The American Dream Research Papers
American Dream research papers take a look at what constitutes the "American Dream". This can be done by examining works of literature, events in history or specific people that exemplify the American Dream. Have our professional writers explain this concept to you and write a research paper according to the instructions you see her or have it written directed by you.
This is a topic suggestion on the American Dream. The writer may want to draw from personal experience, works of literature, historical examples or primary sources. If you are writing an expository essay, be sure to focus on one specific aspect of the American Dream, or the American Experience. The essay should start with a something concrete (an object, an event, an experience, a person, a trend, etc.) and, from there, you will draw an inference, a conclusion, about the American Dream or American Experience in general.
Observe something specific and concrete in your life or in the lives of Americans, and you will analyze the details of that “thing” and draw inferences of the greater implications and significance (the “so what”). Those implications will lead you to a more general claim, which is your thesis. As you do the assigned reading for the class, pay attention to how the writers move from the concrete and specific to the general and abstract.
The chief aspects of the American Dream have always been essentially the same:
- Economic opportunity
- Freedom from political oppression and/or religious oppression
- A sense that the U.S. is a place where hard work pays off
It is the degree of realism respecting the Dream that has changed. The modern immigrant, even the ones who are impoverished and uneducated, have a better sense of what they will find here when they make the decision to come here.
This is only to be expected. The modern, globalized, media connected world—and the fact that the American media dominance extends almost everywhere in the world—gives prospective immigrants a much better picture of what things are like here than was possible in the 19th century. Few would arrive here today with the feeling that they will find themselves stepping into a world without economic hardship or into a political utopia. And yet people still come here. They do so because the negative drivers of immigration—oppression and hunger—still work to make them want to leave their birthplace, and the positive aspect of the American Dream, in the form of a sense that there is hope for one in the U.S., is still alive.
Various motivational factors enter into the decisions of people to leave their native country and journey to a new land seeking a better life. Motivations to immigrate are both positive and negative. Negative motivations are the things that tend to make life intolerable in the place where people live; they are what drive people away from where they were. Inter alia, fear of political persecution, fear of religious persecution, famine, and lesser forms of economic pressure undoubtedly lead many to contemplate moving to a new country. Negative motivations vary with time and place; the defeated German revolutionary of 1848 had different reasons for needing to leave Europe than did the Irish potato farmer whose crop failed in 1847-8. But we may assume that in most cases these negative motivations must be very powerful; under the best of circumstances the decision to leave one’s home and go to a new land usually involves a considerable adjustment, and for poor people, who constituted the vast bulk of those who migrated during the 19th and 20th centuries, the journey here, and the process of becoming established, was difficult.
What aspects of the American Dream drove people to prefer this country to other destinations? One aspect of it was something of a pure fantasy; the other held a grain of truth.
The unrealistic aspect of the America Dream was a product of exaggeration in which two ideas were prominent. The first was political. The political aspect of the Dream was often communicated to people at home by family members who, newly arrived and not understanding how the system really worked, would send letters home extolling an idealized vision of American political life. One German immigrant wrote his wife, “Poverty is not shameful in America, and purses are not worshipped in political life. Civil virtue is not bought with money and not lost with the loss of property” (quoted in Levine 54). This is as odd and inaccurate a description of the realities of 19th century American political life as one could wish for.
The economic component of the American Dream was often even more exaggeratedly optimistic than the political, this being so because politically attuned people were often more educated than people who were simply viewing America through the lens of economic desperation. In China labor brokers distributed circulars advising would-be immigrants that “There you will have great pay, large houses, and food and clothing of the finest description”. Respecting the economic myths associated with the Dream, credulity borne of hope and desperation was often wedded to an almost total ignorance of the world. Jurgis Rudkus, the protagonist of Upton Sinclair’s novel-documentary, came from rural Lithuania, and had “never seen a city, and scarcely even a fair-sized town” before coming to America. The rural peasants of Europe and China were not exposed to a great deal of real information about America and thus their ideas of the American Dream often bore little relation to economic reality.
This issue of optimism is an interesting one respecting the 19th century American Dream. Above we have cited a letter from a German to his wife. An Irish woman in 1850 sent a letter home in which she described America as “a Plentiful country where no man or woman ever hungered or ever will”. This was something utterly untrue; 19th century city slums in America—where many of the Irish lived—were as terrible as any in the western world and continued to be such well into the 20th century. There seems to have been a “will to believe” on both the part of the people who were already here and those at home influenced by their letters that life in America was better than it actually was.
The “will to believe” was probably a function of a natural tendency to make the best of things on the part of those who were already in the new land, and a wish to believe the best of their destination on the part of those about to embark on the voyage to the new place. But part of it was also grounded in a core component of the American Dream that was true. If America was not politically pure and not a place where the streets were paved with gold, it was a place where people had a better chance of freedom and prosperity than they did in the places they left. With a luck, hard work, and ethnic solidarity most people were able to make a go of it, and their children tended to do even better. That the American Dream really and truly offered hope, that it was not wholly illusory, was surely part of its potency and this core of truth lead many across the waters to take the chance of coming here.