The American Dream

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Corpus Corpus 1The American Dream

France métropolitaine 2015 • LV2 séries générales




France métropolitaine • Juin 2015

Séries générales • LV2

  Text 1  A self-made man looks back on his past

It was 1910, then, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of my coming was near at hand. Thoughts of the past filled me with mixed joy and sadness. I was overcome with a desire to celebrate the day. But with whom Usually this is done by "ship brothers," as East-Siders call fellow immigrants who arrive here on the same boat. It came back to me that I had such a ship brother, and that it was Gitelson. Poor Gitelson! He was still working at his trade. I had not seen him for years, but I had heard of him from time to time, and I knew that he was employed by a ladies’ tailor at custom work somewhere in Brooklyn. (The custom-tailoring shop he had once started for himself had proved a failure.) Also, I knew how to reach a brother-in-law of his. The upshot was that I made an appointment with Gitelson for him to be at my office on the great day at 12 o’clock, I did so without specifying the object of the meeting, but I expected that he would know. Finally the day arrived. It was a few minutes to 12. I was alone in my private office, all in a fidget […]. My eye swept the expensive furniture of my office. I thought of the way my career had begun. I thought of the Friday evening when I met Gitelson on Grand Street, he an American dandy and I in tatters. The fact that it was upon his advice and with his ten dollars that I had become a cloakmaker stood out as large as life before me. A great feeling of gratitude welled up in me, of gratitude and of pity for my tattered self of those days. Dear, kind Gitelson! Poor fellow! He was still working with his needle. I was seized with a desire to do something for him. I had never paid him those ten dollars. […]

It was twenty minutes after 12 and I was still waiting for the telephone to announce him. My suspense became insupportable. “Is he going to disappoint me, the idiot ” I wondered. Presently the telephone trilled. I seized the receiver. “Mr. Gitelson wishes to see Mr. Levinsky,” came the familiar pipe of my switchboard girl. “He says he has an appointment –” “Let him come in at once,” I flashed.

Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky, 1917.

  Text 2  Rise and fall of a self-made man

The Great Motivator. Better known as Jack Ballentine. If you’ve been alive and cognizant for the past twenty years, you’ve undoubtedly read all about the Jack Ballentine story. How he grew up as a steelworker’s son in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, discovered a talent for football in high school, won a full scholarship to Michigan State, became the most renowned college quarterback1 of the mid-sixties, then led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories during his high-profile professional career. […] Everyone expected Ballentine to end up as an archetypal screwed-up jock2, someone who, upon retiring from the NFL3, would blow most of his fortune on nose candy, rapacious women, and bad investments. Instead, he surprised the world by moving to New York in 1975 and becoming a self-styled real-estate developer. The cynics laughed – and predicted he’d be in bankruptcy court within twelve months. […]

But Ballentine being Ballentine, he wasn’t satisfied with the humdrum role of multimillionaire developer. Rather, he had to transform himself into the Master Builder – Mr. High-rise, who, during the height of the Reaganomics4, imprinted his very own stamp on the Manhattan cityscape. Big buildings. Big deals. […] A man who sold himself to the public as the great entrepreneurial patriot of his time: Capitalism’s Great Quarterback. […]

Then, in 1991, it finally all went wrong. A casino deal in Atlantic City fell apart. A huge high-rise development in Battery Park City spiraled way over budget. Ballentine’s corporate cash flow dried up. He was 200 million in debt. His bankers decided that he was no longer worth the gamble. So they pulled the plug. And the Ballentine building empire crashed and burned.

It was a widely publicized downfall. And the public loved it. To many people, there was something satisfying about watching the Waterloo of such towering testament to self admiration. We may worship success in America, but we are also riveted by failure.

Douglas Kennedy, The Job, 1998.

1. quarterback: a player in American football.

2. screwed-up jock (slang): here, someone who fails after his sporting career.

3. NFL: National Football League.

4. the Reaganomics: the economic policy under President Reagan.

compréhension  10 points

Text 1

1 Complete the following sentence by choosing one of the four suggestions.

The narrator wants to celebrate…

1. … his 25th birthday.

