6 thoughts on “THE AMERICAN DREAM Socratic

  1. Working off what Megan embedded in my soul: Allow me to define a couple of terms before I get started.

    As I shared in class – my personal definition of the American Dream is “The want to be perceived as having more than somebody else”, where the term ‘more’ can be a physical trait or material object. Our class definition of happiness (at least, for the purposes of this discussion) was a feeling that can only be achieved when you are sharing it with someone else, one that provides a feeling of comfort.

    Just after class had wrapped up, I was almost talking to myself when I wondered aloud “So why in god’s name would anyone want to be American?” Individuals are inclined to believe that to successfully achieve the American Dream will directly result in happiness. Given our definitions, this already opens up a powerful paradox: when you are above someone else and constantly flaunting it, you are hurting (intentionally or not) the person that you compare yourself with. Given that happiness is a mutual feeling, how is it that one person can possibly achieve it when their effort to get there inevitably denies the happiness of others? I believe this is where the class system comes into play. An entire society of ‘haves and have-nots’, where one is constantly stepping all over the other in order to maintain their position. Take The Great Gatsby, for example. The lavish and luxurious parties that Gatsby himself puts on in a way to solidify himself into the upper class of wealthy men and women literally overshadow the middle class of the world. Our narrator, Nick Carraway, is not wealthy or famous in any regard. He is simply another member of the middle class. It is through convention and circumstance (and a healthy chunk of blind luck) that he finds himself associating with the upper class. Gatsby is a living contradiction to the thought that to achieve the American Dream equals happiness. There is no question as to whether Gatsby has achieved the American Dream – he is constantly perceived as having more wealth than anybody in the masses. The title itself is enough to prove this: I have yet to meet another character who is introduced to me as ‘the great’. So, hats off to you, Mr. Gatsby, but you’re still not happy though. Gatsby uses his servants as simple tools to advertise his power and wealth. And it is this very fact that is keeping him from actually becoming happy! He seems to only want the attention of one single person, and everything else is simply a tool to achieve ‘happiness’.

    So, we’ve proved that the American Dream is not, in fact, a means to achieve happiness. So why do we still chase it? As long as we are struggling to become recognized as better than someone else, we will never share the true essence of happiness. Individuals sorely misjudge the meaning of happiness, yet are so caught up in the belief that the validation of others will make one happy. And that is my answer.

    Happiness is a blessing; validation is a drug.

    I was talking with someone on my bus, and she made a rather interesting analogy about something rather simple. Allow me to liken validation to something as menial as your Instagram account. The more followers you attract simply makes one want to attract more. Ten turns to twenty, which must turn into fify, one hundred, two, five… Is it endless. Even if your original goal was to grow your account to 500 followers, the second you reach that, you will already be looking forward to the next milestone. Never have I heard of a public figure be content with their publicity. You always, always want more validation. But validation isn’t happiness. And no amount of one will ever result in the other. To be happy is to share something, to be validated is to compete for something. And that, my friends, is where the disconnect is. That is why we call it the American Dream, not the American Ideal.

    In conclusion – The American Dream provides us validation, not happiness. No amount of validation is ever truly sufficient to satisfy us, which is why we endlessly chase and abuse the next person over, to affirm ourselves on top of the mountain of praise and recognition, only to realize there is really nothing worth having at the top.

  2. Let me start by defining what the American Dream is. According to James Truslow Adams, the American writer and historian who coined the term, the definition of the American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” It finds its origin in the Declaration of Independence, which states that “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As such, it is rooted in the freedom of finding opportunities for prosperity, success, and social mobility; in short, it is a dream rooted in discontentment. It is a dream based on illusion, not truth, and is a dream focused on the pursuit, never on the attainment. I think this is why the characters in many of the American novels we study fail to achieve this so-called American Dream.

    If we follow Adams’ definition that the American Dream provides “opportunity for each according to ability or achievement,” then we can see the limitation placed on certain individuals by society. Despite the insistence that all men are created equal (perhaps in their inherent humanness), it does not negate the fact that economic and social disparity remains an issue. This is why characters like Jay Gatsby and Willy Loman, individuals born into the lower classes, find it more difficult to achieve their idea of the American Dream. Even when prosperity and material wealth are gained, men like Gatsby remain unaccepted by America’s higher classes due to the perception of him as “new money,” while the efforts of men like Loman are seen as insufficient or inadequate to be considered successful. From this, we can see that the American Dream is defined by those already rich or popular (though they themselves also face discontentment), and those in the lower classes fail to achieve it because someone else has defined it for them. Thus, true social mobility remains nothing but an illusion and prosperity becomes a false indicator of happiness. Therefore, the American Dream fails to thrive because it is simply that: a dream. As such, it remains a set of ideals in the nightmare that is reality.

