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Facharbeit: The American Dream

1. The American Dream

What is the American Dream?
The American way of life
2. History of the American Dream
Martin Luther King : I have a Dream
2.1.1. His life, achievements and defeats
2.1.2. His influence to the definition of the American Dream
2.2.1. For whom the American Dream was especially back then
2.2.2. Who was able to live the American Dream?
3. The American Dream today
4. Discussion
From rags to riches
Does the American Dream still work and is it still worth it?

[] I have a dream today. Martin Luther King said this in his speech I Have a
Dream in Washington D.C. in 1963. This speech really touched me and I think this is
one reason why I decided to write about the American Dream. Another reason for
my decision is my parents, who came here to Germany for a similar reason like the
people who go to America: To live their dream - a better life than in their homeland.
So at first I want to explain what the American Dream is. Then I want to write about
the history of the American Dream until today. There is the question how the American
Dream has changed and if it still works like in those days, when Martin Luther King
lived. I think it is going to be quite interesting because American history is always very
exciting and full of new ways of thinking which influenced most parts of the world.
The big question is if it really is an American Dream or if it became or even always
was just a nightmare for most people in America.


The American Dream

What is the American Dream?
A specific definition of the American Dream is very difficult to phrase, because there
are lots of interpretations of it. In general it can be described as the faith in freedom of

all US-Americans and in satisfying all your wishes, dreams and goals in your life
(mainly on the basis of money) by hard work. Some social classes, especially fringe
groups or people who were in prison, have the dream to climb the social ladder
Nowadays the American Dream mainly is the idea that the wealth of everybody does
not depend on the standing in society but on ones own abilities and hard work.1,2
James Truslow Adams (*1878) defined the American Dream in his book The epic of
America (1931) like this: 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.(James Truslow
In the end everybody has to decide for his or her own definition of the American
Dream. For me it is the thinking that US-Americans have the freedom to achieve
whatever they want if they fight or work hard enough for it.

The American way of life

The American way of life is based on the belief in the American Dream. Often the
idiom from rags to riches is associated with the American way of life. Sometimes the
American way of life is even described with this proverbial rise. Also it is the
optimistic mentality of American people. They describe their attitude as tolerant
towards Minorities and as ambitious to spread their thinking all over the world.
Freedom is very important for this point of view, but this freedom is phrased more
emotional for them. A negative aspect of the American way of life is that because of
this thinking American people live quite wasteful not only with money but with the
limited natural resources of our world. In addition it promotes the imbalance between
the developing countries and the industrialized nations. So the American way of life
has critics too. 4

History of the American Dream

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The history of the American Dream is very close to the immigration to America.
Therefore, the history of the immigration is an important part of the American dream.
Since their establishment in the 18th century, the USA. have been calling themselves as
Empire of Liberty and prosperity. Especially back then the American dream was the
opportunity of building a livelihood -for ever imagine the Lands further off are still
better than those upon which they are already settled the Governor of Virginia, said in
In the 19th century a lot of intellectual Germans immigrated to America. The main
reason probably was the failed German revolution from 1848-49. Liberals, nationalists
and intellectuals came to the achieve political freedom and limitless personal
development. Those immigrants are known as a kind of pioneers of successful
revolutions and the democracy in America. From 1845-49 Ireland had a big famine.
There were a lot of bad potato harvests and political problems. The population suffered
from poverty and famine. As a result 1.5 million people settled to America. The
American Dream was the out way of this hopeless situation for them. In 1948 the
California Gold Rush began once the president James K. Polk confirmed that gold had
been found there. The Gold rush lasted until 1954. So you can conclude that in this
time the American Dream primarily meant the chance of achieving wealth.
In the 20th century the American dream was mentioned and explained for the first time
by James Truslow Adams in his book The epic of America in 1931 (refer to
1.1.What is the American dream?). In this time the American Dream was mainly
formed by the economic upswing. The people were looking for jobs in the USA to
build up a better and wealthy life. In addition the American Dream especially was
against racism and also anti-feminism. An important person for this aspect was Martin
Luther King who wrote and orated I have a dream (refer to 2.1. I have a dream).
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Martin Luther King I have a dream

