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American Dream Essay Mla Format

“The native American, like the alien immigrant, conceives the better future which awaits himself and other men in America as fundamentally a future in which economic prosperity will be still more abundant and still more accessible than it has yet been either here or abroad ... With all their professions of Christianity their national idea remains thoroughly worldly ... The Promise, which bulks so large in their patriotic outlook, is a promise of comfort and prosperity for an ever increasing majority of good Americans.” (Croly in Lind, 2004)

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Originally the American Dream concept was born out of lack and a genuine need for security shortly after the Great Depression and WW2. Because jobs were scarce, the greatest aspiration for most Americans was securing steady employment and owning their own home. As a result, work ethic and integrity were very strong. The focus was on a wholesome values system, family and community, all of which created pride, real prosperity and real joy. However, over time the same prosperity which resulted from being a nation of producers, also created a nation of consumers, driven not by need but rather by the desire to “keep up with the Jones’s.” (Geela, 2004)

In light of these definitions of the “American dream”, this concept is a recurring theme in a lot of works of literature. The works that are examined for the purposes of this paper refer to the same concept but from a different Perspective. The “Powwow Highway” by David Seals is a story about the journey of two Native Americans’ journey to Santa Fe. Cherrie Moraga's "Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind” included in Names We Call Home` by Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi are the views of a half-Mexican lesbian. Another essay from this book is Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, And Nostalgia by Angela Davis is from the point of view of African Americans.

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The American dream, traditionally, is thought of as achieving a life of prosperity and financial security. It is a dream that Americans strive for that motivates them to work hard. It is a concept that represents the country. (Cullen 2004). The works mentioned are of different topics, written by Americans of different races. These works give readers an idea of an American dream of achievement apart from what is traditionally aspired for.

In Powwow highway, two Native American Indians Philbert and Buddy make an unforgettable journey to Santa Fe to rescue Buddy’s sister, who was thrown in jail as a result of his actions as a tribal activist, against land grabbers who oppress a group of his people. This story explores the Native American’s consciousness, hopes, dreams and aspirations as a part of the American Nation. In a way, it discusses their take on the American Dream, their wish for equity and justice and mutual respect for differing cultures. Their American Dream is one where they are free of oppression from people of other races, to live peacefully and be treated fairly.

This same concept is exhibited in “Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind”. “Moraga draws heavily on her personal experience as a mixed-race lesbian who lived in a strongly heterosexual, racially divided world. She discusses the difficulty of being a "mixed-blood Mexican" in a predominantly white world. Moraga, during some of her writing, seems content to be ill-defined and have public self rather than a private self. She claims, "In her world, I'm just white..." Later, she learns to define herself by her own measures, rather than by the opinions and statistics of those around her. (Doyle, 2004)

The essay is about the thoughts of the author about her identity as one who is raised in the ways of two cultures. In examining her words, one can see the reflection of another “American Dream” that is as non-traditional as the author herself. Moraga’s essay talks about self-validation, about security. It is not financial security she is referring to but personal or emotional security-one that is provided by acceptance. In short, this essay talks of living in America and being accepted into society, as both a Mexican and a white girl; to be accepted It is the same aspirations that most Americans have, but colored by the concept of being bicultural and by the fact that the author is a lesbian. The recurring theme in these two works of literature is that aspect of the traditional American Dream of being accepted into society.

Meanwhile, Angela Davis’ essay “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, And Nostalgia” has another take on the American Dream. The author is a prominent figure in the history of African Americans in the United States. As one reads her essay, one figures out that she wishes to be remembered, to be more than a fashion statement. She talks of her hopes that what she represented in this country will not be forgotten or taken for granted by the younger generation. The author’s take on the American Dream seems to be from the perspective of having “been there and done that”. It speaks of having had the chance to pursue that American Dream. However, the American dream she is talking about is more than just having the means to live comfortable. Davis seems to be referring to having the voice to proclaim the truth, to make a difference. Her American dream is to be given a fair and equal treatment as all other people in the country, regardless of race or color. These works give readers an inside look into what these authors value, as representation of the “American dream”. Such thought are strongly expressed in another article (Geela 2004) that discusses the concept of the American Dream:

