American Dream W1

1. Please read and annotate American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance.  You will find it easily online by using Google.  It’s a slow read but rewarding and incredibly beautiful in parts.


“Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

2. Carefully read David Kamp’s “Rethinking the American Dream.  You can access this piece at Vanity Fair Magazine from the April, 2009 issue. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

I have also saved it as a word document minus the pictures and advertisements and added page numbers for easy reference.

Rethinking the American Dream, David Kamp, Vanity Fair, April, 2009-1.docxPreview the documentView in a new window

Are you surprised that the term, the American Dream, was created during the Great Depression in the early 1930s by James Truslow Adams?  How did he define the American Dream? How has it changed over time?  What is David Kamp’s ultimate point about the great American Dream?

3. Post regarding these writings — you will be posting once in a major way  and responding to at least two of your peers in detail.

Discuss any aspect of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “SELF-RELIANCE,” that captured your interest and connect his work to the ideas about the American Dream that David Kamp proposes in “Rethinking the American Dream. For example: What does it take to be a man or woman in Emerson’s thinking?  Why is living for others not a good idea?  How would Emerson view our material world?

Select quotes that you would like to discuss regarding Emerson’s ideas.  He is our “oldest” author read in this course, and he comes from an earlier, perhaps less complex time in American life.  His ideas, however, have earned him the name “American Philosopher.”  Select quotes you would like to discuss — either because you agree with them or because you do not.  Post these ideas and comment.  Ask your peers to comment as well.

David Kamp traces the history of the term “the American Dream” for us.  He tells us that the term originated during the Great Depression of the 1930s and shows us how it has morphed over time.  He also backs up and looks at the founding fathers’ version of the American ideal.

So, how does the original idea of the American dream as James Truslow Adams defined it intersect with Emerson’s thinking in Self-Reliance, written in the mid 1800s?

What is David Kamp’s ultimate purpose in writing this essay on the American Dream?  What is his main point and his concluding idea?  What would Emerson say about Kamp’s ideas?  What do you say about his “history” of the dream? How do Kamp’s observations intersect with your own?

We are interested in whatever catches your interest in these two works.  Please add a topic or two of your own choosing so this discussion board reveals your voice and your ideas.

4. Upload your first week writing on your place in the American Dream

write a two-page narrative on the American Dream and your place within it.

Using your best writing skills and referring often to this week’s readings by Emerson and Kamp and also to popular culture and media, tell the story of your dream.  What is it?  How does it differ from the dreams of your grandparents or from those of your peers?  How does your concept act as a catalyst to drive your life?  Or is the American Dream no longer a viable aspect of American life and philosophy?

You can write anything, of course, but you must explain yourself.  What do you base your feelings upon?  What actions, realities, and happenings have caused you to feel the way you do?

Student 1 :Viviana Vega

What I found to be interesting from our weeks reading is that one’s own perception of the American dream differs person to person. Emerson has a broad understand of what he believed the American Dream to be. He frequently mentions that “man” should do this and “man” should do that. His idea, in my opinion, were based more on morals which would eventually aide in establishing or seeking the American Dream. Kemp, I found to use points of interest and society involvement as a way to dictate the American Dream. Kemp refers to the highlights and low points to prove how an American dream can be attained.

Emerson I feel had a genuine, more humble approach as to what is expected to attain the ultimate dream. Emerson writes, ” Greatness is a property from which no man can receive credit too soon; it must be possessed long before it is acknowledged.” This quote makes me think of ones own dreams and inspirations should be the driving force.

Kemp writes,” Nothing reinforced the seductive pull of the new, suburbanized American Dream more than the burgeoning medium of television..” This section of a paragraph I feel sums up what I was trying to explain as the difference of mindsets between these two writers. Nonetheless, Kemp’s idea is very valid. We are living in a society where in order to achieve more or advance more in life, we must be aware of our surroundings and have an idea of what will work in our lives.

Emerson may think that Kemps’s emphasis on society is taking away from the dream that brought upon the American Dream. Emerson would be correct in saying this, except he would not be able to relate with today’s society and one’s way of life in this century. The idea of wanting more and better is relatively the same, except the mindset has changed.


Student 2 :Leonard Posa


After reading Ralph Emerson’s “Self-reliance”,  I was really impressed by his work. Some of his quotes really got caught in my mind and made me think a little bit about myself and the world around me. Definitely one of the most interesting things he said was “Thrust thyself”, short and simple. I totally agree with this. I think what he is trying to say is that we must not allow anyone else to say what we are supposed to think, feel or do. Our choices are supposed to come from ourselves and no one can tell us what is the right thing to do – except for us. We need to trust ourselves to make the right decisions and we need to believe in ourselves. I think that is the key to success.  Otherwise, if we don’t thrust ourselves, Emerson says that “we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.” I think that what he is trying to say is that if we take someone else’s opinion over ours, we are underrating ourselves and we don’t value ourselves enough. What do you guys think about this quote? Do you think it’s better to always trust ourselves or sometimes we need to take someone else’s opinion over ours?


But, on the other hand I have a feeling that David Kamp proposes the completely opposite thing in “Rethinking the American Dream” .  He says that Americans are living the reverse of what the American Dream should be. He compares the American Dream in the 1940’s and today. Today is much harder to achieve something in life, mostly because of how bad the economy became. Today, you need to work much harder in order to gain a little bit of success, and what Kamp says, is that we need to lower our expectations and not shoot too high in the sky. He gives a great example. Someone’s dream is to become a singer. They go to American Idol, and they find out the terrible truth that they don’t have what it takes to be a singer. I think that this completely shoots down Emerson’s quote to always thrust thyself. I think about it this way, that same singer that goes to American Idol and gets his dreams crushed by someone else saying: “You don’t got it, you are terrible, you are not talented”. We can easily say that this singer has thrusted himself and he thought he was a good singer, but at the end he failed, because someone else told him that he is not good. This made me realize that we can’t always thrust ourselves, not in all situations at least. But I still think that we should at least try, and if we fail, we just need to continue our road.


What were your favorite quotes in these two writings? What were the things that gained your interest and made you think a little bit? I would love to hear your opinions!

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