Since those times when America was discovered, many people overflowed to this continent in search of a better life. Those emigrants who hoped to find in America better political, economic, or private life, wanted to realize American Dream. The word “movement” has a figurative meaning connected with those emigrants from Africa, England, Ireland, Mexico, etc., who arrived in the USA, chasing American Dream.
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What is American Dream? It is a phenomenon that symbolizes the ideal life of the USA population. American freedom includes success and prosperous life for everyone, regardless from the person’s origin or a social class. This idea is based on the United States Declaration of Independence which states that all people are equal, and have equal rights.
The practical realization of this dream is one’s own house, built on a private land. American Dream is tightly connected with the concept of “self-made person” that means a person who, with the help of individual hard work, achieves success in his/her life (Schnell 2).
Most of the emigrants, who arrived to the USA chasing their American dream, faced hard life, full of challenges and difficulties. Their American Dream was not realized, and they either died or resigned themselves to the dreadful way of life.
Thesis: The evasive American Dream rouses people to the unfulfilling reality.
The American Dream is United States’ national ideal. It offers freedom and a promise of prosperity in which life should get better and richer for everyone. It promises a fair chance for everyone with ability, without regard of social class or birth. Jennifer Hochschild succinctly defines the American dream as a set of “tenets about achieving success”.
According to President Bill Clinton, the American dream requires an individual to work hard to get a chance at advancement. Simply put, it is a persons’ attempt to achieve wealth and success through hard work and thrift. However, the American dream has remained difficult for many to achieve for a wide variety of reasons (Cullen 124).
Living the American dream is the ultimate dream for most of the American citizens and those aspiring to acquire American citizenship. However, the American dream has turned out to be a nightmare for them.
For many nowadays, the American dream has been rendered dead. Many who opted to get decent jobs better housing better health facility formal education etc. have languished to deteriorated living standards. Wages for many of the citizens have stagnated or fallen. Many authors have expressed failure of the American dream in their works. This theme is also very common in many contemporary works.
Education, Employment, Healthcare, Housing and the American dream
Many of those who sought better education resorted to working instead of studying. Financing education for many of the American citizens has become a heavy burden for them. US has the best education facilities and the best education system together with high technology, hence accessing this is quite an uphill task to those wishing to access this.
Unemployment has been the nature of the day many American citizens facing layoffs due to economic recessions. In addition, they are left to seek casual jobs to meet their end needs. With the minimal income of up to $40000 per year, they are unable to keep up with the high taxation bills and mortgage. This is due to the difficulty in economic mobility in the US. Many employed citizens have stagnated and unable to climb the economic ladder. Nevertheless the rise in economic inequality has contributed too many citizens missing out on the economic reward that comes with success.
Health services are also a serious concern. Even though America has the best health facility in the world, health care is a chronic problem to many American citizens. For those who are uninsured it has been a nightmare accessing these health facilities. Very few citizens are provided with this basic necessity by their employment companies. This has resulted to the sprouting of two health care systems for the haves and the have-nots (Bloom 93).
Housing is another factor that makes the American dream hard to achieve. Hunger and homeless is increasing every day street families are on the rise daily. As a result, they sleep and depend on the garbage sites. The state has constructed home for the poor to cater for these street families.
This has done little to reduce their ever growing numbers Poor housing state has hit almost one quarter of the US citizens. It is extremely difficult for the US citizens to own homes; this has prompted them to rely on mortgages. Many of them are unable to keep up with the mortgage hence face being evicted from their homes. Others spend the rest of their lives paying up the mortgage. The housing policy in the US has failed to provide a level ground for all citizens and those aspiring to acquire citizenship there to acquire this basic need.
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American dream and the works of Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver
Jesus’s Son – Denis Johnson
Jesus’ Son is an anthology of eleven interlinked short stories, which are all narrated by the same character; a broken alcohol and heroin addict. The narrator (and protagonist) interacting with disturbed, drug addicts. Ultimately sympathetic characters of these linked stories. We follow the narrator through eleven short stories that revolve around wild incidents under the influence of drugs.
Car Crash While Hitchhiking
This is the opening story in the book. The narrator is involved in a traffic accident while hitchhiking. This bleak story takes a positive turn when the narrator rescues a baby trapped in a wrecked vehicle. He ends up in hospital.
The narrator describes a fight with his girlfriend at the start of this story. He then meets an interesting character named Wayne in a bar. He goes on a job with Wayne to tear down the walls of his old house to take out the copper wires and sell them. While so engaged, they see a naked red headed woman hang gliding. She is Wayne’s wife. Beverly Home
This is the last story in the collection. This story follows the narrator’s life after he has undergone drug rehabilitation. The narrator works as a newsletter writer in a nursing home. With all the patients suffering in some way, the narrator seems to have found a place to fits in. He is obsessed with a Mennonite woman he overhears singing.
As a result of his occupation at the home and his relationship with the Mennonite lady, the narrator finds acceptance. The narrator seemed destined for an incongruous ending. The story has an interesting and poignant ending. Through all of these stories, we see a hidden spirituality in the characters and so the ending of the book, while surprising, is inevitable.
The stories take place in different settings and give the reader a detailed description of the narrator’s outcast friends. We see him in myriad predicaments and at all stations of his life. The characters in these stories are all addicts in some way. These drugs and alcohol are the only certain factors of the narrator’s life. The settings of the stories are as varied as the narrator’s friends. The settings cover from Iowa, to Seattle to Phoenix.
The narrator does not reveal anything about his past to the reader. The narrator only divulges aspects of his self through his words and his many incarnations. He surrounds himself with a coterie of lowlifes who dwell in a bleak and violent American reality. The surreal quality, the intense fragility, of the narration is striking in Jesus’s Son. This voice does not seem to alter even when narrating the violent episodes that litter the stories.