“In the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, we’ve been looking for solutions and fulfillment in all the wrong places. The solution to restoring our economy, our failing systems and ourinstitutions, as well as our sanity, is through the spirit. That’s because whether we realize it or not, we are spiritual beings experiencing the human experience and not the other way around. As such we were meant and designed to live a life of meaning and purpose by recognizing the unity of life and living in harmony with universal laws that are characterized by integrity and the honoring of all living things. Total prosperity and peace are dependent on the strength of our spirit.” (Geela 2004)

In the United States’ Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers: "…held certain truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." (Library of Congress, 2002)

The works examined takes readers back into that time in American History when life liberty and the pursuit of happiness was what constituted the American Dream. Seals’ work simply tells of the views of the Native Americans as seen in the views of the characters of his story as they journeyed on the Powwow Highway. Philbert Bono represents the idea of honoring the past and preserving identity while living in the present America when he said “The stories of our ancestors. How they solved problems. Often the problems never change. Nor the people.” (Seals, 1989)

“I live up to the mixed-raced legacy his people have betrothed to me” (Moraga, 1996). This statement meanwhile represents what the author has come upon in the conclusion of her essay. It reflects an understanding of her status and identity, and more importantly, self-acceptance before the acceptance of others.

"It is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo. (Davis. 1996) This on the other hand, is a quote from “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, And Nostalgia” It reflects the authors reflection on being remembered, of having made a difference in the lives of Americans

In short, these literary works give their own take on the “American Dream” that has become defined more by financial stability than moral aptitude. The book and the essays recall minding an American dream based on the values that were founded in integrity and humanity. “The focus was on a wholesome values system, family and community, all of which created pride, real prosperity and real joy” (Geela, 2004).

During an age where capitalism and consumerism pervades in society, these works give a glimpse of the aspirations of Americans of different races, and what they deem valuable, what their American Dream is. With their beliefs and convictions, these authors give others hope, that the American dream is not something people need to pursue relentlessly through jobs. It redefines the American dream to something that is ethereal- one that is affiliated with the concepts of justice, equality, acceptance, unity and peace.


  1. Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation:Oxford University Press, 2003
  2. Davis, Angela. “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia”. In Names We Call Home:Autobiography on Racial Identity, ed. Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi, New York, Routeledge.
  3. Doyle, Mar “Self-Validation and Social Acceptance”. 2004. Serendip. Retrieved on3 May 2008
  4. Geela. The Politics of the American Dream” 2004 Women’s Radio.Retrieved on 5 May 2008
  5. Lind, Michael. “Are we till a middle-class nation?” February 2004 Atlantic.com.5 May 2008. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/01/are-we-still-a-middle-class-nation/302870/
  6. Moraga, Cherrie (1996), "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind," in Names We Call Home:Autobiography on Racial Identity, ed. Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi, New York, Routeledge.
  7. Seals, David. “The Powwow Highway: A Novel. New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Plume Books, 1990
  8. “What is the American Dream?”19 December 2002. The Library of Congress.Retrieved on 4 May 2008

The American dream is something people in the United States and the world over, have strived for throughout the years. From the first immigrants of Western Europe to the new immigrants of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, many came to this country in pursuit of freedom a chance at upward mobility. This American Dream essay example will focus on the ways Americans have in the past and present, attempted to achieve a life of happiness and fulfilment in the United States.

Table of Contents

1. Titles
2. Topics
3. Outline
4. Introduction
5. Essay Hook
7. Thesis Statement
7. Body of Essay
8. Conclusion
9. Works Cited

Title Recommendations:

Pursuit of the American Dream

To be or not to be: The American Dream

A chance at Upward Mobility: The American Dream

Topic Recommendations:

The Modern Day American Dream

Why Do People Pursue the Elusive American Dream?

How to resurrect the American Dream

The Ideals Behind the American Dream


I.  Introduction

II.  Body

A.  The History Behind the American Dream

B.  The Modern Day American Dream

C.  Is the American Dream Gone?

D.  The New Immigrants

III.  Conclusion

Lost or Still There, The Pursuit of the American Dream


The American Dream began as a journey from oppressive Great Britain to a new land. Those seeking religious freedom came to North America and formed the thirteen colonies so they may pursue a life filled with happiness and upward mobility. However, not everyone got what they wanted and soon the American Dream became an American Nightmare for some. That didn’t stop however, new immigrants from coming and trying to chase their own version of this time old wish.

