Friday, June 12, 2009

Introducing the Phrase American Dream

The Statue of Liberty front shot, on Liberty I...Image via Wikipedia

James Truslow Adams (1878-1949) wrote The Epic of America in 1931, in it introducing the phrase "the American dream" for probably the first time in print. His writing is a product of the times and he is not without his biases (referring to the indigenous population as savages and 'naked Indians') but his commentary against consumerism and corporate greed could have appeared in last week's Time Magazine. Adams calls for an evaluation of our values as a nation and a commitment to those social standards that fulfill human potential and not just progress for the sake of progress:

If, as I have said, the things already listed were all we had had to contribute, America would have made no distinctive and unique gift to mankind. But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his 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 a 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.

Moving words and a worthy dream indeed. This reading was part of an assignment in my American Multicultural Literature class in which we also read, discussed, and compared The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus and Ellis Island by Joseph Bruchac.

The New Colosssus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries shee
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"



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