The American Dream: fiction or reality?

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The American Dream is considered a founding myth of the United States and is often said to have nourished the American nation and shaped the American identity.

I What is the American Dream?

1 The origins of the American Dream

The expression “American Dream” appeared only in the mid-1800s. However, the concept of America as a promised land was not a new one: it was already on the Pilgrim Fathers’ minds as early as 1620, when they left England on the Mayflower to escape the influence of the Anglican Church and gain religious freedom.


to head to: se diriger vers to stretch: (ici) repousser upward mobility: ascension sociale

In the 19th century, the “American Dream” often referred to the Frontier Spirit of the pioneers who headed to the west to seek fortune. Stretching the frontier also meant moving to a virgin territory and a wild environment. That’s why the dream of being prosperous was associated with courage and perseverance.

The American Dream can thus be defined as the belief that everybody, whatever their origin or their social background, has a right to freedom and happiness and can achieve success and prosperity through hard work and determination.

2 The American Dream and immigration

The American Dream was the dream of thousands of European immigrants who arrived in New York Harbour in search of a better life, away from the models of the Old World. They arrived from Britain, Ireland, Italy, Russia and many other European countries to escape famine, poverty, political or religious persecution.

By the early 20th century, the American Dream meant upward mobility, that is to say the possibility to climb the social ladder for anyone, regardless of social class or birth. Upward mobility is part of the American dream and a major principle of the American way of life, based on the pursuit of happiness.

II The American Dream today

1 The dream is wounded…

Today, the feeling of increasing poverty and lack of opportunities is stronger and stronger in the middle and lower classes of American society. More and more people think their children won’t be able to do as well as they did and upward mobility isn’t possible anymore.


to question: remettre en question faith: la foi

That is why the American Dream is more questioned than ever especially by these middle and lower-class white Americans who lost faith in it after the 2007 crisis. They were the supporters of Donald Trump, the then candidate who promised to restore the dream and to “make America great again”.

2 … but it is not dead

It isn’t the first time people have been wondering about the end of the American Dream. The dream was deeply doubted at different moments in history: after the Great Depression, during World War II, in the 1970s, but it has survived.

The American model of liberty and prosperity is still meaningful today and some successful Americans seem to prove the dream can still come true: for example, Oprah Winfrey, who was born into poverty, is now a wealthy and influential celebrity; Sergey Brin, who had to emigrate from the Soviet Union because of anti-Semitic segregation, became one of the co-founders of Google.

This enduring dream still attracts a great number of immigrants today, especially from Latin America and Asia: 8.3 million of immigrants entered the US between 2010 and 2016. In 2017, there were about 22 million naturalised American citizens; 27% of them were naturalised since 2010.