The American Dream is a belief so widespread that there are those who pursue it from the other side of the world. This concept of an individual going from rags to riches in this land of opportunity through pure hard work has become a symbol of the United States, yet is it accessible to everyone?
Langston Hughes, a renowned poet who shaped the perception of the American Dream during the cultural awakening of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, often criticized the American Dream. Though he wrote about his hopes that it was an achievable dream for all, Hughes highlighted its limitations, specifically that the “American Dream” only applied to a certain type of American. The individual initiative that was believed to propel anyone towards economic prosperity was not an attainable attribute for everyone. Equal opportunities did not exist for all races and gender, and Hughes emphasized this distraught hope for an exclusive dream in his poem Let America Be America Again (1938):
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
It is disheartening yet unfortunately understandable that the American Dream was not achievable for all people in the early 20th century, as the Civil Rights Movement had not yet come to fruition. So, what about now? One would surely think that in a hundred years, this country has progressed to an extent that would allow for this iconic dream to everyone.
Nowadays, the American Dream, to the average individual, has become a more reasonable version of what it once was. In the 20s, capitalism acquired great strength in America, and this surely translated to the known version of the American Dream: hard work led to one attaining great riches. The modern version of this dream says a lot about how society has changed, for better or worse. Individuals strive for a college diploma, decent-paying job to pay-off loans, adequate healthcare, and comfortable life.
The alteration of this dream signifies the change from life throughout this past century. Our current system is designed to concentrate wealth and keep the majority of workers on the brink of bankruptcy. Though the policy has extended the right to economic freedom to all races and genders by banning discrimination in the workplace, a closer look at this phenomenon suggests that society as a whole now faces a different kind of setback.