Cathedral -Raymond Carver
This narration short story opens with the narrator anticipating his wife’s blind visitor. He has many reservations about the visit. His narration reveals his prejudiced nature. He does not make any effort to engage the blind man, Robert, in conversation, and choses to remain aloof.
Not unlike the characters in Carver’s stories, the main character in Cathedral is subconsciously alienated and lonely. The narrator is unsatisfied with his occupation, and has petty resentments towards his wife. He does not get attached to people. The narrator is essentially blind, unaware of his actions and their effect on others. He lives in unique oblivion, isolated from others by his prejudice and beliefs.
The narrator disdains his visitor for no other reason but his sightlessness. He carelessly throws rude stereotypes into the conversation. This bias, to the extent that he refers to the visitor simply as ‘the blind man’, reveals his misplaced feelings of superiority.
The narrator betrays his opinion that Robert’s life must be far inferior since he has no sight. The narrator finally comes to realize that he, and not Robert, is actually blind. Despite his handicap, Robert has made the most of life. He has travelled and educated himself by listening to educational television programs and reading books.
Robert continues to better himself, unlike the narrator who has stagnated in his smug self-satisfaction. The narrator appears unmotivated, is a habitual drug user and does not seek to improve himself. The narrator sees Robert as a temporary imposition on his life, a trifling inconvenience. Robert, however, enables him to become self-aware. The narrator attempts to describe a cathedral he has just seen on TV to Robert.
Robert asks him to draw it with him instead. It is here, with narrator closing his eyes and Robert holding his hand, that the narrator experiences an epiphany. By drawing the cathedral with Robert, the narrator has become open to a completely new world. Before the drawing, the narrator had a strong bias towards Robert. Yet this time the narrator feels a difference between the two.
The narrator feels liberated saying, “I didn’t feel like I was inside anything” (Carver 13). The narrators experience with Robert allows him to view his life from an entirely new vantage point.
When the drawing is complete, the narrator keeps his eyes closed and continues to use the experience as an awakening. The narrator now realizes that life is “really something” (Carver 13) and he would benefit from changing his lifestyle. Ironically, it is through his experience with a visual impaired man, that Robert is introduced to an entirely new perspective on life.
Raymond Carver’s “Preservation” and the American dream.
Preservation by Raymond Carver is a story about working class white Americans who are bemused and fed up with the American dream that they see on the television. These working class Americans have always hoped to achieve this dream, although so far in their toil they have never even set their eyes on it.
The characters in this story have never protested against these disappointments and disillusionment in the American dream. Instead, they channel their views and anxieties of the dream to drugs and alcohol. They have focused their attention to the day-to-day details of their lives as opposed to struggling to achieve the American dream.
In Caver’s story, Preservation, lacking a job in America implies lacking a name. The unnamed husband in the story, who is also unemployed, has recently been retrenched form his job that involves putting up roof tops on new houses.
He was having difficulty finding a new job “His face began to sweat as he tried to describe to Sandy the milling crowd of men and women down there in the unemployment office” (Carver 36). The husband in this story becomes numb, and Sandy, his wife, just stands there helpless. She observes her husband as a compilation of body parts that are becoming less powerful by the minute:
“Her husband’s bare feet stuck out from one end of the sofa. At the other end, on a pillow which lay across the arm of the sofa, she could see the crown of his head. She saw his head down on the pillow that lay across the arm of the sofa. He adjusted the pillow under his head and put his hands behind his neck. Then he lay still. Soon she saw his arms move down to his sides…. His eyes were shut. His chest seemed to rise and then fall” (Carver 44).
Each time Sally looks at her husband, repetition of the words hands, sofa, head, feet, and TV occur. These words together with the husband’s body parts are depicted like having equal weight. His arms or eyes’ depiction is not any different with the sofa or the newspaper.
This lack of distinction between her husband, who she sees as body parts, and the nonliving objects around him is the leading conflict in this story. “Her husband- who is almost reclining, living now in the living room- is becoming a vegetable, an object, separated into parts, in the field of their home” (Carver 46).
Sandy’s memories, of men who contribute nothing in the lives around them, are used metaphorically to relate to her husband who is slowly getting into that category. She recalls of her friend’s story about an uncle who went to bed at 40 and was still alive 63 years later.
The uncle used to cry each day winning about his fear of getting old. She also recalls he father, who after divorcing her mother, bought a car in an auction and later died in it after inhaling carbon monoxide from the car (“He stayed in the car until someone found him a few days later.”) These memories follow one another and put emphasis on the failure of the American dream, making men useless in front of their families.
The husband in this story is preserved by lying on the sofa, although he has no job. His wife realized just how useless he has become, how apart they are drifting from each other, and how his job, Freon and energy has been lost. In as much as families have gained a massive amount of disillusionment in the American dream, they still hope that something will happen and make that dream a reality. Sally hopes that someone might turn up and offer her husband a job, or that she might buy a new refrigerator before everything in the house spoils.
The American dream is a public vision that involves America’s identity. The American dream has turned into a myth that is inconsequential as far as the socioeconomic identity of America is presently concerned. The American dream refers to the act of pursuing happiness by every person as shown in the Declaration of Independence. The American dream is more of an ideology that is rooted in the mind of people. With thus the American dream is just a mere mirage to the many people aiming for it around the world (Palecek 58).
Bloom Harold. The American dream. Kansas: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.
Carver, Raymond. Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories. New York: Random, 1972.
Cullen, Jim. The American dream: A short history of the idea that shaped a nation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.
Palecek, Mike. The American Dream. New York: CWG Press, 2006. Print
Schnell, Hildegard. The American Dream. GRIN Verlag, 2010. 1-3.