  3. Dear Areeb and Jieo,

    Thank you for your insight! I would like to build off of what you both had said and put forth the idea that the pursuit of the American Dream is not a choice. For the lower class, when the present does not offer what one desires, they have no other option but to seek the future, full of possibilities, or as Willy Loman did, rely on the past to fulfill their delusions of success. For those in this situation, the dream acts as a sort of a guidance system – as it is defined by society, there are predetermined goals and definitions of what society deems to be wealth or success, and individuals can therefore have a solid indicator of what their lives should be (as Areeb said, the American Dream is act as a source validation), and act accordingly. However, with these external motivators and expectations, one lacks their own internal guidance. The dream is an external conflict that, due to the lack of choice, becomes an internal conflict. In this manner, the American Dream becomes a hindrance to one’s own success and is counter-intuitive to its purpose.

    From our readings, I have felt that, because of the reasons listed above, the American Dream is not a choice that one makes, rather it is a necessity. However, I am still struggling with the idea of attaining the American Dream because of this, and if it can ever be achieved – I feel that if society determines that one is successful, the dream has been attained, however if the individual deems themselves to be a success, the dream has not been achieved due to the fact that the dream is more about how others perceive one than how individuals perceive themselves. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

  4. Thank you all for your wisdom and insight (as always). <3

    To branch off a lil', I believe the American Dream – defined in this instant as prosperity via societal roles and reputation – is most contemporarily relevant in Catcher in The Rye. Holden's journey throughout the entirety of the book is about finding where he belongs within society and, to a great extent, having that defined by his relationships with those around him. This, mixed with idealism, as is to be expected with the American Dream, resulted in most of his suffering and mental instability.

    This is why I think Catcher is the most contemporary/ ~relatable~ example of the American Dream and the hopes attached to it because relying on others to aid in defining who one is in society continues to lead to general heart ache and disappointment. This isn't meant to sound cynical, it is more so an abservation on the suffering that comes about with any definition of the American Dream and its ideallic foundation.

    Holden seeked to define himself through his realtionship with friends at school, Sunny, Phoebe, and everyone around him and allows them to determine where he was able to fit in. Further, when his idealized reality is disturbed he rejected the reality of the situation which really made a mess of his mind. This is why I think he is the most contemporary example of teh American Dream in today's Western society as it is so bloody important to find what your niche is in society (be it hipster, emo, jock, etc.) and is generally concluded based on the observations others are able to make of you and the people who look/ act like you. If ~young adult~ films have taught me anything it is that even when one is able to fit into the mold of whatever niche they desire they're never happy. Like not ever.

    But isn't that the dream? To find the right title to adhere to yourself so you're happy?

    I don't know that I have any profound, magical, jaw dropping conclusion but here's what I do have: The American Dream is a futile effort. It is, in essence, a communal accpetance of suffering and disappointment in hopes of tricking ourselves for long enough that meaningless social statuses can truly make us happy otherwise we may very well realize just how miserable we are attempting to grab hold of a smoke in the shape of a dream.

  5. Building off of what was discussed earlier (as I don’t remember who said this), men and women have different views on the American Dream. Conventional circumstances and gender roles played a large factor on how both men and women defined their own version of the American Dream. A man’s pursuit of the American Dream was to establish a sense of validation, as Areeb said. By showing off their wealth and success in business, a man could obtain some degree of validation because of the feeling of superiority he achieved that comes with competition. The American dream for men was based off of individualism;a man’s worth was defined by the material goods he possessed. In other words, wealth is need to prove the success of a man; a car, a house, and a wife were needed to indicated the accomplishment of his American Dream.

    However, as Jieo defined the American Dream earlier as, “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, women’s rights were not mentioned at all. During these times, the conventional gender role of a good wife would be to stay home, take care of the children, and handle all the housework. If a man’s American Dream was based off of individual success, a woman’s American Dream was based off of collective happiness. Women in those times were heavily reliant on the bread-winning men. Women were not expected to work. Therefore, a woman’s pursuit of her dream was reliant on a man’s happiness.

    This is demonstrated through Linda’s intentional negligence of Willy’s attempted suicides. As we learned in class, Willy’s existence is validated only through his past successes and illusions. Linda allows Willy to continue to live in his hallucinations because she realizes that his happiness is only obtained through his illusions. Since Willy’s happiness is dependent on the success of his American Dream, Linda recognizes that she must constantly support him. Even more so when she feels that Biff’s rejection of Willy’s ideals indicated his betrayal of the close bond they once shared. Linda believes that her sons’ betrayal played a large role in Willy’s contemplation of suicide. However, after the death of Willy, Linda says, “We’re free.” The quote could imply the linkage of freedom with economic security. The quote could also indicate that both Linda and Willy’s happiness is finally achieved through financial security. Does anyone have any thoughts on what this quote could mean?

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