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In today’s society, the American dream is far more attainable than it was during which the short stories “Winter Dreams” and “The Story of an Hour” were written, by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kate Chopin respectively. The idea of the American dream is alive and well in both of these works, however it has not always been accessible to the majority of the population. For some it was impossible. Today this American dream is attainable by most, if not all American citizens.
In 1933, historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “The American Dream” as we all know it today. He described it as being “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (404). This dream was not about money or being materially wealthy, but having a better quality of life, and the opportunity for everyone to do so should be equal. This idea is represented well in Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” as Dexter took what cards he was dealt and turned his life into something he felt was just as, or even greater than the people he observed. Despite not being born into richness as many around him had been, he had a stable income and was an eligible bachelor. He had the opportunity to create a comfortable life for himself just as most others around him did. However, the new American dream was not attainable for all in America, as not everyone had the same opportunities as Dexter. During this time, in the late 1920s to 1930s, segregation was in full swing. Minorities did not have the same opportunities and freedoms as white people; therefore, they could not fully live the American dream as Dexter did.
Going backward in time, in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” the reader is taken on a rollercoaster of human emotion. A young woman is seen first mourning the death of her husband, and then slowly celebrating her newfound freedom. During this time, the Realism movement had almost run its course; Chopin and many other women were facing a new era. During this time in the late 1800s, women were beginning to question the government and argue for their right to vote and live with the same privileges as men. Segregation had also begun years prior in 1877. As Louise contemplates this news she has just received, Chopin explains: “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow- creature” (Chopin, 2). What we can infer from this is that she was tied down to a man she did not truly love, perhaps to play the role she was expected to in her society. Women like her, and minorities in America were not granted equal opportunity. White, able-bodied men were prioritized and the most likely to be able to achieve the American dream.
Today, the American dream as defined by James Truslow Adams is more attainable for all Americans than it was in the 1930s. As women gained the same rights as men in 1920, and segregation met its end in the 1960s, more opportunities became available to women and minorities. According to an article, “American civil rights legislation of the 1960s became the basis for affirmative action — programs that increased opportunities for many black students and workers as well as for women, disabled people, and other victims of discrimination”. Today, even if you are born in a low-income neighborhood, it is possible for you to pursue a degree from an Ivy League school, or even consider higher education in the first place. Despite the color of your skin or your background, you can achieve anything you put your mind and hard work into, unlike the millions of people who were legally unable to do these things from 1877 to 1964.
In conclusion, “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Story of An Hour” by Kate Chopin both contain elements of the American dream as defined by James Truslow Adams and some elements of how we see it today. However, this dream was not easily attainable, and was sometimes impossible for everyone in America to achieve. Today, this American dream has shifted, and laws have changed, so that women, men born into average circumstances, and minorities alike all have the same opportunities to live a successful life.
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