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. 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?
According to Horatio Alger and Toni Cade Bambara, they both believe the concept that the American Dream is a myth and prove these fundamentals through their writing. A single person or a small group does not create the notion of success, but it is created by our whole society. The myth of instant wealth is one of the most popular myths society uses. In fact society uses the hope of instant wealth to make people work harder. The fact that they do not have a real chance of obtaining that wealth by competing in the economic system stays invisible to the most of people.
But people have believed that if they will work hard then they can achieve success. Richard Hunter, main character of the book “Ragged Dick” has been a typical example of American notion of success. According to this book, by Horatio Alger, everybody can become well recognized and financially prosperous if they would work hard and show their merit. Dick, “a young gentleman on the way to fame and fortune,” as his friend Fosdick from the story “Ragged Dick” describes him in the end of the story, climbs on the social ladder, starting from the very bottom.
Being absolutely illiterate and having no money in the beginning, Dick gets into business circle of people, by working hard and showing his merit. While reading this book, I really was able to put myself in the story, and live Dick’s life with him. This typical story of “Rags to Riches”, is a general theme for many people’ lives. Today, as well as back in the 1800’s when the story was written, most people’s dreams are to achieve success. This formally became known as “The American Dream”. Although this may seem strange for everyone to have the same idea, it really isn’t when you look at it with an open perspective.
Each and every person’s perception of success is extremely different and individual, which makes everyone’s dreams different. There may be people who strive for big goals, and there may be others who take it one day at a time, achieving happiness on a less formal level. In comparing the time period of the story to our society today, there are many similarities and differences to consider. According within the world we live today, people tend to set much higher goals and expectations for themselves, whereas, in Ragged Dick, it was more of a day-to-day type situation.
When people set smaller, more realistic goals, it results in more happiness and comfort in their lifestyle. However, in today’s world, Americans have become so incredibly competitive and successful, that the standards have been significantly raised to the point where personal happiness is no longer good enough. After reading a novel like Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, you subconsciously make yourself realize the important underlying message that he is trying to portray. To me, this message is to always be optimistic, and no matter how bad your life is, it can always get better if you are honest, hardworking and determined.
Another good source that brings forth the concept of money and success is through Bambara’s writing, “The Lesson”. The major theme of the story was creating awareness in adolescents about what life has to offer. The nature of human beings of accepting the realities of life to such an extent that apathy and lethargy sets in, is what proves to be destructive for the social fabric of today’s world. In this stagnation, Mrs. Moore provides the impetus required for people to realize their god given right to something better. We are told that Mrs. Moore has a college degree, is well dressed most of the times, and has a good command on her language.
She seems to be a kind of a person who has seen the world. She has experienced life, and wants to use that experience in providing the children with an opportunity to broaden their horizons. This opportunity that she strives to provide is opening their eyes to the true nature of life and not by giving them money and bombarding their psyche with moralistic attitudes. The story showcases the lack of aspirations of a culture. It takes us through the point of view of the children, who think of nothing but entertainment, and through the mind frame of the adults who have resigned their lives to mediocrity.
Mrs. Moore proves to be the catalyst that sets alight the imagination of the children. She realizes that by just telling the children that there is something better out there, she will not be able to instill in them a sense of longing; an aspiration to achieve something better in life. So the morale of this story was to show how one could achieve success with certain disadvantages and still work towards the realistic “American Dream”. As a result, Americans are never satisfied with what they have.
It has been said that Americans are no longer trying to keep up with the Joneses, but instead looking at celebrities, and envisioning themselves with the same expensive possessions. Americans today do in fact look at celebrities and long for their lavish lifestyles, but also still do try and keep up with the Joneses. This scenario is also similar with possessions of luxury items. Ever look at your neighbor’s new car and want one of your own? It is very common to see your neighbor pull in their driveway with a new Mercedes, then look at your car and think of going and getting a nice new car that is comparable to the Mercedes.
We as Americans are never satisfied with what we have. The American Dream is still alive, though it is not what it used to be. One can be successful, have freedom, and be happy. But are they fulfilling their version of the American Dream? Some of us may take it to further extremes than others, but there will always be the desire to have something better than everyone else. Society today tells us that we should have the best of everything if we don’t; we are of a lower class of people. We are sucked in by these beliefs because we as Americans do not want to be shown up, and want to be part of the higher class.
Americans are always demanding more, while in poverty-stricken countries people are just thankful for what they do have. Maybe we as Americans should just be thankful for the opportunities that this great country has to offer and live our OWN dreams. . Works Cited Alger, Horatio Jr.. Ragged Dick Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks. New York. Penguin, 2005. Print. Bambara, Toni. “The Lesson”. Literature: Reading and Writing the Human Experience. Shorter 7th ed. Ed. Richard Abacian and Marvin Koltz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000. 121-126.