The oft-abused term “American Dream” was popularized by James Truslow Adams in The Epic of America [New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1931]. One of his definitions: “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.”
Anent which David Kamp notes in Vanity Fair (April):
James Truslow Adams’s words remind us that we’re still fortunate to live in a country that offers us such latitude in choosing how we go about our lives and work — even in this crapola economy. Still, we need to challenge some of the middle-class orthodoxies that have brought us to this point — not least the notion, widely promulgated throughout popular culture, that the middle class itself is a soul-suffocating dead end.
The middle class is a good place to be, and, optimally, where most Americans will spend their lives if they work hard and don’t overextend themselves financially. On American Idol, Simon Cowell has done a great many youngsters a great service by telling them that they’re not going to Hollywood and that they should find some other line of work. The American Dream is not fundamentally about stardom or extreme success; in recalibrating our expectations of it, we need to appreciate that it is not an all-or-nothing deal — that it is not, as in hip-hop narratives and in Donald Trump’s brain, a stark choice between the penthouse and the streets.
Admittedly, no one seems to have a solid definition of what the American middle class really is, but I suspect most of us in this land believe we’re part of it.