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American Myth

Posted by Elle Latham on April 11, 2013 at 8:00 PM

In “Horatio Alger”, Harlon L. Dalton counters the titular author in his view of the American Dream in his tome “Ragged Dick.” He says that Alger’s version of the American Dream doesn’t really exist. That it is too contrived and not indicative of the way people live now. He claims that the story of “young boys born into poverty…transcend(ing) their station in life by…hard work, persistence, initiative, and daring”, is fictional and shouldn’t be taken into the real world.

He does have a point when he brings up “the best Black syndrome”, Stephen Carter’s theory that Black people are judged on their successes against one another. I agree with Dalton when he says that things haven’t changed much over the years. Articulate Black people are “praised unduly for how they speak”, but White people are seen in similar ways by Black people. White men can’t jump. White people can’t dance. These are assumptions Black people have about them.

I believe the same can be said for female and male gender roles. Women are viewed oftentimes as emotional, good cooks, nurturing, and loving while men are viewed as harsh, strong, analytical, and business-oriented individuals. Everyone has preconceived notions about other people. It’s in our DNA. It’s in advertising. You see women in the kitchen, Black men on the basketball court, white men in business meetings, and black women as harpies. As long as we are shown these images, we will continue to perpetuate these stereotypes.

In the end, Dalton concludes that by accepting Alger’s myth as truth, it would be like lying to Black people that they can “lift themselves up by their…bootstraps”, and that working hard and having merit are not “guarantors of success should lead…White people to reflect on whether their…achievements have been helped…by their preferred social position”. He says that it sends a false message that we can achieve anything if we work hard and apply ourselves. I agree that that is simply not true. Look at the millionaires in our world. They didn’t all get there based on merit and hard work. Some of them inherited their wealth, while some just screwed over other people and stole ideas on their way up the ladder of success.

It is a myth, the American Dream. It’s something advertisers invented so that we would all conform to what we thought we should be. We had to fit that mold, to consume, to create a life in which things mattered more than people. And still, after all these years, from the 1950s to 2013, we don’t have enough and if we really want it, we are free to take it from someone else and create a lie that even we start to believe. That is the consumer culture we now live in. Everything is available. Except truth.


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