The Superficiality of the American Dream

The Superficiality of the American Dream

For many centuries, every nation has been seeking the basis of happiness and well-being. Some try to pursue it on their own while others tend to consider happiness as a collective achievement. Hence, numerous governments put all their efforts into providing their people with the opportunity to understand what happy life means namely to them, and reach this kind of life. America is one of such countries where the main policy is to create a healthy and happy nation. Consequently, such a phenomenon as the American Dream has been introduced to the American people. Many debates took place on its importance and essence of the American Dream due to its contradictory parties. Moreover, many films and books raise this issue. Particularly, the movie LA Story and the book Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle consider the superficiality of the American Dream phenomenon and its negative influence on American society.

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The Notion of the American Dream

The American Dream is supposed to be an ideal that considers the fact that the government must protect the opportunity of each person to pursue the idea of happiness that appeals to them. American Declaration of Independence advocates for this Dream. It strives for the equality of all human beings and the protection of their fundamental rights such as life, liberty, and happiness (Bolick 869). A large number of researchers tried to summon the basis of the American Dream for American people in particular. For example, Emily Rosenberg, the famous American sociologist, allocated several components of the American Dream that other countries associate with America. The list of these components include the belief that the US development policy should be followed by other nations, the faith that market economy, trade agreements, and foreign direct investment should be free, the promotion of information and culture is also broad, and the government should protect private enterprises of the country (Amadeo). However, Americans saw the Dream somehow differently. They consider it as not only the economic development ideal but also the foundation of a perfect social order where all are able to reach everything they want due to their ability and recognized by others regardless of their birth circumstances and position. As a result, such an ideal had a good start and many possibilities, thus controversies about its implementation in reality frequently occurred.

American Dream in the LA Story

The movie LA Story tends to present the ideal of the American Dream and its facade over time. It was directed in 1991 by Mick Jackson at the time when the Dream was believed to fail. The elements of fantasy and satire are presented in the movie to satirize and celebrate the culture. The scene of the film takes place in Los Angeles, California. It can be supposed that such a location was chosen by the director due to the fact that California is associated with American Gold Rush, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley (McLynn). That was the place where the idea of social mobility was born. Furthermore, by working hard, every dreamer could reach everything he or she aimed to receive in their life. Consequently, a huge number of stories about the success and the celebration of the American Dream relate namely to California. Besides, it is supposed that Californian sunny locations were used in skeptical and neurotic films about the American Dream to make the image more brutal and cutting. Hence, many people wanted to reveal all sides of the American Dream including its positive and negative influence on the development of social ethics. LA Story presents a typical American society where everyone is struggling for gaining a good position in their lives.

The scene of the movie considers the story of a TV meteorologist, Harris Telemacher, who lives in Los Angeles. The man has a relationship with a woman Trudi whose main aim in life is to obtain the highest possible position in the community. Both of them are pursuing a lifestyle that assumes the importance of working honestly and living in a protected environment (LA Story). However, American utopia can seem not as perfect as it appears at first sight. Despite having a good career on TV, the main character strives for finding meaning and some kind of magic in his life. Being involved in daily turmoil, he begins to understand that Los Angeles is not the embodiment of flawlessness but, on the contrary, quite a shallow and superficial city that can conceal one’s true feelings and dreams. As a result, Harris realizes that his life is superficial as well without any true sense and meaning of entity. In other words, the American Dream seems to collapse here.

Considering the representation and the satire of the American Dream in this particular movie more deeply, it should be estimated that the director aims to show the true side of the Dream and the effect it has on community life. Hence, due to the fact that the American Dream is believed to allow Americans to disguise their family values subjective for high socioeconomic status and the lack of desire for social interaction. The scene of the movie directly illustrates all these aspects to reveal the true people’s attitude to them. According to the standards of the American Dream, and Californian in particular, Harris has everything one wants to reach in life. He has a great house, a pretty girlfriend, a good job, a relatively high social status, and a sufficient range of acquaintances. He tends to be a typical Californian citizen who blindly follows the principles of the American Dream ethics. Throughout his entire life, the man used to struggle for some objectives and work hard in order to be recognized by other members of society. However, while watching the film, it may seem that he does everything automatically rather than consciously. Every day he goes to work, spends time with Trudi, and meets other friends. Thus, one day, he realizes that the city of Los Angeles is not as perfect as he has thought before.

