Елена Гомзина. «American Dream VS American Dreamers»

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Tartu University Narva College

Division of Foreign Languages 

American Dream VS American Dreamers

(Basing on the novel Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury)

BA thesis 

Jelena Gomzina 


Supervisor: Anna Golubeva 

Narva 2006



      It has become a custom nowadays that the USA nowadays has turned into the first-rate provider of goods to the cultural market of the planet. The seeds of the New World’s culture have begun to appear on the Eurasian soil since the USA started to gain power in the military and geographical spheres. The goals and values that used to be unknown have now become cult ones. One of them is the widely known American Dream. Due to its incredible popularity the American Dream seems to be one-sided aspiration for success, respected social status and material well-being. People in this country are believed to follow this very general list of desirable and forget about spiritual development of a personality. By the way, this is one of the weakest points in the American dream and the one that it is mostly criticized for. 

      On closer acquaintance the existing image of the Dream raises some doubts about its credibility and correspondence with reality. Thus, the hypothessis that the author of the thesis seeks to prove is: not all Americans admit the influence of the American Dream upon their lives. How correct is our generalised overview of this idea? Can this phenomenon be called a Dream in the ordinary sense? Is it really so universal that all and each in America live for it? We decided that there is lack of unbiased information on the American Dream and these questions are worth answering. That is how we have come to the idea of carrying the research of this sort. Without pretending that our judgment is totally accurate, we suggest that people try to regard the given notion from another angle.   

      The research will be conducted in two approaches. On the one hand, the general image of the American Dream will be composed basing on different nonliterary sources. On the other hand by analysing the novel of the famous American writer Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine we will show that in the USA there are not only people obsessed by the thirst for success and prosperity, but also ones who dream of natural and so to say universal things like all of us do.

      The present paper falls into Introduction, three chapters of main part and Conclusion. In Introduction the author gives the lexical definition of the term American Dream. There is also information on the author of the book that is researched. The first chapter is dedicated to the historical background revealing the origins of the American Dream and the role it has been playing in the society. The second chapter gives conclusions of some modern political scientists and sociologists about the researched notion. Chapter III is based directly on working with literary materials and gives the traditional understanding of the American Dream that was developed in the American literature at the beginning of the previous century. In contrast to it, the chapter also presents the analysis of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine in order to demonstrate the difference in the perception of the American Dream.   

      The aim of the research is not to reveal the drawbacks of the concerned conception itself, but to attempt to destroy the stereotypical attitude towards the subject, presenting another vision of the Dream of New World and indicating some inaccuracies in the perception of this phenomenon. The novelty of topic lies in the new approach and the nontraditional literary material it is founded on.

      The paper can be regarded as universal in a way. On the one hand those who are not acquainted with the American Dream at all will get irrefragable information on the modern character of the notion and its historical path. On the other hand, the materials presented and the problems covered in the thesis are of a certain value to those who are aware of the conception in general and interested in new ideas and opinions. The literary component of the present paper shows the direction which anyone can follow for the purpose of further researches.





      The American Dream is a notion in everyday use. It is heard in speech of politicians, sociologists or analysts. There is large amount of literary works dethroning it and showing its dangerous impact upon peoples’ minds.

      Various sources of information (mass media, critical essays, Hollywood movies, etc) have «encouraged» non-Americans to assemble a number of rather perfunctory models regarding the American Dream. It may be understood as averaged stable material well-being of a usual family as well as successful career development. And the path from a dustman to a millionaire in its different variations is considered to be the wildest dream of every American. These are stereotypical images provided by cinema (movies for the whole family where all the events take place against the background of a quiet family life); books (recollect characters of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Theodore Dreiser) as well as show-business, sports etc.

      Having such models in front of their eyes people create for themselves a collection of trappings of the American Dream: success, public recognition and prosperity depending directly on money. And there is little doubt that someone has ever tried to muse on what actually there is behind the phrase American Dream.

      It is impossible to move any further in trying to comprehend the deep sense of the phrase «American Dream» or to estimate its nature without a generalised definition of the concept. The first definition was formulated and used by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America first published in 1931. There he stated:

«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 is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position» (1971: 214-215).

      This term and the book itself came in handy. The aim of the author was to encourage the society in early years of Great Depression, to give hope and to remind people of the remarkable past of their country. His attempt was doomed to success.

      In the course of time the term «American Dream’ has been developing new meanings and getting more indistinct. Its definition is virtually taken for granted. According to Wikipedia web-page the American Dream is the conviction, widespread in the United States, that by working hard, being patient and persistent anyone can change his or her life for the better. Such changes traditionally involve improvement of the financial or social status. The article discusses both the past and the today’s state of the Dream. The opportunity to get free enterprises or/and escape from war or persecution has always been luring people from different countries thus causing waves of immigration. Nowadays the examples of realisation of secret hopes and wildest expectations still keep lots of people believing in their lucky star. The concluding part of the article is a fly in the ointment since it enumerates a number of aspects which rouse the censure of critics. The main principles of the conception — the equality of opportunities and its accessibility — are disputed on social, ethical, economical and some other levels. In some critics’ opinion, the idea on the whole is believed to be misleading and even meaningless. Nonetheless, the question about the Dream and its weak and strong points is still open and highly disputed in the American society. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: American Dream, para.2-8)

