The American Dream, a dream deferred?

Opening scene

Convenience store, second scene

The Poem

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

by Langston Hughes

The roots of a nation

To properly understand the US you have to study its history and the conditions under which Americans have developed. The people that came to colonize northern America were typically very daring and enterprising people. They had dared to cross the Atlantic in order to reach the New World. Many of them were very religious people who had fled the religious repression of many of the European states.

A great may of the settlers who came to America actually thought of themselves as God’s emissaries. They saw themselves as establishing His kingdom on the new continent. To these people America was the Promised Land, a New Canaan.

Some of the colonists came to speak of themselves as citizens of the City upon a Hill. A phrase they had got from Matthew 5:14 ”Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid”. The colonist thought that they were chosen to build a new nation which was to set an example to all others. These beliefs – that the Americans are the chosen people living in a country reserved for them by God and that they have been set there to be an example to others – have continued to live through American history and are still, in a secularized form, very much alive. In actions and in words, in foreign and domestic policy Americans have often looked upon themselves as a model for the world and as both savior and police with divine sanction

An expression of this belief is the fact that many Americans shared the conviction in the nineteenth century that it was the manifest destiny of the United States to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean. One of the many literary expressions of this is this passage from Herman Melville’s White-Jacket: ”[a]nd we Americans are the peculiar chosen people— the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of liberties of the world”.


Progress and problems

The first colonists’ dream of a blessed land, a land of plenty, was soon discovered to be something quite different. The hardships of these first Americans were many: they died of all sorts of diseases, the land was wild and they had a hard time to survive.

The overall economic success of America, however, has many good reasons: the rich natural resources and the vastness of the country, people were allowed to compete on their own merits (in Europe the feudal system was very rigid and did not let people go into business for themselves). In some ways the mentality of the people had something to do with it as well: the colonists were very ambitious and optimistic. They truly believed in the dream of social and material success. They thought that everything was possible.

The firm belief in progress and development met with many problems. Many colonists did not succed, others lost heart and became pessimistic and bitter. Throughout the years more and more people have come to America with their visions and dreams, some have succeded others have not. America is in this sense a country of extremes a land of the rich as well as of the poor. The progress in some fields (space travel or entertainment industry) do not overshadow problems such as segregation, racism and crime.

 

Manifest destiny in our century

As previously stated the ideas of the City upon a Hill and Manifest Destiny still live, although in a slightly altered form.

The Apollo program in itself represents, in a sense, a continuation of the pioneering spirit of the US; it represents the will to expand, to go forward, to claim, to manifest destiny – to continue, in a metaphorical sense, the journey Westward.

Questions

The US sees itself as special. The Americans feel they have a special role to play in the world.

How do we see this in film, books and in the news?

Sweden has perhaps a different self-image? What would you say is typically Swedish?

 

 

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