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Harris begins to understand that all his life is a mirage that he has been building for many years. He is tired of his work, Los Angeles pathetic and glamorous life, expensive and fashionable shops and restaurants. Moreover, his insincere relationships with Trudi are just for maintaining his social status. All these things that the American Dream considers essential and relevant are going to lose their meaning for Harris. At that time, it was common for many people to spend their life being trapped in what others considered the Dream. Besides, even those who did not consider the American Dream appealing to them followed its principles as it was prestigious and popular. Similarly, Harris spends his entire life achieving particular objectives that other people believed to be adequate and significant. All his values and beliefs seem to be inspired by the system of standards of the American Dream. Consequently, it is probable that one day such a structure may collapse. Hence, fortunately, owing to particular life events, Harris reconsidered his sense of living.

The automatic system of Harris’s existence begins to give a breakdown when he meets Sara, who becomes the object of his infatuation. Sara is a woman who is not trapped in the system of the American Dream utopia. Besides, she seems not to be obliged to particular social standards and, as a result, lives freely and carelessly. While looking at her, Harris understands that the meaning of happiness he has considered before tends to be misleading. His works, status, and opinion of others go back to the background. He realizes that he has not been truly happy before. Moreover, he stuck in the gray routine of his life. Thus, when such understanding comes to one’s mind, a wish to change something occurs immediately. However, the majority of people are afraid of transformations thinking that it may harm their well-adjusted way of life. As a result, they lose their opportunity for a better life and continue following rules that were established by the social standard system. Nevertheless, some individuals dare to challenge their fate, and Harris is supposed to be one of such rebellions who decide to resist the system and seek their own meaning of happiness.

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Analyzing the movie LA Story from the perspective of the American Dream pursuit, it can be summarized that its main theme is aimed to show the way how the dream followed by millions of people can instantly fall. Moreover, it represents people’s lifestyle, habits, social norms, and beliefs that are supposed to be formed depending on the American Dream standards. It was not socially acceptable to make some changes and live according to own will. Such an act could be met with rifles, and the public being brainwashed by the system themselves would censure anybody who tends to seek better alternatives in life. The status quo should be followed at all costs. Considering all these factors, it is not surprising that the system of the American Dream failed. Despite the fact that it is possible to make people follow principles, which guarantee them better conditions of living if such conventions start contradicting with personal rules and morals, the people experiencing these transformations can do anything to overthrow the system.

The Theme of the American Dream in the Book Tortilla Curtain

Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle is one more example of sources that consider the theme of the American Dream. Moreover, it raises issues related not only to the set system of values but also the way people perceive and respond to them. The book describes the lives of two men who live in completely different social conditions in California. As it was aforementioned, California is the location where the ideal of the American Dream was popularized the most. Hence, considering the fact that the main theme of Tortilla Curtain is the analysis and the satire of the American Dreams ethics, it is predictable that the author decides to place all events right into this city. One of the men, Delaney Mossbacher, is a middle-class white American who lives with his wife. Another man, C’ndido Rinc’n, is a Mexican unemployed immigrant living on the campus with his wife (Boyle 64). Consequently, the author wants to show how the ideal of the American Dream in California influenced both social worlds.

Regarding the American Dream in California particularly, two models can somehow differ from each other. The Californian dream was based on the fact that following the Gold Rush, one can become instantly wealthy. Furthermore, due to its economic prosperity, California offered its citizens high living standards and wages. However, it was impossible to simply obtain the property. People should work hard to gain something better in their lives. As a result, such aspects as profit and exploitation or boom and bust have always been considered together. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Californian state was believed to be a great place for those pursuing a better life, its ideals were questioned and perpetuated a false picture of what the state has become, in fact.

The novel raises one of the most poignant themes about the controversy of the American Dreams idea. It tells the story of the immigrant who came to California in the pursuit of a better life. He promises his wife to find a good job, a cozy apartment, and some possessions. Thus, the woman claims that she wants a lavish house where they would have a comfortable life. All the immigrants coming to America have similar dreams. These people simply want to have convenient living conditions, to receive a job that would bring them money for food, and be sure about the future of their children. However, usually, such dreams were facing the reality where nobody wanted to take care of people who have come from another country. Consequently, their Californian dream became a nightmare. Though it promised a high standard of life for its people, poverty remained common. Hence, the majority of migrants suffered from poor living conditions and a lack of job opportunities. As it can be seen from the book, C’ndido struggles for his position and right for an appropriate job and dwelling, but he simply does not have an opportunity to achieve his goals.

The Mossbacher already has things that all immigrants working on for many years. The author shows this family as an example of Californian dream fulfillment. They have a small but comfortable house. They live in a sunny climate and have good jobs. However, Kyra, Mossbachers wife, dreams of having a bigger and more spacious apartment. Delaney, on the contrary, wants to have a child, but Kyra destroys this dream due to her work obligations. Consequently, it is evident from the plot of the book that the family strives for following the American Dream. They have their family values and norms that overlap with the ethical standard of the American Dream but, at the same time, they are not happy. Each member of the family has their own vision of happiness. Moreover, these ideas contradict each other, making them impossible to reach.

