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Introduction to American Dreams: Lost and Found by Studs Terkel

Prepared by Jane Pers

From: The American Dream vs. Reality: Illusion vs. Truth

Barbara F. Aronson

Taylor-Allderdice High School


Man has always been desirous of material success. Countless works of literature have revolved around this particular idea. And yet, desiring material success is not synonymous with attaining it; and attaining success is not synonymous with knowing how to live with it.

The popular term to describe this idea is The American Dream. The American Dream is quite prevalent in today’s culture. We have state lotteries that promise instant millions. We have quiz shows that guarantee untold riches. And to those who can offer in cyberspace a new slant on the micro-chip, life seems very golden, indeed.

In the inner-city high schools of our nation, our young people have role models who seemingly have attained this affluent life-style. And to those living in distant villages and cities around the globe, America has been depicted as the greatest land of opportunity.

Daniel J. Boorstein, the historian, writes in his book The Image or What Happened to the American Dream, the following: "A dream is a vision or an aspiration to which we can compare reality. An illusion, on the other hand, is an image we have mistaken for reality. We cannot reach for it, aspire to it, or be exhilarated by it; for we live in it … (239)".

Boorstein continues with this idea as he states:

The American dream was the most accurate way of describing the hopes of men in America. It was an exhilaration and an inspiration precisely because it symbolized the disparity between the possibilities of new America and the old hard facts of life …if America was also a land of dreams come true, that was so because generations suffered to discover that the dream was here to be reached for, and not to be lived in (240).

Boorstein’s last statement hits home: "The unprecedented American opportunities have always tempted us to confuse the visionary with the real"(240).


This College Now course entitled “American Dreams. . . American Voices. . .” will include a number of readings and writing assignments which reflect the dreams, failures and desires of people who have experienced the challenges of trying to achieve the American Dream.  As a student in this course, you will be asked to reflect on your views of the American Dream, as well as on various readings which are based on this theme.  Let your voice be heard.


Assignment #1 –

What is your definition of the American Dream?

What do you want your American Dream to include?

What is the greatest obstacle that might prevent you from achieving your dream?

What message is Langston Hughes conveying about people’s dreams in these lines from his poem?


                        Hold fast to dreams,
                                    For if dreams die,
                                    Life is a broken-winged bird
                                    That cannot fly


- Compare your attitude toward dreams to his.

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Site last updated on
February 18, 2004