charles Baker. © 2009 Kodak, courtesy of George Eastman House. The
photographs in this article are Kodak Coloramas that were exhibited at New York’s Grand Central
Terminal from 1950 to 1990. Enlarge this photo.
Rethinking the American Dream
Along with millions of jobs and 401(k)s, the concept of a shared national ideal is said to be dying. But
is the American Dream really endangered, or has it simply been misplaced? Exploring the way our
aspirations have changed—the rugged individualism of the Wild West, the social compact of F.D.R.,
the sitcom fantasy of 50s suburbia—the author shows how the American Dream came to mean fame
and fortune, instead of the promise that shaped a nation.
April 2009
he year was 1930, a down one like this one. But for Moss Hart, it was the time for his particularly
American moment of triumph. He had grown up poor in the outer boroughs of New York City—“the grim
smell of actual want always at the end of my nose,” he said—and he’d vowed that if he ever made it big he
would never again ride the rattling trains of the city’s dingy subway system. Now he was 25, and his first play,
Once in a Lifetime, had just opened to raves on Broadway. And so, with three newspapers under his arm and a
wee-hours celebration of a successful opening night behind him, he hailed a cab and took a long, leisurely
sunrise ride back to the apartment in Brooklyn where he still lived with his parents and brother.
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into one of the several drab
tenement neighborhoods that preceded his own, Hart later
recalled, “I stared through the taxi window at a pinch-faced 10year-old hurrying down the steps on some morning errand
before school, and I thought of myself hurrying down the street
on so many gray mornings out of a doorway and a house much
the same as this one.… It was possible in this wonderful city for
that nameless little boy—for any of its millions—to have a decent
chance to scale the walls and achieve what they wished. Wealth,
rank, or an imposing name counted for nothing. The only
credential the city asked was the boldness to dream.”
Read’s American Dream Time Line.
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credential the city asked was the boldness to dream.”
As the boy ducked into a tailor shop, Hart recognized that this narrative was not exclusive to his “wonderful
city”—it was one that could happen anywhere in, and only in, America. “A surge of shamefaced patriotism
overwhelmed me,” Hart wrote in his memoir, Act One. “I might have been watching a victory parade on a flagdraped Fifth Avenue instead of the mean streets of a city slum. A feeling of patriotism, however, is not always
limited to the feverish emotions called forth by war. It can sometimes be felt as profoundly and perhaps more
truly at a moment such as this.”
Hart, like so many before and after him, was overcome by the power of the American Dream. As a people, we
Americans are unique in having such a thing, a more or less Official National Dream. (There is no
correspondingly stirring Canadian Dream or Slovakian Dream.) It is part of our charter—as articulated in the
second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, in the famous bit about “certain unalienable Rights” that
include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—and it is what makes our country and our way of life
attractive and magnetic to people in other lands.
But now fast-forward to the year 2009, the final Friday of January. The new president is surveying the dire
economy he has been charged with righting—600,000 jobs lost in January alone, a gross domestic product that
shrank 3.8 percent in the final quarter of 2008, the worst contraction in almost 30 years. Assessing these
numbers, Barack Obama, a man who normally exudes hopefulness for a living, pronounces them a “continuing
disaster for America’s working families,” a disaster that amounts to no less, he says, than “the American Dream
in reverse.”
In reverse. Imagine this in terms of Hart’s life: out of the taxicab, back on the subway, back to the tenements,
back to cramped cohabitation with Mom and Dad, back to gray mornings and the grim smell of actual want.
You probably don’t even have to imagine, for chances are that of late you have experienced some degree of
reversal yourself, or at the very least have had friends or loved ones get laid off, lose their homes, or just find
themselves forced to give up certain perks and amenities (restaurant meals, cable TV, salon haircuts) that were
taken for granted as recently as a year ago.
These are tough times for the American Dream. As the safe routines of our lives have come undone, so has our
characteristic optimism—not only our belief that the future is full of limitless possibility, but our faith that
things will eventually return to normal, whatever “normal” was before the recession hit. There is even worry
that the dream may be over—that we currently living Americans are the unfortunate ones who shall bear
witness to that deflating moment in history when the promise of this country began to wither. This is the
“sapping of confidence” that President Obama alluded to in his inaugural address, the “nagging fear that
America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.”
But let’s face it: If Moss Hart, like so many others, was able to rally from the depths of the Great Depression,
then surely the viability of the American Dream isn’t in question. What needs to change is our expectation of
what the dream promises—and our understanding of what that vague and promiscuously used term, “the
American Dream,” is really supposed to mean.
n recent years, the term has often been interpreted to mean “making it big” or “striking it rich.” (As the cult
of Brian De Palma’s Scarface has grown, so, disturbingly, has the number of people with a literal,
celebratory read on its tagline: “He loved the American Dream. With a vengeance.”) Even when the phrase isn’t
being used to describe the accumulation of great wealth, it’s frequently deployed to denote extreme success of
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being used to describe the accumulation of great wealth, it’s frequently deployed to denote extreme success of
some kind or other. Last year, I heard commentators say that Barack Obama achieved the American Dream by
getting elected president, and that Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel achieved the American Dream
by leading his team to its first World Series title since 1980.