Considering the dreams of both families, they are supposed to be quite different. The Rinc’ns are eager to obtain what the Mossbachers already have in their life. The former struggle for having a good house for living and a job to provide their children with food. Thus, being deprived of the opportunity for a steady job and due to racial persecution, these people have very little chance that their dream will come true. Consequently, they will need to return to Mexico to their hometown. Comparing to Rinc’ns dream, Mossbachers one seems more realistic. Kyra dreams of a bigger house and income to have higher social status. In such a manner, the author shows the comparison of both dreams ironically. It is evident that families with few means cannot afford to dream about things that are impossible for them to achieve. Furthermore, such desires may seem realistic only for families who are already established and remain to be reputable members of society. In addition, Mossbachers dream appears to be ridiculous in comparison to those of immigrants such as Rinc’ns. Nevertheless, each family has its own dream that urges them to set different objectives and achieve them.

Analyzing the superficiality of the American Dream more deeply, the book presents several examples of its disastrous effect on American society. First, according to the ethics of the Dream, all people living in America have a right to freedom and happiness. Furthermore, despite race, gender and nationality, everybody should be respected and given the opportunity to achieve their goals. Considering the book from this perspective, some controversies may occur. While the family of Mossbachers is in favorable conditions to multiply what they already have, the Rinc’ns face daily struggles to receive at least what Mossbachers possess. As a result, the opportunities of both families are appeared to be unequal. Moreover, the American Dream implies the fact that those who work hard, in the long run, will be rewarded and achieve their objectives. However, every day the Rinc’ns spend many hours making their living, though their chances of a better life are reduced due to the fact that they are immigrants. Consequently, being in despair, very often such families return to their native countries with unfulfilled dreams.

One more example from the book shows the negative influence of the American Dream on the whole society and individuals in particular. Taking care of their social status and dream achievement too much, people may forget usual moral values in relation to each other. For instance, when Delaney knocks C’ndido by his car, he thinks not about the victim of the accidents first but about his insurance. Besides, coming to the police to complain about the villain and the damage he has made, Delaney even does not pay attention to others pointing to the damage he made himself to another person. Moreover, he refuses to take responsibility for his actions and confess his guilt. From the current example, it can be summarized that in search of their own benefit and enhancement of social status, many Americans lose the basis of essential moral principles in relation to other people. As a result, the utopia of the American Dream begins to fail. It forces people to use all the opportunities to become happy; thus, when the meanings of these opportunities overlap, individuals can neglect each other.

Considering the aforementioned issue in the book, Delaney is the person who morally degrades under the influence of the American Dream pursuit. His attitude towards illegal immigrants changes dramatically over the course of the story. First, he is introduced to the audience as a liberal humanist. However, at the end of the book, Delaney becomes an enraged racist. The author shows a contrast between his initial attitude to immigrants and the one that was acquired later. From the very beginning, the reader clearly sees that the man is a moderate and open-minded liberalist. Furthermore, Boyle gives a definition for this type of person stating that a liberalist is one who supports the free market, gold standard, and freedom. As a result, a liberal individual should practice an appropriate attitude to civil and political liberties. However, when Delaney has a certain accident with an individual of another nationality, all his liberal principles seem to disappear. Obviously, in this situation, the principle of the American Dream cracks in its essence.

Having analyzed both works, it can be claimed that the American Dream is superficial and tends to be rather a myth than the essential ethical foundation of the country’s prosperity. Similarly to American, the Californian dream fails in its value and significance as well. At first, California had really high standards of living and good salaries. Its growth is usually associated with railroad booms, citrus, oil, and auto industries. However, those benefits disappeared damaging numerous lives of native people and immigrants. The standard of the dream has failed, and people need to work hard and struggle every day. California is no more a place of easy leisure. Moreover, current statistics consider that the Californian unemployment rate is higher than the average national one. Besides, considering the cost of living and the support from the government, the rate of poverty remains to be the highest (Mathews). As a result, it can be estimated that modern people have another dream, which is quite different from the one that was gently followed by millions of Americans a decade ago.


In conclusion, the American dream phenomenon was introduced to people as the country’s ethical foundation. It involved the rights and the liberty for achieving one’s happiness and sense of life. Moreover, the dream guaranteed favorable conditions and high standards of living for those who worked hard and tried to achieve their goals. Thus, more and more people undermined the basis and the importance of the American Dream. This aspect can be evidenced in such works as the movie LA Story and the book Tortilla Curtain. Both sources introduce the audience to the basis of the American Dream in California and reveal its influence on the whole nation, its superficial nature, and the final fall.


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