2. … the start of his business 25 years ago.

3. … his arrival in the USA 25 years ago.

4. … his success.

2 Using your own words, explain why Gitelson and the narrator are “ship brothers” (l. 4).

3 How did Gitelson help the narrator in the past Find two elements.

4 Compare the two characters’ situations in the past.

5 What are the two characters’ situations like today Explain and justify with two quotes for each character.

Text 2

6 Choose which three adjectives best describe Jack Ballentine.

sporty – famous – intellectual – shy – unsociable – clever – careless

7 Say whether the following statements are True or False. Justify with a quote.

1. Jack Ballentine came from a working-class family.

2. He went to university because he was good at maths.

3. His job was to play football.

4. He decided to build stadiums.

8 Using your own words, give two reasons why Jack Ballentine’s success first came as a surprise.

9 How did Jack Ballentine’s story end Explain in your own words how people reacted, and why.

Both texts

10 Compare and contrast Gitelson’s and Jack Ballentine’s careers. (3 elements)

Seul(e)s les candidat(e)s de la série L traiteront la question 11.

11 To what extent are the narrator and Ballentine examples of self-made men Answer in a few sentences.

Seul(e)s les candidat(e)s de la série L option LVA traiteront la question 12.

12 In both texts, how are the failures of Gitelson and Jack Ballentine perceived

expression  10 points

> Les candidat(e)s de la série L traiteront le sujet 1 ou le sujet 2 ainsi que le sujet 3. (125 mots, + ou – 10 %)

Les candidat(e)s de la série L option LVA traiteront le sujet 1 ou le sujet 2 ainsi que le sujet 4. (150 mots  + ou – 10 %)

Les candidat(e)s des séries ES et S traiteront le sujet 2 ou le sujet 3. (150 mots, + ou – 10 %)

1 What does the American Dream mean to you today Illustrate with examples.

2 “It was a widely publicized downfall. And the public loved it.” (Text 2, l. 28)

Write an article expressing your views about how far you think the media should go to please an audience.

3 Imagine the conversation between the narrator and Gitelson when they meet again in the narrator’s office.

4 In your opinion, can failure be an ingredient for success Illustrate with examples.

Les clés du sujet

Texte 1


Abraham Cahan (1860-1951) est un auteur américain né en Lituanie. Il dut émigrer vers les USA à l’âge de 21 ans et y a fait carrière en tant que journaliste puis romancier.

Pour en savoir plus :

Résumé du texte

Pour célébrer le 25e anniversaire de son arrivée aux USA, le narrateur et héros du livre, a souhaité reprendre contact avec un de ses compagnons qui a traversé l’Atlantique sur le même bateau d’immigrants. Il se souvient que Gitelson, qui avait réussi à s’installer alors que lui-même était sans le sou, l’avait aidé à démarrer en lui donnant dix dollars ainsi que quelques conseils. Les années ont passé, les rôles sont inversés. Le narrateur est dans son bureau et attend avec une impatience mêlée d’appréhension l’arrivée de son ancien ami.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

Overcome (l. 3) : submergé  trade (l. 7) : métier, profession  a tailor (l. 9) : un tailleur  custom work (l. 9) : travail sur mesure  to reach someone (l. 11) : joindre qqn  upshot (l. 12) : résultat  all in a fidget (l. 16) : tout excité  ­tatters (l. 20) : haillons  cloakmaker (l. 21) : fourreur  to well up (l. 22) : surgir  needle (l. 24) : aiguille  to seize the receiver (l. 29) : attraper le combiné  switchboard girl (l. 30) : standardiste.

Texte 2


Douglas Kennedy (1955-) est un romancier américain. Plusieurs de ses romans ont connu un succès international et certains ont été adaptés au cinéma.