Essay Hook

Although the versions of the American Dream have changed throughout the centuries, people still maintain a strong desire to make it and come to the United States to see what life there can offer.

Thesis Statement

The past and the present remind Americans what the American Dream consisted and consist of; that is where this will essay will go to understand why such a notion has persisted since the first settlers came to shore.


The History Behind the American Dream

The roots of the American Dream first began when the first British settlers came to North America to form what would be known as the thirteen colonies. They sought freedom from religious persecution in Great Britain (Caldwell, 2011). Some decided to head towards the east coast of North America to practice their beliefs and make money for themselves and their families. It was hard for many that came. They endured hardships and conflicts with the Natives that lived there. Still, a few colonists managed to make life in the colonies profitable and built their homes and businesses accordingly.

Some say the American dream has a strong foundation of individualism. “The American Dream was built on the rough foundation of American individualism, a revolutionary substance unlike anything the world had seen before” (Caldwell, 2011, p. 11). Those that came, did so because they wanted the liberty of being their own person. For the British colonists, they wanted not only a new start, but a new identity, away from the ones they left on the British shores. While the symbolism of the American Dream came from the settlers to what is now the United States, the actual phrase existed centuries later.

The true origin of the phrase was first mentioned in 1931, by a middlebrow historian James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America. In this book, the phrase appears for the first time in the Preface, when Adams refers to the ‘American dream of a better, richer, and happier life,’ adding that ‘that dream or hope has been present from the start’ (Kochan, 2007, p. 210).

To someone like James Truslow Adams, the American Dream meant a strong sense of hope and desire that fueled the long journey to a better life. Many people that have come to the United States had hope in their eyes when they entered through Ellis Island. That hope persisted even when things did not lead to a better, richer, happier life.  Many that crossed the border into America whether legally or illegally has experienced hardships that make them question if the move to this seemingly prosperous nation was a good idea. Even those that were born in the United States with immigrant parents feel as though the United States is not a home, rather a temporary base. Such a sentiment could be for many reasons. The stagnant economy, the multiple recessions could be one reason. The lack of quality and affordable education and healthcare could be another. People coming to this country are experiencing regret because their picture of the American Dream has been shattered.This leads to what the American Dream consists of today.

The Modern Day American Dream

People who have grown up looking towards America, thinking as adults about achieving the American Dream, have seen an evolution of such a notion throughout the years. Back then, the American Dream signified hope and a life of happiness, a fresh start. In the modern world and especially in the last few decades, the American Dream has taken on the form of materialism and financial security. “The American Dream is usually defined in terms of financial security, homeownership and higher education” (Currier, 2015). When people think of the American Dream, they think of owning a home.

This is because home buying has been part of the American reality for many people in the 1950’s. People could buy homes with relatively little money, and pay off their mortgages in 30 to 40 years. They could buy a car, own it, and have it to pass down to their children. It was comforting to people living in 1950’s America to know that they could afford independence and upward mobility.

While it was something that existed in the earlier part of the 20th century, the Great Depression and the World Wars brought tough times and a harsh, economic reality. People did not have a chance to enjoy life, much less try to better themselves for the future of their families and themselves. When the shift towards economic prosperity happened in the 1950’s that was when Americans could take the time to improve themselves and reach towards the goal of upward mobility. That was when several of these Americans began attending college to improve their career prospects.

The last part of the modern American Dream, higher education, originated from children of the 1950’s attending and graduating from college. Kids graduated and acquired gainful employment right after graduation, continuing the cycle of stability and upward mobility with their children. This ‘ladder’ shifted the mentality of Americans towards the American Dream, transforming it into a desire to own something and to learn.   People from everywhere saw the United States as part of a golden age where people could make something of themselves if they worked hard. They could gain the home and the education that they wanted. Looking at countries like England where classism was and is intrinsically connected to culture and society, America was the opposite. In many people’s eyes people did not have to come from wealth to be wealthy. Famous businessmen like John D. Rockefeller came from humble beginnings and quickly became one of the richest men of America thanks to hard work and good business acumen (Chernow, 2010).However, another part of the modern American Dream emerged as well. That is the rags to riches story.

