Thoreau And The American Dream

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As a foreign citizen, it is difficult not to be enchanted by the romanticised ideal of the ‘American Dream’. For me, the American Dream can be summed up by three aspects: ‘a land of endless opportunities’ in a ‘classless society’ where ‘anything can be achieved if you work hard enough’. However, after exploring the concept further, it appears that those definitions are no longer valid. Thoreau’s Walden, penned in 1854 as a recount of his departure from ‘civilisation’, shows us the fallacy of working hard to improve your quality of life, only to have to work harder to emulate it. Ehrenreich’s struggles in Nickel and Dimed, published at the turn of the millennium, highlights the severe lack of opportunities that millions of Americans have access …show more content…
Historical and contemporary historians have long refuted the American Dream, yet its power and allure still endures today. Nowadays the American Dream no longer pretends to be a tangible dream; it acts as a buttress for the most vulnerable in U.S. society, enabling them to find hope and inspiration when all else seems lost. Many aspects of transcendentalism, self-sufficiency and personal liberty, helped formulate and popularise the ‘American Dream’. Henry David Thoreau achieves to some extent the Dream. His vision was a life of simplicity, where the only labour required were for the essentials of “Food, Shelter, Clothing and Fuel” (1-A, 17). Removing superfluous demands from his life dramatically cut down his duties and requirements; he managed to become self-reliant and independent, whilst enjoying an easier life. He agreed to the philosophy that if you work hard to acquire trinkets and status, you would have to work even harder to maintain and surpass them. His simplistic vision was also popularised by those wishing for a classless society: without the need for tokens of wealth or inter-personal competitiveness, it would be impossible to segregate people based upon social …show more content…
During Ehrenreich’s first week in Florida, despite being suitably qualified for the approximately 20 jobs she applies for, she does not receive a single interview request. She realises that “want ads are not a reliable measure of the actual jobs available” (N&D 15). Many Americans will spend months and years hunting jobs that they know don’t exist, in due deference to the belief that there are opportunities out there. As part of the Dream, Americans are conditioned to the ‘fact’ that anything is possible when they put their mind to it. They further sap both their meagre budget and their soul mailing pointless job applications futilely attending job interviews. Even if you gain employment, housing and transportation need to be found. However, without a job it is impossible to afford a deposit or rent on lodgings or fuel your car. This endless cycle further deprives the less economically fortunate of options. Yet this promise of the American Dream, the promise of opportunities abundant allows those in a state of desperation to keep calm and carry on. That principle coveted by those to the right of the political spectrum, that achievement is directly correlated to effort, is the epitome of the American Dream. It is also an illusion, and a dangerous one at that. Poverty is not a lifestyle choice, but an affliction hitting many hard-working American citizens. Ehrenreich cites in Nickle and Dimed

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