Pour en savoir plus :

Résumé du texte

Nous assistons à l’ascension puis à la chute d’un “self-made man” américain. Grâce à ses talents au football américain, un fils d’ouvrier devient un grand champion. Il s’investit ensuite – et, contre toute attente, réussit – dans l’immobilier. Son ambition démesurée fait de lui l’un des grands entrepreneurs de son temps, mais ses affaires s’effondrent. Le public se réjouit de la chute de cet homme.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

Cognizant (l. 2) : au courant de ce qui se passe  steelworker (l. 4) : ouvrier métallurgique  scholarship (l. 5) : bourse universitaire  nose candy (l. 11) : cocaïne (très familier)  real-estate (l. 13) : immobilier  humdrum (l. 16) : banal  high-rise building (l. 17) : tour, gratte-ciel  cityscape (l. 19) : paysage urbain  to fall apart (l. 23) : s’effondrer  to have your cash flow dry up (l. 24-25) : voir ses marges se tarir  gamble (l. 26) : enjeu, pari  to pull the plug (l. 26) : (ici) laisser tomber  downfall (l. 28) : chute  to worship (l. 31) : vénérer  riveted (l. 31) : fasciné.

Les points de convergence

Les deux textes illustrent le rêve américain et le mythe du self-made man. Mais alors que ce rêve peut s’illustrer par le succès de certains, comme Levinsky et Ballentine, il peut aussi en laisser d’autres sur le bord du chemin, comme Gitelson ou les faire tomber du sommet, tel Ballentine.

Le sujet d’expression (LVO, LVA)

Pistes de recherche

Pensez d’abord à définir brièvement le rêve américain : la possibilité qu’il offre à chacun d’atteindre le succès social.

Donnez ensuite quelques exemples, comme la fuite face à la guerre en Europe au siècle dernier, les persécutions, l’oppression. Pensez aussi aux immigrants d’Amérique centrale.

Vous pouvez ensuite argumenter qu’il est de plus en plus difficile d’accéder au rêve américain, les USA n’étant plus de nos jours une terre d’abondance. Les conditions d’admission sont de plus en plus strictes, et une fois cet obstacle franchi, il est de plus en plus difficile de réussir.

Vocabulaire utile

To “make it” (réussir)  the upper class (la haute société)  land of plenty (terre d’abondance)  nightmare (cauchemar)  to start from scratch (partir de rien)

Le sujet d’expression (Tous les candidats)

Pistes de recherche

Évoquez le pouvoir des médias et leur influence sur le public. Vous pouvez également évoquer le pouvoir du public sur les médias, puisque ceux-ci s’arrangent pour lui montrer de préférence ce qui lui plaît, ce qu’il attend. L’intérêt de certains médias pour la vie privée en est un exemple. Vous pouvez aussi argumenter que le public est aussi responsable que les médias : s’ils vont trop loin, c’est parce que le public le demande.

Vocabulaire utile

juicy stories (histoires juteuses)  to involve (impliquer)  to relish in (de délecter de)  hardships (malheurs)  to undergo (subir)  harm (le mal)  guilty (coupable)  morbid curiosity (curiosité malsaine)

Le sujet d’expression (LVO, ES, S)

Pistes de recherche

Après les accolades de retrouvailles, les deux anciens amis peuvent évoquer leur passé commun. Gitelson peut s’extasier du luxe du bureau du narrateur, et du succès que cela révèle. Le narrateur peut enfin le remercier de son aide et de ses conseils et lui dire qu’il a appris ce qui était arrivé à Gitelson. S’il est maintenant ridicule de rendre à Gitelson ses dix dollars, le narrateur peut lui promettre de l’aider à trouver un emploi dans sa société.

Vocabulaire utile

To start one’s own business (monter son entreprise)  to thrive (prospérer)  to owe money (devoir de l’argent)

Le sujet d’expression (LVA)

Pistes de recherche

Ces deux termes sont opposés, mais sont unis et inséparables. Le succès arrive rarement immédiatement, il est le fruit de plusieurs échecs, qui aident à mieux rebondir et à être plus fort. Il faut essayer d’avoir assez de force de caractère pour apprendre à ne pas se décourager devant des échecs successifs.

Vocabulaire utile

Strong-minded (qui a de la force de caractère)  to harm (faire du mal)  to bounce back (rebondir)  to reach (atteindre)  a goal (un but) 




Text 1

1 3. The narrator wants to celebrate his arrival in the USA 25 years ago.