I have a dream is the name of a famous speech, written by Martin Luther King. It
was delivered by him during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in front
of the Lincoln Memorial on 28th August in 1963. 7
He especially took stand for African-Americans, who had been victimized for 100
years. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he declared that
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there will be no slavery anymore. But most of the black people still live on a lonely
Island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity8.
He said that the Negro couldnt redeem their Check of freedom at the bank of
justice.9 Also he concluded that every American black and white should unite and take
each others hand so that every American can gain freedom and could try to attain the
American Dream as it was promised 100 years ago.
(Short interpretation of the speech in the attachment)
After the Demonstration two important laws had been adopted: the Civil Rights Act
in 1964 and the Voting Right Acts in 1965. 10
2.1.1. Martin Luther King his life and achievements


Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, Georgia on 15th January as a son of Alberta
Christine Williams King and Martin Luther King Sr. in 1929 and was killed in
Memphis, Tennessee on 4th April in 1968. He was a clergyman and a famous civil
rights activist. Moreover, he was one of the most important fighters against the social
injustice and racism. In addition, King was the most famous speaker in the Civil
Rights Movement between 1950 and 1960. He promoted the non-violent civil
disobedience against the political racial segregation in the south of the U.S.A. In the
end, the racial segregation stopped and black people got the full right to vote in the
south states. In 1955 he became the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which
had been caused by Rosa Parks, a black civil rights activist who had been arrested
because she had not cleared space in a bus for a white man. The boycott lasted 381
days until the United States Supreme Court repealed the racial segregation in public
means of transport. Martin Luther King was influenced by Mohandas Karamchand
Gandhi, who took stand for non-violent resistance. Once he said: Darkness cannot
drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do

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that. 12This shows that he didnt want to fight against the white people he wanted to
become friends with them and he wanted all black people to do that. In 1964 he
obtained the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful attempts to achieve equality for
African-Americans. 13
On 4th April 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee.
The day before he orated I've been to the mountaintop, in this speech he said he had
seen the Promised Land and that he did not think of any worries anymore. This phrase
a lot of people interpret as a premonition of death. After the speech he talked to the
demonstrators and persuaded them of nonviolence. Additionally he determined the 8th
as a new date for a demonstration. After his death Coretta Scott King, his wife,
accomplished the proposed demonstration for him. The assassination of King lead to
disturbances in more than 110 cities all over the U.S.A., in which 39 people died, 2000
were injured and 10000 were arrested. There are lots of conspiracy theories that blame
the government for his death. The alleged murderer James Earl Ray fled for 2 month
and got caught in London. He confessed the murder and was sentenced to 99 years
imprisonment. A couple of days later Ray revoked his confession but there was no
reconsideration of this case. 14
(More information about Martin Luther Kings life in the attachment)
2.1.2. His influence to the definition of the American Dream
I think Martin Luther King influenced the American dream especially for AfricanAmericans. He spread the dream of America without racism. I would say this gave the
American Dream an essential aspect because it is a dream for everybody living in
America, not only for white but all inhabitants of the U.S.A., otherwise you cant call
it the American Dream since the definition describes it as the faith for every USAmerican.
But King did not only espoused anti-racism but also equal rights for woman, disabled
people and believers. He aspired to the same rights for every man, woman and child
independent of her, his or its skin-color, religion, background or culture. 15
However, Martin Luther King influenced the definition of the American Dream very
much based on the idea of living in an America without segregation. As a result, the
definition of the American Dream says: [] that the wealth of everybody does not