      Both definitions of Adams and Wikipedia authors are too concrete in the former as well as too general and narrow in the latter for describing such a complex subject precisely. The same can be said about all the previous works on this topic. The other authors believed this particular concept describes something very contemporary. They regarded the Dream as a social phenomenon only. However, it can be viewed as an iceberg: we see only a small part of it, all the important is hidden in human memory under remote ages. In order to understand what the American Dream truly is we need to look back. That is what the famous publicist and writer Jim Cullen did while working on his new book The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation. He has chosen a slightly different approach linking the Dream with history and social changes. He believes the American Dream is like a mirror reflecting all the needs of the American nation during its development. Currently, his work is the most complete and detailed research of the given phenomenon. In the text he insists that Americans are the nation of American «Dreams» in the plural. That is where the originality of his book lies.

      The six main chapters are each devoted to a different Dream. Cullen begins with the Puritan dream of building a perfect new society of believers where every person would be free from Old World’s impact. For Cullen the most American feature and crucial point here is the strongest «faith in reform» (2004: 15) and the belief that, with effort, things could be different and better than they are at the moment.

      This links the Puritans to the second American Dream which is embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are terms no less ambiguous and no less mythic than the notion of American Dream itself. However, this is the reason why the founding charter has been a recurrent inspiration for such people and movements which the Founders could never imagine having a place within the political life of the nation. Democratising of the Founders’ vision and the expectations of upward social mobility for people of humble beginnings is the third version of the Dream considered by Cullen. Together with social and political changes he mentions a few new tendencies in the language development. The fourth Dream is that of social equality which he explores particularly through an intense discussion with Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifth. He regards «home ownership» as the sixth American Dream and emphasises here, in the discussion of suburbanisation after World War II that of all the Dreams this one is most widely realised. Finally, he approaches the dream «of the Coast» — Californian dreaming which is another vision of good life. Unlike the previous dreams that imply hard work and patience, the dream of the Coast originates from the gold rush, the gambling represented by Las Vegas, the cult of personality (rather than character) that  as Cullen claims, is provoked by Hollywood and in particular by the great and successful actors of that time.

      Cullen’s well-written book is objective and unbiased. It enlarges the existing idea about the notion. As well as every good piece of writing it raises a number of questions. The author confesses that he cannot formulate the uniting features of all the Dreams and suggests that each of them is about «freedom» and equally about «agency that individuals have control over course of their lives» (2004: 10).

      When Americans finally noticed and admitted the obvious weak points of their national conception numerous discussions and debate flared up. We find life of the notion within literature to be the most captivating and worth of attention since this space is multi-dimensional and immense. There is a certain list of books traditionally associated with the problem of the Dream. That is where readers gain a rough about a typical «conqueror» and follower of the Dream. Authors’ talent and art of word together with readers’ vivid imagination definitely bare fruit. The world is aware of the main tendency of anxiety and discontent now inseparable from the notion of the American Dream. However, more intimate knowledge of the national literature lets us conclude that people’s minds are occupied by some other things beside the notorious aspirations and aims. From the context and literary reality of books we may single out the other models of behaviour and ways of thinking of Americans.

      One of the authors whose characters are different from typical Americans is Ray Bradbury. This man is famous and popular all over the world for the incredible variety of plots and brilliant writing skills. During more than half a century of his creative work Bradbury has been demonstrating inexhaustible imagination and unusual vision of life.

      Ray Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. Los Angeles high school was the one and only school he attended and graduated from in 1938. Although he decided not to go further he continued his education individually and became «a student of life». During next four years he was selling newspapers, «spending his nights in the public library and his days at the typewriter. He became a full-time writer in 1943, and contributed numerous short stories to periodicals before publishing a collection of them, Dark Carnival, in 1947» (About Ray Bradbury. Biography: para.1). The Martial Chronicles became his first masterpiece and manifestation of his stunning talent. Next came The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Dandelion Wine (1957) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). Currently, in the list of his works there are more than 300 books including 12 novels, scores of short stories and several poems. During his amazingly long life Bradbury has been nominated for numerous prestigious awards in literature and few other disciplines repeatedly. (About Ray Bradbury. Biography: para.1-4)

      Not only has his talent of a science fiction writer been recognised. Readers and critics highly appreciate his poetic vision of the world and close connection with real problems of real people which exists invisibly in his most unreal books.  His creation staggers with the depth of philosophical and human content.

      For Bradbury there are two opposite categories of people: some love beauty as it is while the others are ready to betray it for the sake of material benefits or satisfaction of basic instincts. His works reveal by implicit, though sharply, on whose side the author is. The novel Dandelion Wine which is analysed in this thesis is not an exception. This particular book once again proves that Bradbury is indeed a handy-man in literature. Besides being a careful contemplator, sentient artist and witty mentor (using unobtrusive moral or inoffensive humour) he has shown himself as a delicate psychologist and expert on children’s souls. The world of childhood in Bradbury’s opinion has great significance being more than just a stage of life. This is where we learn to see, feel and love beauty. This is when we realise its unrivalled power and even vital importance. In further analysis of the novel special attention will be paid to the characters that whether live at this stage or left it long time ago but remember and follow all the lessons taught to them. The breed of people depicted in this book is the object of the author’s strong faith and hope for future.