How Has the American Dream Changed over Time

Since the nineteen-twenties and thirties times have changed and the American dream has evolved dramatically along with it. The essence of the American dream is the idea that people are free to pursue whatever path they choose for their life. However the desire of the people has changed over time because of contextual changes and this has caused the change in the American dream. The poem ???Provide, Provide??? by Robert Frost depicts a world about the here and now. The people in these times lived by the idea of ???live fast die, young and leave a good looking corpse.??? The poem ???Apology??? by William Carlos Williams talks of a different side of the American dream, immigrants to America struggling to survive through inequality. The film American Beauty (1999), directed by Sam Mendes, shows a more recent world where the American dream is all about acquisition of commodities and obtaining a perfect house, job, family, everything.
The American dream of the nineteen-twenties was centered around the notion of ???live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.??? People were involved with excess use of alcohol, drugs and were spending big. There was a sense of unity between people, which was partly influenced by the idea that everyone had all just been to war together and now it was over they should all celebrate together. When 1929 came and the Great Depression hit this caused a halt to the spending. The attitude and the excessive consumption and spending of the nineteen-twenties went on hold, and as a result people asked themselves, ???why spend??™ By the nineteen-nineties the American dream had shifted back towards spending but in a different light. People became obsessed with commodities and acquisition of goods. Everyone had to be more successful than everyone else and this led to alienation between people and a materialistic view of life.
The poem ???Provide, Provide??? by Robert Frost represents this 1920s attitude towards the American dream. The idea to ???Die early and avoid the fate.??? This reveals an aspect of the American dream at that time which believed that dying young will avoid your inevitable downfall, so plan for a short life and live it while you can. The line ???Make the whole stock exchange your own!??? is presented in a mocking tone suggesting the idea that everyone has the freedom to achieve what they want, and by using this tone Frost is suggesting failure. The final stanza uses scathing sarcasm suggesting that it is
???Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side???
and proclaims that even friendship has become a commodity. He is questioning the American dream of the time, asking is it the only way to survive life by indulging in this greed and corruption
The poem ???Apology??? by William Carlos Williams gives a voice to people of the 1920s that were not able to live the life described in ???Provide, Provide???. The
???coloured women
day workers???
about which Williams writes are immigrants to America who came looking for their own American dream. However for the majority their American dream quickly perished and they struggled to maintain a life in America. By using
???faces like
old Florentine oak???
to describe them, Williams is suggesting they are still strong and resilient despite their old, worn out, weathered appearance. He also suggests that while the American dream says that anybody is free to achieve great heights, these ???coloured??? immigrants are disadvantaged by the inequality in American society at the time. This is seen in the final stanza where he writes
???leading citizens
but not
in the same way???.
The film American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, represents a modern successful family living the American dream of the nineteen-nineties, their life centered around the acquisition of commodities. The film however reveals the darker, more destructive side of the American dream as it explores this dysfunctional family. In one scene there is a long shot of the Burnham??™s spacious, sterile suburban house with a bright red door enclosed by a white picket fence, the epitome of the American dream and it??™s ideals of obtaining a perfect everything. When the family is driving to work, the ambiance is quite sedated, sterile and mechanic supported by Lester??™s monotone voice over ???I know I didn??™t always feel this??¦ sedated.??? Juxtaposed with this is the organic surroundings and freedom of the outside in the mis-en-scene. Later in the scene at Lester??™s workplace a mid shot of Lester reflected in his computer screen shows him with bars of light across his face. This creates a stylistic prison, a visual metaphor, illustrating the idea of Lester being trapped by his circumstances. The scene in which Lester and Carolyn are at opposite end of the table with Jane forced in between them is a representation of their dull life that has been caused by striving for the American dream. The single overhead dim light in the mis-en-scene creates a dull mood with the light barely reaching Lester and Carolyns??™ faces. Jane is squashed in the middle of them, much the way in which she is caught up in the middle of their hostility. The diegetic ???elevator music??? playing and the bland colours of the mis-en-scene create the boring, lifeless mood that is the Burnham??™s life.
The American dream has changed along with times since the nineteen-twenties and thirties. During the post-war era of the twenties and thirties the American dream revolved around having fun in the here and now, despite future consequences. ???Provide, Provide??? by Robert Frost tells of a world where dying young and happy is better than living out your days to an inevitable downfall. ???Apology??? by William Carlos Williams suggests that while the American dream says that people are free to pursue their choices in life, minorities and specifically immigrants are disadvantaged by the views of society of the time. As times evolved the American dream evolved alongside it. In the nineteen-nineties the nation saw a shift towards individual gain and materialism. Everyone had to own more than everyone else and appear more successful. American Beauty shows a family living the American dream. However as Lester tries to break free of the conformity of the American dream their life comes crashing down around them and Lester ends up at his demise.