The rags to riches story is what many people in the United States who have little money, hope to achieve. Writers like J.K. Rowling, singers like Adele, they grew up impoverished and lived some of their adult life with little chance of upward mobility. But because they were talented and had some good luck, right timing, they managed to overcome their poverty and reach a milestone of success and economic freedom they only imagined. This is what many working-class people in the United States would like to achieve. However, most people from the lower-income bracket barely achieve upward mobility within a generation. With the increasingly unstable economic climate nationally and worldwide, the perceived prospects look grim. “Recent polling shows that Americans feel increasingly financially insecure, perhaps in part because of this lack of mobility out of the bottom rung of the economic ladder. It’s no surprise, then, that for many the American Dream may feel out of reach” (Currier, 2015).

What does this all mean? It means people have lost hope. Some no longer believe in a fresh start or a chance at a better life because the new version of the American Dream seems unattainable. People have lost their hope for a better life. A lot of it has to do with the continued economic instability of the United States. The United States ‘Golden Era’, the 1950’s, catapulted the American Dream back onto centerstage. However, now that the Golden Era’s dust has settled and blown to the wayside, there is little left for this generation and the next to live from, much less use.

This leads to the idea of the American Dream disappearing. When things become difficult to manage and people have no hope left for improvement in their situations, what can belief in the American Dream hope to accomplish? For some, belief simply leads to disappointment and bitter feelings. This was seen after the last few presidencies. Some Americans felt discouraged concerning the future of the country’s job market and decided to take a step towards what they thought would bring true prosperity.

Yet true prosperity has evaded but a few million people in the United States. The rest remain in debt, working dead-end jobs, demonstrating the effects of back-to-back recessions. But there still may be hope for the American Dream. The American Dream may seem like it has faded to the wayside. However, it may just exist in a new and evolved form.

Is the American Dream Gone?

The United States has experienced multiple recessions in the last decade. With the global economy shrinking as well, the once rich and powerful country has begun to seem like a disappointment more than an opportunity. People have noted in recent years, to pursue any form of upward mobility in the United States is to hit a brick wall. That is because jobs do not pay as well or offer as many hours as they used to. Interest rates for savings accounts are near zero, discouraging people from saving. It all leads to a nation of debt filled constant loss and instability.

This was not the America from three, four decades ago. People back then could earn enough to save each week and have enough money after a few years or decades, to purchase a home. “Previously in America, Jim the butcher put a percentage of his weekly earnings into his savings account for a few decades and watched it grow with satisfaction. He could retire in relative comfort with or without supplementation from Social Security” (Carson, 2016). As previously mentioned, the modern American Dream is about owning a home, a car, and graduating from college. Now, this seems like an impossible task for many that live in the United States, especially for recent immigrants.

Gone are the days where people can apply for an entry level job right after high school or college. Today’s job market is filled with competition for even low-wage jobs, and the need to multi-task. Those that find work in the United States do so because they are often multi-lingual, own a car, and can work for free at some point. The ones that do not find work, feel their economic prospects shrink as each year passes. People at the top of the economic ladder, pay themselves more and more, and none or very little, is shared with the middle class. In the past, this was not the case. “Wilson did not get massive grants of stock options, which were taboo in the era when management shared prosperity with middle-class employees” (Smith, 2012, p. 89). So then how do Americans feel now with the economic climate seemingly against them? “But many Americans say they remain doubtful about economic opportunity and the ability to move up the ladder.  A new poll by The New York Times found the public is more pessimistic than it was right after the financial collapse” (PBS, 2014). If people feel the American Dream is non-existent because of touch economic times, has the American Dream truly died?

The answer is not yet. The American Dream has not died because people are still able to make their dreams come true in the United States, just not on a level that is possible for most people. The kind of American Dream that persists even during the difficult economic times is the dream of starting with nothing and becoming rich and successful. A few good examples of this are Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. These entrepreneurs took the risk and had the talent to rise above everyone else and achieve amazing success.

That version of the American Dream continues. However, there is another American Dream that has formed in lieu of the traditional one. That is doing better than one’s parents. This can be seen in the new wave of immigrants that come to the United States in search of a better life.

