American Dreams

The American Dream is different for everyone, though it is most commonly associated with success, freedom, and happiness. The concept of the American Dream seems to have dwindled from where it was in the past few generations. It has gone from success, freedom, and happiness to having lots of money and the nicest possessions. It has been said that Americans are no longer trying to keep up with the Joneses, and instead looking at celebrities and the characters they portray in films or on television and therefore expect to have greater, more expensive possessions. Americans today do in fact look at celebrities and the characters they portray and expect more possessions, but also still do try and keep up with the Joneses. Ever look at your neighbors new car and want one of your own? It is still very common to see your neighbor pull in their driveway with a new Porsche Boxster, then look at your Honda Accord LX and think of going and getting a nice new car that is comparable to the Porsche. There is no standardized description of being rich. Some people see money as the only way of measuring how rich someone is, whereas some dont even see money as a factor in the equation. How to measure wealth is up to each individual. When one thinks of the American Dream, thoughts of success come to mind. When one thinks of success, it not only refers to ones financial status, but also socially, and in health. Thoughts of freedom come to mind. As our Star Spangled Banner tells us, America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Freedom is often associated with America. Also, happiness comes to mind when referring to the American Dream. With all of this success and freedom, how can you not be happy in America? All of these aspects of the American Dream are debatable. They do not all have to be present to fulfill the American Dream. One doesnt have to be financially well off to be successful. Having a happy, healthy family would definitely satisfy the requirements of the American Dream. If you dont have a family, being happy with how you run your life would satisfy the requirements for the American Dream, also. These aspects are all possible trade-offs, but they can all be present, too. The idea of the American Dream from a few generations ago is different from what it is today. All of the aspects of the American Dream were fulfilled before, but recently the main focal point is the number of possessions and how much money you have. The American Dream still lives, though it is very differently perceived now than it was before. It has been said that Americans no longer try to keep up with the Joneses. They instead look at celebrities and the characters some of them portray in films or television shows, and expect to have some of the same possessions that the celebrities and characters have. The fact is that you cant just go and buy a Mercedes because Puff Daddy drives one, and you want to be like him. Its not that easy, unless you have the money to do it. If you do have the money to do it, you are most likely someone whose possessions are looked at and admired by those who dont have the means to obtain them. With all of the efforts put forth to emulate celebrities and the characters they portray, the idea of keeping up with the Joneses has not died out. If you see your neighbor wheeling a brand new sixty – inch television in his or her house, it is doubtful that anyone would not want to have that sort of a possession. Not everyone will go out and buy a new television because of this, but the thought must run through their mind. My grandfather is the best example of someone who will always believe in keeping up with the Joneses. Three years ago, my father and uncle purchased new cars. My grandfather could not be shown up, so he decided to go out and purchase his own new car. Just recently, my mother, my aunt, and another one of my uncles purchased new cars. Two weeks ago, my grandfather decided that my grandmothers car was too old, and she needed a new car. My aunt and uncle recently purchased a thirty – inch screen television. My grandfather proceeded to purchase a thirty-five – inch screen television. It did not come as a surprise to any member of my family. Keeping up with the Joneses is definitely still a part of American society. This very same American society today is what tells us to be like everyone we see on television. Society tells us that we should be driving nice cars and wearing fancy clothes and jewelry. We allow ourselves to be influenced by this because of the desire to fit in socially with the rest of society. We believe that if we drive a 1984 Dodge Shadow, live in an apartment with three other people, and dont wear Abercrombie and Fitch, we are some sort of lower class people because thats what society says we are. All Americans should be driving new BMWs, wearing Abercrombie and Fitch or Armani, and living in our own mansion with 10 guest rooms, an indoor pool, and a tennis court in our back yard. Believe it or not, such a feat is not very feasible for most people. When it is said that someone is rich, what exactly does that mean? Is someone rich if they have lots of money? Is someone rich if they have a healthy, happy family? Is someone rich if they are always in the social spotlight? It all depends on each individuals point of view. Having lots of money, having a healthy, happy family, and always being in the social spotlight are all different examples of how someone can be rich. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a very successful writer, and made a large amount of money in his lifetime. He had a lot of money, but he wasnt very happy with his life. He didnt have a happy family of his own. He didnt have someone to love, or even someone to love him. His most famous remark about money and success was, Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me (192). In response to Fitzgeralds comment, Ernest Hemingway answered, Yes, they have more money (192). That is the personal opinion of Ernest Hemingway. Not everyone has the same thoughts, thats why it is an opinion. Money is not a matter to many people. Fitzgeralds remark reflected his life, and how he had all the money in the world, but didnt have anyone special in his life. The American Dream is still alive though it is not what it used to be. One can be successful, have freedom, and be happy, and fulfill their version of the American Dream. Keeping up with the Joneses is still part of our everyday life. Some of us may take it to further extremes than others, but there will always be the desire to have something better than everyone else. Society today tells us that we should have the best of everything and if we dont, we are part of a lower class of people. We are sucked in by these beliefs because we as Americans do not want to be shown up, and want to be part of the higher class. You dont have to have lots of money to be rich. You can have a billion dollars and have no one to share it with, and not feel rich. If you dont have anyone special in your life, that doesnt mean that you arent rich. There are many factors that go into whether a person feels rich or not. It is all up to the individual.