Yet there was never any promise or intimation of extreme success in the book that popularized the term, The
Epic of America, by James Truslow Adams, published by Little, Brown and Company in 1931. (Yes, “the
American Dream” is a surprisingly recent coinage; you’d think that these words would appear in the writings of
Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, but they don’t.) For a book that has made such a lasting contribution
to our vocabulary, The Epic of America is an offbeat piece of work—a sweeping, essayistic, highly subjective
survey of this country’s development from Columbus’s landfall onward, written by a respected but solemn
historian whose prim prose style was mocked as “spinach” by the waggish theater critic Alexander Woollcott.
But it’s a smart, thoughtful treatise. Adams’s goal wasn’t so much to put together a proper history of the U.S. as
to determine, by tracing his country’s path to prominence, what makes this land so unlike other nations, so
uniquely American. (That he undertook such an enterprise when he did, in the same grim climate in which
Hart wrote Once in a Lifetime, reinforces how indomitably strong Americans’ faith in their country remained
during the Depression.) What Adams came up with was a construct he called “that American dream of a better,
richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank.”
From the get-go, Adams emphasized the egalitarian nature of this dream. It started to take shape, he said, with
the Puritans who fled religious persecution in England and settled New England in the 17th century. “[Their]
migration was not like so many earlier ones in history, led by warrior lords with followers dependent on them,”
he wrote, “but was one in which the common man as well as the leader was hoping for greater freedom and
happiness for himself and his children.”
The Declaration of Independence took this concept even further, for it compelled the well-to-do upper classes
to put the common man on an equal footing with them where human rights and self-governance were
concerned—a nose-holding concession that Adams captured with exquisite comic passiveness in the sentence,
“It had been found necessary to base the [Declaration’s] argument at last squarely on the rights of man.”
Whereas the colonist upper classes were asserting their independence from the British Empire, “the lower
classes were thinking not only of that,” Adams wrote, “but of their relations to their colonial legislatures and
governing class.”
Children’s Parade (1970), by Lee Howick. © 2009 Kodak, courtesy of George Eastman House.
Enlarge this photo.
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America was truly a new world, a place where one could live one’s life and pursue one’s goals unburdened by
older societies’ prescribed ideas of class, caste, and social hierarchy. Adams was unreserved in his wonderment
over this fact. Breaking from his formal tone, he shifted into first-person mode in The Epic of America’s
epilogue, noting a French guest’s remark that his most striking impression of the United States was “the way
that everyone of every sort looks you right in the eye, without a thought of inequality.” Adams also told a story
of “a foreigner” he used to employ as an assistant, and how he and this foreigner fell into a habit of chitchatting
for a bit after their day’s work was done. “Such a relationship was the great difference between America and his
homeland,” Adams wrote. “There, he said, ‘I would do my work and might get a pleasant word, but I could
never sit and talk like this. There is a difference there between social grades which cannot be got over. I would
not talk to you there as man to man, but as my employer.’”
necdotal as these examples are, they get to the crux of the American Dream as Adams saw it: that life in
the United States offered personal liberties and opportunities to a degree unmatched by any other country
in history—a circumstance that remains true today, some ill-considered clampdowns in the name of Homeland
Security notwithstanding. This invigorating sense of possibility, though it is too often taken for granted, is the
great gift of Americanness. Even Adams underestimated it. Not above the prejudices of his time, he certainly
never saw Barack Obama’s presidency coming. While he correctly anticipated the eventual assimilation of the
millions of Eastern and Southern European immigrants who arrived in the early 20th century to work in
America’s factories, mines, and sweatshops, he entertained no such hopes for black people. Or, as he rather
injudiciously put it, “After a generation or two, [the white-ethnic laborers] can be absorbed, whereas the negro
It’s also worth noting that Adams did not deny that there is a material component to the American Dream. The
Epic of America offers several variations on Adams’s definition of the dream (e.g., “the American dream that
life should be made richer and fuller for everyone and opportunity remain open to all”), but the word “richer”
appears in all of them, and he wasn’t just talking about richness of experience. Yet Adams was careful not to
overstate what the dream promises. In one of his final iterations of the “American Dream” trope, he described it
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.”
That last part—“according to his ability or achievement”—is the tempering phrase, a shrewd bit of expectations
management. A “better and richer life” is promised, but for most people this won’t be a rich person’s life.
