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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is our Literary American Dream Dead?

Maybe the President should stop the town hall meetings. It looked pretty bad when the African American woman said she was about to start eating hot dogs and beans. The President smiled, looked really prosperous, then spun into his answer. Or the guy who asked him point blank...tell me, is the American Dream Dead? He was sincere. And the President had no answer. I guess you have to decide what the American Dream really is.

Horatio Alger is our first stop on the trail of the American Dream; these books published in the late nineteenth early twentieth century were the poor boy who raises up to take over the company and become rich. Very much part of our culture. Anyone can become rich. Anyone can become President. We see this played out in our movies and books constantly. We constantly hold up the lowly outsider who rises to fame and fortune and achieves greatness.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby is the classic questioning of this economic nirvana. The price is just too high for Gatsby's dream and Nick Caraway returns to the Midwest looking for salvation in old traditional values in a world vanishing from twentieth century America. Then our dream was updated through television and questioned in novels such as Revolutionary Road. Our modern American dream is not so much the self made man, but the man or woman who plugs into a corporation and gets security and a job and a house that appreciates along with a 401K. That is the American dream that was destroyed in the crash.

So we still spin this question around. The classic economic model of the American Dream seems to be dead. Our happiness came from our gratification in the land of plenty. Maybe the American Dream needs to be revised. Maybe the American Dream will have to fall back to this is enough, because there might not be anymore for a long time to come.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man. A story of the American dream in reverse

Books by William Hazelgrove