INVISIBLE MAN (Delete other reference)
Life on the Strings Dolls. We are surrounded by dolls. G. I. Joe, Barbie, Polly Pocket, and WWF action figures. Prior to our plasticene friends we had paper dolls, marionettes, and delicately featured porcelain dolls. We are strangely fascinated by these cold, lifeless objects that look so much like ourselves. Children clutch them and create elaborate scenes, while adults are content to simply collect, allowing them to sit, motionless on a shelf, staring coolly back at their live counterparts. Which brings us to and interesting point, are people simply dolls for other people to play with or collect? One could make the arguement that we are all Tod Cliftons’, doomed to dance by invisible strings while wearing a mask of individualism. However, unlike Tod Clifton, most of us will not realize that who pulls the string, is not ourselves. Ralph Ellison’s novel, The Invisible Man is fraught with images of dolls as if to constantly reminded the reader that no one is in complete control of themselves. Our first example of doll imagery comes very early in the novel with the Battle Royal scene. The nude, blonde woman is described as having hair “that was yellow like that of a circus kewpie doll” (19). Ellison draws a very strong connection between the plight of the Negro man and the white woman. The fact that they are both shown as puppets or dolls in the work is no coincidence. The woman and the African are merely show pieces for the white men in the novel. Tod Clifton’s dancing Sambo dolls are the most striking example of doll imagery. This small tissue paper doll has the capability to completely change the Invisible Man. When he sees that the powerful and enigmatic Clifton is the one hawking the abominable dolls, the narrator is so filled with humiliation and rage that he spits upon the dancing figure. But what is it that has caused this surging of fury? It is Tod Clifton and not the narrator who has degraded himself to such a base level. However, it is our narrator’s sudden comprehension of his own situation that causes his wrath. The line “For a second our eyes met and he gave me a contemptuous smile” (433) illustrates this moment of realization for our narrator. It shows the reader that Tod Clifton was aware of his position as a puppet all along and chooses to enlighten the narrator at this particular point in the novel. The Invisible Man recognizes that all his life he’s been a slave and a puppet to others. Whether those others were Bledsoe, his grandfather, or the brotherhood is irrelevant, but there has always been and imperceptible string attached to him governing everything he does. Not only a string but his own physical characteristics echo those of the grotesque Sambo dolls. It’s cardboard hands were clenched into fists. The fingers outlined in orange paint, and I noticed that it had two faces, one on either side of the disks of cardboard, and both grinning. (446) Hands doubled into fists? This is the brotherhood message in a nutshell, Strong, ready to fight for what one supposedly believes in. Yet, at the same time these fists are controlled exclusively by the one holding the strings. And the black Sambo puppet blissfully unaware that he is merely a plaything. He smiles to the crowd and back to the puppeteer. It is the grin on the face of this doll that initially angers the Invisible Man. But why? Thinking back to the very start of the novel we have the Grandfather’s dying words to our narrator, “…overcome ’em with yesses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction…” (16). It would seem as though the Grandfather and Tod Clifton are in league with one another as they both have a firm grasp on what power men have over men. We get a powerful and disturbing image of this very idea when the Invisible Man is in the factory hospital after the explosion. It is a scene that seems to fade into the mishmash of confusion that accompanies this part of the novel, but it is nonetheless very important. As the narrator lies in his glass enclosed box with wires and electrodes attached all over his body, he is subjected to shock treatment. “Look, he’s dancing,” someone called. “No, really?” …” They really do have rhythm, don’t they? Get hot, boy! Get hot!” it said with a laugh. (237) This image is almost a perfect match with that of Clifton’s dancing Sambo doll. The only thing missing is the huge grin and even that is taken care of with the line, “My teeth chattered” (237) giving us the picture of a grotesque and pained smile. He experiences a burst of anger which I can only assume means that he catches a glimpse of the strings that he is being pulled by and is helpless to do anything about it. Our final encounter with a doll occurs again with Clifton’s dancing Sambo. At the end of the narrative, while escaping the hell of the Harlem riots, the Invisible Man stumbles upon an open manhole and the gloom below. While trying to keep warm and get a good look at the place he in, he begins to burn the various objects in his briefcase. When he comes to the flimsy tissue-paper doll he finds that it will not burn. He remarks “it burned so stubbornly that I reached inside the case for something else.” (568) The doll’s difficulty in burning is symbolic of the fact that we, as men , will never fully be able to break free from our puppet-like imprisonment. Ellison’s narrator can be found in each and every human being. We live our lives attempting to be independent and free thinking individuals, but there will always be the strings that bind us to someone who controls our destiny. Even the Invisible Man has his turn at being a puppeteer, as we all do, with Mr. Norton at the train station when he calmly states, “I’m your destiny.” (578) Do we know who we control? Do we know who controls us? The answer the Invisible Man might give: Maybe.