Monday, March 28, 2011

Essay: The American Dream Defined

The following is my most resent essay for my Composition I class. We were assigned to write an extended definition essay to define a word or abstract term. I choose “The American Dream.” I got 100% on the assignment. At the end are the comments my instructor made about the paper.


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” When this declaration was made on July 4, 1776, the world was first presented with the idea of the “American Dream”. The founding fathers, being fed up with the control enacted by King George III, sat down together as one and wrote out what it means to be an American. They had a dream of a country where “all men are created equal”; that everyone can have the same opportunities as everyone else. This single act of defiance has sent ripples throughout history, affecting the thoughts and dreams of every person who lives or will live in America[R1] . The American dream can be as simple as having kids or as complex as becoming the President of the country. It is all possible in America. This idea has driven many Americans, native or not, to seek a life full of liberty and happiness. The American dream has recently come under fire because many Americans[R2] believe the dream is dead. This is not so; there is nothing in this world that can destroy the spirit the American dream embodies.

Although the idea of the American dream has always been around, the phrase was made popular by James Truslow Adams in his book “The Epic of America.” In his book Adams wrote, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The American dream has been a literary term used as a main theme by many authors over the years. Such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, and Hunter S. Thompson have all used the term or theme in some way. One author, Horatio Alger, Jr., was a prolific believer in the American dream. He wrote hundreds of young boy’s in which the characters went from rags to riches. Much like Horatio Alger’s stories, Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream”, was a major play on the theme. A semi-autobiographical story of a sports writer sent to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race. Bringing along a car trunk full of booze, drugs and a typewriter, the protagonist seeks to discover the hallucinogenic depths of the American dream. Looking into the dark side of the theme Thompson, paints a vivid picture of what it really means to live outside normal conventions and do whatever it takes to make you happy; even if it means destroying who you are. In the last lines of the novel, Thompson writes, “I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger: A man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident” (Thompson)[R3] . By making this reference to Horatio Alger, Jr., Thompson is setting the final stone to his story, letting the reader know that all of which he has written is the American dream.

As a child I was always fascinated by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I never understood the truth to my obsession but looking back I now know why. He is the manifestation of the American dream. Born in Austria, Arnold was never favored by his cop father. His father, a member of the German army during World War 2, never believed Arnold was his son and resented him (Schwarzenegger and Hall). Arnold eventually started body building as a teenager and became a European muscle sensation. Having won many prizes as a champion bodybuilder (including seven Mr. Olympia competitions), Arnold started on a career as an actor. Throughout his career in Hollywood, Arnold established himself as a major action star. Starring in the Terminator movies, Total Recall (based on the story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick), Conan the Barbarian and the very well received True Lies. In 1969 Arnold “arrived here with empty pockets but full of dreams, full of determination,” and “full of desire”. Arnold said that quote in a speech at the Republican National Convention right after he became the Governor of California after a recall election in 2003. Arnold became the personification of a perfect Horatio Alger, Jr. story. From underappreciated boy to movie star unto respected politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger gives proof to the American dream.

When one thinks of the American dream as the idea that someone can do anything that makes them happy and be living the dream, then Edgar Allan Poe is also proof. Poe lived a more blessed childhood than Arnold Schwarzenegger; when he was three he lost both of his parents and was adopted by a wealthy tobacco merchant. Poe’s adopted father pushed him to become a businessman but much like his actor parents Poe was drawn to the arts. Fresh out of college, Poe would become poor and dreaming of becoming a writer. Eventually, Poe would meet his goals and become published. Following a stent in the Army, Poe would lose his adoptive mother to tuberculosis and was devastated that his adoptive father remarried right away. He would later marry his thirteen year old cousin only to lose her years later to tuberculosis. Poe would go on to publish many works including such greats as “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe was found years later wandering the streets broke and delirious. He died soon after…alone (Poe Museum ). Poe always pursued his dreams, no matter what others thought. He always did what was important to him; no one could tell him no. He was a great example of the American dream, of course, living the dream doesn’t guarantee success[R4] .

I never believed the American dream existed. I was a young, brash character with no direction in life; until I had my kids. I realized the joy one can have in life when one discovers their purpose. I was almost immediately aware of the situation I was in; a dire one, if I didn’t act right away. In high school I started delivering newspapers but years later, after I was married and my wife was pregnant, it was obvious how little I made. I started looking for a new job and found one that, even though paid a good hourly wage, gave little hours. I started to slowly realize the futility of not having a college education. I started to find other jobs and eventually landed a manager position at an A&W restaurant. I was excited for the opportunity to gain this experience and was content with the pay until my wife became, by accident, pregnant with our third child. This being my fourth kid overall I knew I needed to have a change in my life. I would never be able to raise them if I couldn’t provide for them. Even more important than my own future, was their future. Come college time for them, if I did nothing to better my life, I couldn’t pay for their education. I knew that, being able to help them start their dream, was essential to their future. I knew that their failure would mean my dream too, would be a failure. I remembered when I was a kid I used to say I wanted to be a doctor and decided there was nobody holding me back. I looked at many options and found that the best and quickest way to my goal is to become a chiropractor. Now I am living my American dream. I am going to school to become a doctor; and for the sake of my children’s future I will become one.

Living the dream doesn’t guarantee anything but “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It means a person can live their life how they want it. The American dream is more than an idea, it is the design instilled in the soil of America. Anyone that can touch the land of America can do what he wants to succeed. If you are in America you can do it. Reach out for the stars and grab what is yours. The American dream is more alive today then people like to think. One person I talked to said that they are living the dream every time they eat a slice of homemade cheesecake. The beauty of the American dream is that there is no definition[R5] ; it is lived in the manner the person living it chooses. This spirit will always be in the bedrock of this land; waiting for someone to come along and say “This is what I want and nobody is going to stop me!” The American dream lives on, strong and powerful, and always will.

Works Cited

Poe Museum . "Poe's Life: Who is Edgar Allan Poe?" 2010. Poe Museum. 20 March 2011 <>.

Schwarzenegger, Arnold and Douglas Kent Hall. Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. New York: Random House, 1971.


[R1]What a fantastic transition between the Declaration and your own ideas!

[R4]You are using terrific and diverse examples to illustrate the various implications of the American Dream. Nice work.

[R5]I like this idea. My first reaction was to say that you should have made this statement earlier on in the paper. However, on second thought, I realized that rather than saying it, you demonstrated in with all of your examples. Excellent.

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