depend on the standing in society but on ones own abilities and hard work.(refer to
1.1. What is the American Dream)
Furthermore, he changed the life of every American. Without Martin Luther King maybe
the racial segregation would still exist in the U.S.A. and in other countries too. To conclude
you can say Martin Luther King Jr. was a hopeful, peaceful, inspiring, fair, charismatic and
especially important person in American history.
2.2.1. For whom the American Dream especially was back then
Of course, the American Dream is defined as dream for everyone in America but it mostly
developed from poverty and hardship and obviously from oppression (refer to Martin
Luther King). So you can say that the American Dream especially was for people who
hadnt had an easy life. A lot of individuals immigrated to America to start a new life
because they saw no other choice but to go to America; because America is known as
Land of the dreams a lot of people went their due to their hopeless situation. To conclude
the American Dream especially was for immigrants, poor people (if they still had any hope)
and later also for civil rights activists and African Americans.
2.2.2. Who was able to live the American Dream
Whether the American Dream is or was real certainly can be proofed by persons who lived
or live it. For example there is the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, who co-invented
the worlds most used searching engine which is worth 18.7 now. Another example and its
about a story I personally find very interesting, is Oprah Winfreys life and career.
Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, USA on 29th January in 1954. She was
born out of wedlock, and her parents, still, were underage.16 She grew up at her
grandmothers farm because her mother went away to work. Her grandmother, Hattie Mae
Lee and her husband had to manage with little money, so Oprah sometimes had to wear
dresses made of potato sacks. She was taught reading, calculating and writing by her
grandmother when she was 3 years old. Hattie Mae was really strict and hit Oprah when
she was disobedient or undisciplined. Just as Hattie Mae knew that the key to survival for
a black female was education, she also understood that careful behavior, self-discipline, and
God were important. (George Mair)
Later Oprah became the first black female newsreader in Newcastle, but she was not
suitable for the job because she got emotional when she was reading the news. Therefore
she was removed to a morning talk show. In 1984 Oprah rose up when she took over the
local morning talk show AM Chicago. The show became the number one talk show in
Chicago just two month later. In 1986 it was renamed Oprah Winfrey Show and was
aired nationwide. Oprah personally views her show as a platform to change peoples lives.
She also is confident that education means relief.17

To conclude you can say that Oprah Winfrey is an African-American woman who literally
came from rags to riches. She is an example for the social advancement. As a result of a
one-night stand of her underage parents, she worked up from potato sack dresses and
rural poverty to the richest African-American in the 20th century. (More information about
Oprah Winfreys life in the attachment)

The American Dream today

As we said above, the American Dream nowadays is the faith in achieving wealth
independent from the stand in society. But how did the American Dream exactly changed
from then to now? Does it still exist?

The American middle class is highly debt. Families lose their houses, cars and other
belongings while they have to pay taxes, pay off debts and pay back loans. The end of the
For years millions flocked to the United States eager to make their fortune, but now it
seems the American Dream is over.18 One reason for this phrase is that the gap between the
rich and poor in America gets wider and wider.19Several million Americans are living
without any financial backup. Recent studies have found out that 28% of the Americans
have not saved any money for emergencies, and other 42 percent are living paycheck by
paycheck.20 On the other side the CEOs of big companies and Wall Street speculators
become richer and richer. After the financial crisis in 2008 the Wall Street journal had an
increase in productivity of 5.2%, but workers only had a wage rise of 0.3%. So employers
18 (26th June 2012)
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received only 6% of the gain in efficiently. This means, 94%, which are 2 trillion $, were
given to CEOs, shareholders and managers.
Once the American middle class was the most successful in the world, but now this is
changing very fast. There are not enough jobs for everyone, and a lot of jobs pay at most
10$ per hour. The living costs increase more and more but the pensions stay the same.
Many American families could not pay their bills anymore and encumbered with debts.
Sometimes the families were thrown on the streets in the middle of the night because
their houses were foreclosed by the big banks. Nevertheless, more and more people suffer
from poverty while the few well-to-do get even richer. 21,22,23It seems like the American
Dream is starting to become a nightmare.


My Opinion

4.1. From rags to riches

As I already said from rags to riches is an idiom, which can describe the American Way
of Life. I think that this is possible but unusual. An example for the possibility is Oprah
Winfrey (see 2.2.1. Who was able to live the American Dream?). But it is unrealistic,
that everyone can achieve what she did. How could every human in the world become a
billionaire? A lot of people work really hard but they are not even millionaires. There are a
lot of people working hard for only a few dollars, and some of them have 4-5 jobs and
hardly can feed a family. On the other hand riches can also mean to have an own home or
to have enough money for living happily. To conclude, I think it is good to believe in this
idiom, but you should not be disappointed when it does not work like you thought it would.

Does the American Dream still work and is it still worth it?