2 Gitelson was one of his “fellow immigrants” who arrived in the USA on the same ship from Europe.

3 He helped him when he was poor by advising him to become a cloakmaker and giving him ten dollars (l. 19 to 21).

4 Gitelson was well-established in the USA (“an American dandy”, l. 19) while the narrator couldn’t even afford to buy clothes (“in tatters”, l. 19-20)

5 Their situations are now reversed: the narrator now has a good job as a top executive or even a company manager (“my private office”, l. 16 , “the expensive furniture of my office”, l. 17, “my switchboard girl”, l. 30) while Gitelson has not risen from his position as a tailor’s employee (“he was still working with his needle”, l. 23-24) after his own shop had failed (“The custom-tailoring shop he had once started for himself had proved a failure.” l. 10-11).

Text 2

6 sporty – famous – clever

7 1. : “he grew up as a steelworker’s son” (l. 3-4).

2. : “discovered a talent for football in high school, won a full scholarship to Michigan State” (l. 4-5).

3. : “led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories during his high-profile professional career”. (l. 7-8).

4. : “a self-styled real-estate developer” (l. 13), “imprinted his very own stamp on the Manhattan cityscape” (l. 18-19).

8 Everyone thought that he was only good at football and would fail at anything else, like so many other champions (“to end up as an archetypal screwed-up jock”, l. 9). So they expected him to waste all his money and go bankrupt and they were surprised when he became a “Master Builder” (l. 17).

9 Ballentine lost all his money when one deal too many went wrong. His bankers refused to continue financing him because they did not trust him anymore and the empire he had built crumbled. People had no pity for him, they even loved and were fascinated by his downfall.

Both texts

10 Both men started from scratch, Gitelson as an immigrant, Ballentine a working-class boy. But while Ballentine’s career sky-rocketed to fame and fortune, the American dream stopped early on its way for Gitelson: the shop he has started failed and he stagnated as a ladies’ tailor employee. It stopped later for Ballentine, whose empire crashed in the seventies.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L.

11 They are both self-made men because they had no background to help them, and they managed to climb the social ladder with their skills and hard work. Thanks to his talent as a footballer Ballentine won a university scholarship and became a champion and thanks to the few dollars his friend gave him, the narrator made his way to a successful career as a top executive.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L LVA.

12 In the first text, the narrator gives his own feelings as to Gitelson’s failure, he pities his friend who has not managed to maintain the social position he first had when they arrived in the USA while in the second text, the narrator insists on the impact of the media coverage on the public (“It was a widely publicized downfall. And the public loved it” l. 28) and on what it reveals about American people (“We may wworship success in America, but we are also riveted by failure”, l. 30-31).


2 Guidelines

Why do the media keep about famous people They expect if they can offer amazing stories, especially when they involve people who fail in their careers or in their private lives. and it is a shame that defeat fascinates more than success. When someone fails, we somehow identify with the person and are happy that didn’t happen to us. And when that person was at the top, we somehow sadistically relish in the fact that someone more successful than us crashes to the ground.

. And this is where the media should stop and think about the power they have to make or destroy lives. They should care about the consequences of their victim’s lives: those people find it quite hard to face their difficult situations and on top of that they have to undergo the public’s voyeurism. It seems that the harm the media can do to them is more interesting and easy to sell than what they actually have to undergo.

. Although the role of the media is to inform, , and should not select and present information in a way that only satisfies our morbid curiosity.

4 Guidelines

Failure being the complete opposite to success, one may wonder how failure can be an ingredient for success. And yet , just as unhappiness is happiness’s twin brother, just as you can’t appreciate laughter when you don’t know what crying is.

: after it has hurt you, you know better, and and find other more efficient ways to reach your goal. In fact, . One could say that the more failures you have, the stronger you can become, but on the other hand the human mind has limitations and too many failures can destroy your self-esteem and your identity.

Success and failure seem to be two points on a circle: . The ideal thing is to be able to jump out of the circle before failure comes back around…