Date of Thesis

5-8-2014

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts

First Advisor

John Hunter

Abstract

In my thesis, I use historical and literary analysis to study how the concept of the American Dream was popularized during the Great Depression and how cultural understanding of the term has changed following the 2008 Recession. By comparing popular media, literature, and political documents within a historical framework from the 1930s and after 2008 through the present day, I analyze how the term ¿American Dream¿ has persisted as an element of the United States¿ national ethos. I explore why the language of the American Dream does not appear to carry the same resonance in American society as in the 1930s, even though the post-2008 economic environment is somewhat comparable to conditions created by the Great Depression and associated reform measures. This comparative historical approach in scholarly studies of the American Dream is unique because the two periods have not previously been discussed in relation to one another in order to show transformations in cultural understanding of the Dream. The American Dream, both embodying a dual identity as an aspiration to aspire to and also as a delusional fantasy which can lead to cynicism, is a highly complex idea in lived experience. The concept¿s ambiguous nature allows for individuals to interpret it differently, allowing for the term to remain resilient throughout different periods in United States history. While the meaning of the term has been subject to change, it is grounded upon an idealistic concept of American individualism and hope that through one¿s merit, one will be able to achieve one¿s vision of success. Through interdisciplinary analysis, I show that the American Dream will alter to suit the needs of contemporary society and the term¿s power will continue to endure in society despite evidence of rising cynicism since 2008.

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