The New Immigrants

The recent immigrants of today and the last few decades have been Hispanic and Latino people from the Americas. They come to the United States to escape from the dangers and instability of their home country. Often, they come with very, little money or belongings and work difficult jobs to ensure a future for themselves and their loved ones. They may not reach their final aims, but many have provided for their children enough so they could become doctors, lawyers, and even a Supreme Court Justice of the United States.

It is still a struggle for these immigrants and their children and many in the United States that see the progress they make, feel it is slow and almost nonexistent. That is because, the modern American Dream is measured by academic and financial success. However, one article notes, the real modern American Dream is about doing better than one’s parents. “Americans have been measuring the American Dream by the make of your car and the prestige of the college degree on your wall. But there’s a more elemental calculation: Whether you achieved more than the generation that came before you” (Lee, 2014). The children of Hispanic and Latino immigrants are doing better than their parents. They are graduating high school and earning college degrees. It may not be at the level as other immigrants, but they are reaching a point that will lead to their offspring being better off and so forth.

The course of the United States has taken many turns and zig zags. Nevertheless, these new immigrants are breathing life back into a country that has been filled with constant disappointment and anger. Even though not all immigrants want to achieve the American Dream, the ones that do, do so keeping in mind the pursuit of a fresh start and a better life. That is reminiscent of the original American Dream, bringing everything, full circle.  What began as a dream for a few British citizens looking for religious freedom, quickly inspired people from all over the world to seek a new start. There were so many that sought to reap from the new land a chance at wealth, stability, upward mobility, and most importantly hope. It may have changed throughout the decades, but the core of the American Dream has always remained. That hope is the underpinning of every immigrant struggle and of every effort made to come to the United States and achieve something meaningful. That is why the American Dream is something that will always live on even after the countries boundaries have faded.


Many say the American Dream is gone. That is not the case, at least for the new immigrants that come to the United States. What was once the dream of British colonists transformed into the dream of anyone, anywhere who wanted a second chance. So many people across the globe suffer and endure many hardships. They come to the United States in hopes of starting anew and escaping the life of burden they had in their homeland. While many still suffer once they relocate to the U.S., others have achieved a new start, a better life for their themselves and their children.

The latest immigrants, Hispanics and Latinos from South, North, and Central America, come to the United States to escape persecution, an unstable government, and lack of employment. The ones that make it in America do so because of hard work, some luck, and a lot of persistence. Such effort is reminiscent of the British colonists of the 17th and 18th centuries. They came from nothing and arrived at a new world, creating what would be the foundation of the American Dream and the country itself.

Yes, the American Dream has changed in many ways because people and times have changed. However, that does not mean it has died or it has been forgotten. If anything, it endures and will continue to endure as long as the United States continues to exist. People will always want a chance at upward mobility. The United States is a place that can change someone’s life for the better.

Works Cited Page:

Caldwell, W. W. (2011). Cynicism and the evolution of the American dream. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, Inc.

Carson, B. (2016, March 15). What happened to the American dream? | TheHill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/272950-what-happened-to-the-american-dream

Currier, E. (2015, January 1). The Numbers Show Rags-to-Riches Happens Only in Movies – NYTimes.com. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/01/is-the-modern-american-dream-attainable/the-numbers-show-rags-to-riches-happens-only-in-movies

Kochan, S. (2007). The Great Gatsby and the American Dream. München: GRIN Verlag.

Lee, J. (2014, February 25). Don’t Tell Amy Chua: Mexicans Are the Most Successful Immigrants | TIME.com. Retrieved from http://ideas.time.com/2014/02/25/dont-tell-amy-chua-mexicans-are-the-most-successful-immigrants/

PBS. (2014, December 11). Is economic reality wiping out the American dream? | PBS NewsHour. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/economic-reality-wiping-american-dream/

Smith, H. (2012). Who stole the American dream? New York: Random House.

The American Dream is synonymous with immigration to the United States and achieving the aim of a better life. Although the image once painted has changed as has the different kinds of immigrants who have come, the same desires, the same ambitions, the same hopes are there. Life’s best moments do not come from everyday routine, but the dreams and the wishes that come true through hard work and determination. This American Dream essay example is just one of many essays provided here to help you make your dreams come true in school and hopefully, in life.

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