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The American Dream

A Cultural History

by Lawrence R. Samuel

Publication Year: 2012

There is no better way to understand America than by understanding the cultural history of the American Dream. Rather than just a powerful philosophy or ideology, the Dream is thoroughly woven into the fabric of everyday life, playing a vital role in who we are, what we do, and why we do it. No other idea or mythology has as much influence on our individual and collective lives. Tracing the history of the phrase in popular culture, Samuel gives readers a field guide to the evolution of our national identity over the last eighty years. Samuel tells the story chronologically, revealing that there have been six major eras of the mythology since the phrase was coined in 1931. Relying mainly on period magazines and newspapers as his primary source material, the author demonstrates that journalists serving on the front lines of the scene represent our most valuable resource to recover unfiltered stories of the Dream. The problem, however, is that it does not exist, the Dream is just that, a product of our imagination. That it is not real ultimately turns out to be the most significant finding about the Ameri­can Drea, and what makes the story most compelling.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, About the Author

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pp. 3-10


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pp. 11-14

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pp. 1-11

What does it mean to you? I’ve been asking anyone and everyone recently, joining a long line of others who have tried to get a better understanding of the American Dream. The usual answers—financial stability or, more specifi cally, making enough money to be able to retire (still often one million dollars, despite inflation...

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1 The Epic of America

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pp. 12-41

Anyone stopping by Robert McLaughlin’s home at 1038 West Forty-Ninth Street in Los Angeles around Christmastime in the late 1930s would no doubt be struck by what the Los Angeles Times called an “American Dream Village.” Each year, McLaughlin would take the model village, which he called “Sunnyville...

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2 The Status Seekers

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pp. 42-71

In December 1960, Webster Gault, the financial editor of the Hartford Courant, opined that the “constant American dream” was “getting a new car.” A few months later, Virginia Irwin, another writer for that newspaper, made an equally dubious claim, proposing that the American Dream was “eternal youth...

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3 The Anti-Paradise

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pp. 72-103

In April 1975, four residents of Mansfield, Connecticut, gathered to discuss if and how the American Dream was different than during Revolutionary times. The makeup of the gathering, the first in a series of panel discussions commemorating the upcoming bicentennial, was intended to reflect the diversity of the community. In the group were R. Kent Newmyer, a history professor....

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4 Born in the USA

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pp. 104-135

George Will, the conservative columnist, found a visit to a car showroom in the early 1980s a deeply depressing event. By 1984 General Motors had made not only its Cadillac DeVille smaller but also the Buick Electra and the Oldsmobile 98, a decision designed to allow the company to better compete with the Japanese. Big-car lovers like Will were displeased to see what he called the “scrunching...

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5 The Anxious Society

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pp. 136-165

On February 10, 1999, a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman opened on Broadway, running for 274 performances and winning a number of Tony Awards. (Previous Broadway revivals were in 1975, with George C. Scott playing Willy Loman, and in 1984, with Dustin Hoffman in the starring...

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6 American Idol

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pp. 166-195

In the summer of 2001, a group of students at Boston College taking a class on the American Dream dug deep into the meaning of the nation’s core mythology. Alongside readings by John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, those students attending David McMenamin’s course fi rst offered their defi nitions of the Dream, their versions as varied as the students...

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pp. 196-206

What to make of the American Dream? Was it ever real, or was it indeed just a dream, something we conjured up while we had our eyes closed to the harsh realities of the day? It is still difficult to say, frankly, this eighty-year excursion illuminating the subject but doing little to definitively answer the question of whether the American Dream was anything more than an especially elaborate...


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pp. 207-228

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 229-234


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pp. 235-241

Back Cover

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pp. 257-258

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651871
E-ISBN-10: 0815651872
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815610076
Print-ISBN-10: 0815610076

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 844345019
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The American Dream

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • National characteristics, American.
  • United States -- Civilization -- 1945-.
  • Popular culture -- United States -- History.
  • American Dream.
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