“Opportunity for each” is promised, but within the bounds of each person’s ability; the reality is, some people
will realize the American Dream more stupendously and significantly than others. (For example, while
President Obama is correct in saying, “Only in America is my story possible,” this does not make it true that
anyone in America can be the next Obama.) Nevertheless, the American Dream is within reach for all those
who aspire to it and are willing to put in the hours; Adams was articulating it as an attainable outcome, not as a
pipe dream.
s the phrase “the American Dream” insinuated its way into the lexicon, its meaning continuously morphed
and shifted, reflecting the hopes and wants of the day. Adams, in The Epic of America, noted that one
such major shift had already occurred in the republic’s history, before he’d given the dream its name. In 1890,
the U.S. Census Bureau declared that there was no longer such a thing as the American frontier. This was not
an official pronouncement but an observation in the bureau’s report that “the unsettled area has been so broken
into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line.”
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The tapering off of the frontier era put an end to the immature, individualistic, Wild West version of the
American Dream, the one that had animated homesteaders, prospectors, wildcatters, and railroad men. “For a
century and more,” Adams wrote, “our successive ‘Wests’ had dominated the thoughts of the poor, the restless,
the discontented, the ambitious, as they had those of business expansionists and statesmen.”
But by the time Woodrow Wilson became president, in 1913—after the first national election in which every
voter in the continental U.S. cast his ballot as a citizen of an established state—that vision had become passé. In
fact, to hear the new president speak, the frontiersman’s version of the American Dream was borderline
malevolent. Speaking in his inaugural address as if he had just attended a screening of There Will Be Blood,
Wilson declared, “We have squandered a great part of what we might have used, and have not stopped to
conserve the exceeding bounty of nature, without which our genius for enterprise would have been worthless
and impotent.” Referencing both the end of the frontier and the rapid industrialization that arose in its
aftermath, Wilson said, “There has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed
and be great.… We have come now to the sober second thought. The scales of heedlessness have fallen from our
eyes. We have made up our minds to square every process of our national life again with the standards we so
proudly set up at the beginning.”
he American Dream was maturing into a shared dream, a societal compact that reached its apotheosis
when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office in 1933 and began implementing the New Deal. A
“better and richer and fuller” life was no longer just what America promised its hardworking citizens
individually; it was an ideal toward which these citizens were duty-bound to strive together. The Social Security
Act of 1935 put this theory into practice. It mandated that workers and their employers contribute, via payroll
taxes, to federally administered trust funds that paid out benefits to retirees—thereby introducing the idea of a
“safe old age” with built-in protection from penury.
This was, arguably, the first time that a specific material component was ascribed to the American Dream, in
the form of a guarantee that you could retire at the age of 65 and rest assured that your fellow citizens had your
back. On January 31, 1940, a hardy Vermonter named Ida May Fuller, a former legal secretary, became the very
first retiree to receive a monthly Social Security benefit check, which totaled $22.54. As if to prove both the
best hopes of Social Security’s proponents and the worst fears of its detractors, Fuller enjoyed a long
retirement, collecting benefits all the way to her death in 1975, when she was 100 years old.
Family Romp in the Living Room (1959), by Lee Howick. © 2009 Kodak, courtesy of George
Eastman House. Enlarge this photo.
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Camping at Lake Placid (1959), by Herb Archer. © 2009 Kodak, courtesy of George Eastman
House. Enlarge this photo.
Still, the American Dream, in F.D.R.’s day, remained largely a set of deeply held ideals rather than a checklist
of goals or entitlements. When Henry Luce published his famous essay “The American Century” in Life
magazine in February 1941, he urged that the U.S. should no longer remain on the sidelines of World War II but
use its might to promote this country’s “love of freedom, a feeling for the equality of opportunity, a tradition of
self-reliance and independence, and also of cooperation.” Luce was essentially proposing that the American
Dream—more or less as Adams had articulated it—serve as a global advertisement for our way of life, one to
which non-democracies should be converted, whether by force or gentle coercion. (He was a missionary’s son.)
More soberly and less bombastically, Roosevelt, in his 1941 State of the Union address, prepared America for
war by articulating the “four essential human freedoms” that the U.S. would be fighting for: “freedom of speech
and expression”; “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way”; “freedom from want”; and
“freedom from fear.” Like Luce, Roosevelt was upholding the American way as a model for other nations to
follow—he suffixed each of these freedoms with the phrase “everywhere in the world”—but he presented the
four freedoms not as the lofty principles of a benevolent super race but as the homespun, bedrock values of a
good, hardworking, unextravagant people.
No one grasped this better than Norman Rockwell, who, stirred to action by Roosevelt’s speech, set to work on
his famous “Four Freedoms” paintings: the one with the rough-hewn workman speaking his piece at a town
meeting (Freedom of Speech); the one with the old lady praying in the pew (Freedom of Worship); the one
with the Thanksgiving dinner (Freedom from Want); and the one with the young parents looking in on their
sleeping children (Freedom from Fear). These paintings, first reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post in
1943, proved enormously popular, so much so that the original works were commandeered for a national tour
that raised $133 million in U.S. war bonds, while the Office of War Information printed up four million poster
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