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How the American Dream Has Changed Over Time - Student Resources in Context

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ekim hest ekim hest
6 months ago
In 1931, as Americans suffered through the Great Depression, Adams wrote a book called The Epic of America in which he spoke of “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement … regardless of fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
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In the beginning, the American Dream simply promised a country in which people had the chance to work their way up through their own labor and ingenuity.
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Colonial America saw the dream realized in the interaction among classes.
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Employees could speak openly to their employers and believed that with dedication they could improve their status.
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During westward expansion, the American Dream led many to race for land and live rugged lives on the frontier. By nature of their hard work, they could set down roots on a piece of the expansive land open to homesteaders and pioneers. This idea of the American Dream was rather competitive and individualistic—people fought others to own a piece of land for themselves.
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In the early twentieth century, Americans discovered a shared dream in which citizens worked together to make life better for the American masses.
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After World War II, men returned from the war with a new American Dream in mind. Americans fantasized about homes filled with happy families who vacationed every summer.
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The American Dream transformed into an ideal that relied on people being able to afford all the modern accessories: cars, television sets, and college educations for one’s children. Television greatly helped define the American Dream as the acquisition of material goods. Americans dreamed of living ideal lives like those portrayed in shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best.
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Many Americans fueled their purchase of the new American Dream with credit cards, a choice that eventually affected the state of the American Dream.
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As more people used credit to purchase goods, Americans accrued a lot of debt. Keeping up with the American Dream was growing into a costly endeavor. People still strived for lives like the ones they saw on television. Those televised lives were becoming increasingly extravagant and unrealistic, however. Furthermore, saving was no longer necessary. The American Dream could be purchased on credit.

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Many people speculate that the American Dream has become something few can attain. Owning land is no longer the dream. Owning a home is no longer the dream. Even having a good life is no longer the dream. Instead, many people strive to own the most expensive vehicles, the largest homes, the most stylish clothes, and so on. Under this definition, the American Dream can be possessed by only a few citizens.
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Then the mortgage crisis of the early twenty-first century caused many people to lose the lives they had worked so hard to achieve. In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama spoke of the reversal of the American Dream. He was referring to the many people who were losing their homes. President Obama suggested many young people no longer believed they could have better lives than their parents, but that the American Dream did still exist—the problem was in our understanding of it.
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