American Dream in English Literature

The American Dream has been a recurring and enduring theme in American society and culture, motivating generations of both native-born Americans and immigrants to achieve their dreams and aspirations. This idea of achievement and advancement has also been a major issue in English literature, illustrating both the benefits and drawbacks of the American Dream. Through literary works, authors have investigated the various ways people strive for fulfillment and how the pursuit of the American Dream can result in tragedy, failure, or disillusionment. The American Dream has been a recurring theme in English literature from the early 20th century to the present, serving as a prism through which to analyze the intricacies and tensions of American life and society.

“The Epic of America,” written by James Truslow Adams in 1931, contains one of the earliest literary depictions of the American Dream. Adams asserts that “the American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

American Dream in English Literature:

The American Dream has been portrayed in a variety of ways in English-language literature. For instance, the American Dream is depicted as a captivating but ultimately elusive ambition that is out of reach for the majority of people in Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby.” In his pursuit of infinite power and wealth as well as the love of his ex-girlfriend, Daisy Buchanan, the novel’s main character, Jay Gatsby, embodies the American Dream. But in the end, he fails in his attempt to live the American Dream.

The American Dream is shown as an antagonistic force in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman,” which can result in disillusionment and hopelessness. Willy Loman, the lead character of the play, is a salesperson who thinks that determination and charm are the keys to happiness and success. However, as he struggles to succeed, he grows more and more dejected and ultimately commits suicide.

Read More: Death of a Salesman as a modern tragedy

American Dream and identity:

The American Dream is frequently portrayed in English literature as being interwoven with identity. The American Dream is examined in Sherman Alexie’s book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” from the viewpoint of Junior, a young Native American kid who longs to leave the misery and violence of his community and find fame as a writer. The difficulties Junior encounters are a reflection of the systematic oppression and prejudice that many Indigenous people in the US confront. Junior’s quest for the American Dream is directly linked to his identity as a Native American. 

The idea of the self-made person and the American Dream

The idea of the self-made person, or the idea that anybody may succeed and flourish through hard work and persistence, is another facet of the American Dream that is frequently discussed in English literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” The protagonist of the novel, self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby, who has overcome poverty to become wealthy and prosperous, examines the American Dream. Gatsby’s quest for the American Dream is motivated by his ambition to win back Daisy, the love of his life, and to establish himself among the wealthy elite who previously turned him down.

Read More: Transcendentalism in English Literature

The notion of the frontier and the American Dream

Another topic that appears frequently in English literature is the myth of the frontier, or the belief that the American Dream is strongly related to the idea of unexplored wilderness and the pioneer spirit. For instance, Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” examines the American Dream from the viewpoint of Thoreau, who goes to a cottage in the woods to lead a simple and independent existence. Thoreau’s ambition to achieve the American Dream is founded on his rejection of the materialism and commercialization of the dominant American society as well as his conviction of the value of living in peace with nature.

American Dream and failure

In relation to the American Dream, the theme of disillusionment is frequently explored in English literature. For instance, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” examines the American Dream from the viewpoint of Willy Loman, an unsuccessful salesman who is centered on the idea of success and the conviction that anybody can achieve it through effort and tenacity. However, as the play goes on, Willy grows more and more disappointed with the American Dream and the knowledge that he hasn’t succeeded as much as he had hoped.

Read More: Willy Loman as a tragic hero


In summary, we may say that through studying the American Dream in literature, we can learn more about the complexities of American culture and the difficulties of finding one’s position within it. The American Dream in English literature ultimately serves as a reminder that happiness, success, and self-fulfillment are difficult to acquire and instead necessitate a strong work ethic, perseverance, and unyielding spirit.

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