The Philosophy of the American Dream

The phrase the American Dream primarily refers to the idea that a person can succeed through discipline and hard work and achieve happiness and influential lives. However, the American Dream’s understanding differs based on context, and this makes it subject to criticism from different quarters. Several people point out that American society lacks the structure to support the American Dream highlighting the inequality grounded in ethnicity, race, and class backgrounds. Regardless of its possible outcome, the American Dream plays a crucial role in people’s mental wellbeing at individual and collective levels. The possibilities highlighted by the Dream encourages people to face their limitations and several obstacles. In essence, the American Dream infuses motivation and optimism that drive people to pursue and achieve ambitions that they would otherwise not seek. It entails the moral, spiritual, financial, social, and mental wellbeing, and its elusiveness compels people to work even harder. In essence, the American Dream is based on character and behavior, and losing these while trying to climb the ladder

The American Dream offers the freedom to make decisions and promises equality. In essence, it enables a person to make decisions that influence their ambitions and the possibility to achieve them, ability to gain wealth, live a dignified life based on their personal values even they might contradict social norms. In most societies and epochs, relation to externa entities such as social norms and deities determine values. Contrastingly, individualism perceives values as individual choices since people are free to decide on both the definition and means of pursuing happiness as long as they do not affect other people’s ability to achieve their good life. Although making the American Dream promotes individual upward mobility, values that determine character and behavior are social. Thus, by promoting self through selfish ambitions, personality and behaviors disintegrate leading to society without values. Several sociologists and philosophers criticize how individualism shapes people’s perception of the American Dream. 

Critics argue that separating self from society is impossible since personal values are derived from social norms. That is, social surroundings define and determine the various forms taken by selfhood. The ethics of self-improvement through individual efforts is also questionable. In essence, self-oriented exercises cannot inculcate good life, wellbeing and happiness. Notably, not every person enjoys happiness and a good life due to different socio-economic factors. For instance, inequality based on power and status due to caste, gender, race, social class, and nationality influence a person’s wellbeing.  These structural disparities significantly impact a person’s access to economic, social and educational opportunities, equal justice, secure living places, long life and a promising future. Thus, achieving these primary conditions based on self-improvement alone is impossible. In other words, self-help programs cannot suffice without social transformations and implying otherwise is morally repugnant. As illustrated by characters in the stories discussed in this study, putting self ahead of the wellbeing of other people not only ruins personal ambition but also the overall concept of the American Dream.  

The play A Raisin in the Sun highlights the Younger family. Each member has an individual but different vision of success based on individuality and characteristics related to social categorization. Walter dreams of a better life for himself and his family as shown by his words, “Mama, a job? I open and close doors all day long. I drive a man around in his limousine, and I say ‘Yes sir’; ‘No sir”; ‘Very good sir’; ‘Shall I take the drive, sir?’ Mama that ain’t no kind of job” (Hansberry 79). Walter’s ambitions almost make him lose his mind, and eventually, Lena gives him the funds he requires to set up a liquor store. However, Walter’s mission failed ruining both his and Beneatha’s dreams. Walter’s example shows the elusiveness of the American Dream and how people lose themselves chasing it at the expense of others. In several ways, the pursuit of the American Dream creates self-centeredness and disintegrates social wellbeing. 

The story A Good Man Is Hard to Find explores an individual moral life and social morality. The narrative presents two types of characters from an ethical perspective; people who admit their evil natures and the bad ones who insist on presenting themselves as competent individuals. For instance, the grandmother thinks of her moral traits as self-evident and dons a “pinned purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet” so that “[i]n case of an accident, anyone seeing her would know at once that she was a lady.” (O’Connor 76) This notion presents her ethical sensibility as unreflective and superficial assertion and not as a truth influenced by actions. Like most modern people, the grandmother does not question herself to assess whether her actions are reckless, good, or righteous. Instead, the grandmother rationalizes her bad behaviors, and she does not apologize for her wrongs or admit her weaknesses. 

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In the story Giovanni’s Room, David suffers moral decadence further expounding how chasing the American Dream makes people lose themselves. In his words, “perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. “(Baldwin 21) David never thought that the self he sought was the same one he fought for long had he remained at home. This transformation illustrates the futility of self-liberation as pursued by most people.

Mason text Shiloh highlights the two individuals and a society affected by their myth of progress and the pursuit of the American Dream. That is, one can succeed and establish a happy for themselves and their families in America if they work hard and adapt to changing times. The changes happening in Kentucky and the truck accident disrupt Moffit and Jean’s lives. While in the surrounding community, “Subdivisions are spreading across western Kentucky like an oil slick” (Mason 3), Jean constructs compositions and builds muscles. Moffit refuses to work and instead spends his days smoking marijuana and practicing construction by assembling craft kits. The disillusion affecting this couple due to social changes illustrates the frustration many people face when they fail to pursue the American Dream. 

In the play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman pursued what he perceived as the American Dream. The story addresses the themes of illusion and reality as Loman’s family struggles with defining their dreams. Loman believed that being liked and having more extensive networks were the essential factors in gaining greatness. He feels that “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interests, is the man who gets ahead.” (Miller 34). However, as frustrations build up, Loman’s personality changes as he grows older and ends up committing suicide. 

In essence, the American Dream leads to loss of self despite its several mental benefits as people pursue their ambitions. As illustrated by the characters discussed herein, loss of self affects not only the affected individuals but also those around. Walter’s failure ruined his dream and his sister’s education dream. The grandmother lacks moral integrity, and the principles she espouses do not influence her characters. As shown by David, people lose their innocence seeking to be like other people. Like Jean, today, many individuals are lost alcoholism and substance abuse due to failed dreams and ambitions. Loman dreamt of doing something big and leave a lasting legacy since he feared to be meaningless. In other words, moderation is essential when pursuing the American Dream to promote and maintain psychological wellbeing. (Order for Assignment Help)