However, there is still the question: Is it worth it to fight for the American Dream?
I am of the opinion that there still is an American Dream, but it has changed in the course of
years and it does not work like back in the days anymore. For repetition: The idea of the
American Dream is rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence which
proclaims that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain inalienable Rights including Life. However many people today say that the idea

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of what the American Dream is has changed over time. In fact, the original dream was a
new world with land untold and the opportunity for low cost land to own a farm. In the 19th
century many Jews fled Germany and came to the US for the opportunity of religious
freedom. [] parents and grandparents had the belief in an American Dream where each
generation would have improved financial and educational opportunities. However, with
the national unemployment rate at 8.3% as of January 2012 and many mid-career
Americans unemployed or under employed, the idea of what the American Dream was and
is may have to be revised.24
People are responsible for their own career and employment now; there are no
organizations which go to help them. The Employer needs to get more fluent if he or she is
keen on wealth. 25
Also, the American Dream is a personal attitude: Everybody has another point of view on
it. For some individuals it always has been a nightmare and for others it still exists. So you
have to decide for yourself if the American Dream is still worth it. For several Americans it
is worth it to have a reason for working hard, for others it is not because they think that they
will never reach their objectives.
Nonetheless, I think that if I was American, I would not believe in the American Dream
anymore because the USA is heavily indebted and only a little percentage of the Americans
very wealthy.26

Refer to 2.1. Martin Luther King I have dream

The speech is one of the masterpieces in the rhetoric. Especially the phrase I have a
dream he used it in many lines as anaphors, which gives a hopeful atmosphere to
the speech, for example:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and
the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the
heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an
oasis of freedom and justice.
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I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will
not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.27
Martin Luther King mentioned the American Dream directly in one passage: I say to
you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I
still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 28 So he did not
really spoke about the American Dream, I would say he talked about his American
Dream. The dream he wanted to share, to make it become true.

Refer to 2.1.1. His life, achievements and defeats

Originally his name was Michael King Jr. but his Father changed their names into
Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. later. In his childhood he was
discriminated by the racial segregation, like every Negro in the south of the USA.
Black and white people had to attend different schools, ride separated busses, trains
and even had to use dissimilar toilets and sinks. King found this segregation very
unfair, and decided to fight against this very early.
At the age of 17 he was the co-clergyman of his father. 29Later he visited the Morehouse
College, the only college for black people that existed in the south of America at this time.
After that he graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary and then he went to the


University in Boston to study Theology. On 18th June 1953 he married Coretta Scott
Williams and had 4 children with her. In 1955 he attained the title doctor of Philosophy. 30

Refer to 2.2.2. Who was able to live the American Dream?

In 1960 Oprah Winfrey lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother, Vernita Lee, and
her half-sister, Patricia. Vernita was not as caring and cheering as Haettie Mae, causing the
girl insured and was sent to her father, Vernon Winfrey. So Oprah inhabited in Nashville,
Tennessee with her father and his wife Zelma, who was even stricter than Haettie Mae.
Oprah had no problems in school, thanks to her quick wittedness and intelligence.
In the summer holidays she stayed with her mother who did not let her go back to her father
again. So the young girl lived with her mother again. She had to share a bed with her cousin
and suffered from sexual abuse when she was 9 years old. At the age of 13 Oprah ran away
from home but was brought back home. When she was 14 she got pregnant but her son died


just after birth. In school her poverty was constantly rubbed in her face31. That is why she
started stealing money from her mother to keep up with her classmates who were quite
keen to buy and to date older boys. Desperately Vernita Lee sent Oprah back to her father.
Back in Nashville Vernon and Zelma Winfrey noticed that Oprah changed through the 6
years she had stayed with her mother. They were determined to tone down this smartaleck, overpainted, underdressed young lady. Halter tops, short, tight skirts, and heavy
makeup were banned, and serious studying, along with extracurricular reading, became the
priority [...] The discipline was strict, and it worked.(George Mair)32 Though Vernon was
strict he also was cheerful and helped Oprah to gain confidence and hope. She became an
exemplary student, was voted the most popular girl and also joined the speech club at her
high school. At the age of seventeen she was in a local radio stations employ. Moreover,
she had won an oratory contest and was awarded a scholarship at Tennessee State















04.03.2013 (26th June 2012)