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Does the American Dream Exist or Is It an Illusion?

The United States of America is a country where every individual has a right to ‘’pursuit of happiness’’ according to Thomas Jefferson who is the first president of the United States had been declared in the discourse which is known Declaration of Independence. However, is this right eligible for everyone? Does every individual really have that chance in America? Or is it nothing more than an illusion? Furthermore, does the ‘’American Dream’’ still have importance even now? There is an undeniable fact that the United States of America constructed the widely known, catch-phrase slogan for everyone. This manifestation has been established to every individual in America, yet the affection of this term is not distributed in an equal way. Even if the ''founding fathers'' were asserting in another way, American Dream is not reflected its light towards everyone in America.

The origin of it is a term based on the occurrence that fleed bunch of people who are Puritans or Revolutionaries determinately abandoned England in the search and hope for ‘’freedom’’. Because in England they were dependent on the system of landlords and they did not have any right to the land where they worked more than the landowner. Religious pressures contributed to the abandonment. On the other hand, the lands of America were offering this freedom in a way that they desired consistently. Hence, the first notion of the American Dream appeared with the help of ‘’individualism’’. This country would be a sacred place to those who seek and want freedom, also it would give them a right to reach out their goals. The only winner in this effort would be themselves, not a landowner or anyone else. As Jim Cullen mentions in The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation, ‘’the Pilgrims may not have actually talked about the American Dream, but they would have understood the idea: afterall, they lived it as people who imagined a destiny for themselves.’’ (Cullen, 5).

Illustration of American Dream

Generally, the term is associated with financial stability or gaining status in the society and having a right to making decisions in your life, making enough money in order to sustain high quality after retirement, capturing a good life surrounded with a nice house, car, material belongings, and so on. As Lawrence R. Samuel underlines in The American Dream: A Cultural History, ‘’Rather than just a powerful philosophy or ideology, the American Dream is thoroughly woven into the fabric of everyday life. It plays a vital, active role in who we are, what we do, and why we do it.’’ (Samuel,2). American Dream is based on individual desire and effort. Hard work is so important to make their dream come true. Americans do not care about other people, hence the dream is shaped in a more individual way. Americans associate freedom with the notion that means every individual has to wrap their life with wealth. If you are dependent on someone for money that means you are not free. money is the material key for them, is the key which makes them free. That money is the award for freedom. Sarah Churchwell mentions in the A Brief History of the American Dream, ‘’ Adams concluded that America had lost its way by prizing material success above all other values: Indeed, it had started to treat money as a value, instead of merely as a means to produce or measure value.’’

Ideal family according to American Dream

As Jeremy Rifkin highlights in The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, ''a place where a human being could become what she or he chose to be.'' (Rifkin, 12). For Rifkin assertions, America is a country where every individual has a right about their future. Thus, ‘'Pursuit of Happiness'’ turns the key motto for each American. Does this definitely reflect the idea that America has a door which you can choose wherever you want to go to, and is that valid for everyone? It is open for debate. As Rifkin emphasizes, ‘’We are probably more self-involved and overindulged many other people in the world.'' (Rifkin 14) Embracing this term made the American Dream a more powerful force for embarking on a new life. Americans see themselves as ‘’chosen people’’, this motivation makes Americans more willing about taking risks. Whatever they do, at the end of the road they would find a reward for their effort. In sacred places and as chosen people you would hardly encounter frustration. ''Europeans often asked me how it is that Americans are always so upbeat about their future. We have no doubt that we are destined for greatness, both individually and as a people. It makes us willing to take more risks than other people because we believe that we are being watched over and taken care of and fated to succeed.'' (Rifkin, 20) They believed that progress in life is possible by taking risks. That is an inherited mentality from their ancestors because their ancestors immigrated to America taking the risks. ‘’Americans have always been risk-takers. That's part of what American Dream is all about.'' (Rifkin, 18) Hence, it is not a big surprise that Americans always chase to unknown. They adjust their minds to strive for life. The outcome of life would give them greater than the risk they would take. Therefore, it is worth taking a risk and showing the power of risk-taking.

Illustration by Chris Kindred

When American Dream is approached from the African-American point of view the term is transhaped. Because African-Americans have been exploited by white supremacy for centuries. Therefore, no dream has been designed for them. As Joslyn Armstrong states in “A Dream Deferred”: How Discrimination Impacts the American Dream Achievement for African Americans, ‘’ Historically, African Americans were excluded from the promises of The American Dream in the form of barriers specific to their minority statuses such as racial discrimination and poverty. Surprisingly, researchers stress that African Americans remain committed to the promises of The American Dream. Many African Americans are less optimistic about The American Dream and are less likely to feel they can attain The American Dream.’’ (Armstrong, 1). Based on that view, one can say that African-Americans had been encountering drawbacks that consistently impeded on them. They had lost their beliefs about any place for them to show their ability in any field that proves their success in order to take a glimpse of the American Dream. This dream is not created for those who have been excluded from the ‘’melting pot’’. Yet, through time there have been people who arose among them to emphasize the issue that they have a place in the American Dream too. One of them is of course Martin Luther King Jr. who has the famous speech of ''I Have a Dream''. The content of this speech includes the American Dream, thus Luther aims to emphasize that the American Dream is valid for African-Americans as well.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking before a crowd of 25,000 Selma To Montgomery, Alabama civil rights marchers, in front of Montgomery, Alabama state capital building. On March 25, 1965, in Montgomery, Alabama. Stephen F. Somerstein

To sum up, American Dream highly prevailed especially from the construction of the United States of America. However, there are still people that argue American Dream has been dead. To some point one can agree on that assertion, however, American Dream is not dead, it just changed form. There is a no longer powerful emphasis on great houses, cars, or such similar desires. Rather than presenting those ‘’old ideas’’ to the modern world, the dream is getting into people's minds as spotlighting the beauty of consumption. At this exact point, the illusion of the American Dream is burst into flames because the people who believe that the American dream no longer exists in the modern world are falling into purchasing goods or they try to become like people who are on social media. Here, the base of that desire comes from attaining the non-existent, and that notion is associated with the American Dream.


Cullen, Jim, The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation, Oxford University Press; 9th Print edition (June 14, 2004)

Churchwell, Sarah, A Brief History of the American Dream, The Catalyst A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute, Issue 21

Rifkin, Jeremy, The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, Polity Press; 1st edition (1 Mar. 2005)

Armstrong, Joslyn, “A Dream Deferred”: How Discrimination Impacts the American Dream Achievement for African Americans, Journal of Black Studies 2019, Vol. 50(3) 227–250


Dec 16, 2021

Even,we who are Americans can not achieve our own dream, its such a funny to imagine a world where everyone is coming here to chase a dream that does not exists anymore.

Beside that, great article !

Aylin Usta
Aylin Usta
Jan 21, 2022
Replying to

Thank you so much!


Didem Bezek
Didem Bezek
Dec 12, 2021

It's an extensive and informative work, worth reading!

Aylin Usta
Aylin Usta
Dec 15, 2021
Replying to

Thank you Didem!

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Aylin Usta

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