Structure and the American Dream

In America there is a belief that everyone will have equal access and opportunities to accomplish what they desire. This belief is known as the American dream and is the reason that many individuals have moved to the United States; in the hopes that they will better themselves through hard work. It is thought that through this hard work and determination that an individual will be able to achieve upward class mobility. But the truth is that this dream is a lot harder to achieve than by working hard. Class and race barriers limit the access certain individuals have to specific opportunities. The structures that are in place affect a person’s ability to move upward. When people have a harder time achieving their dreams for their families, they try to work harder than everyone else to stand out so they have a better chance of moving their family upward.

In a risk society, people are preoccupied with their futures and how their actions today will affect them in the long run. According to Charles Darrah, James Freeman, and J.A. English-Lueck in Busier than Ever!, risk is something that is beyond our control. This risk is an important aspect in the structuring of our society. In my opinion, people in these societies start to care les about their fellow human and become selfish in their actions. It is not solely their faults that they’ve become selfish; when there is more risk for the betterment of our families, why would we care as long as our families make it, the other people are just competition anyway, right? People start to connect busyness with morality. The busier a person is the harder they are working to move their families up. It is morally right to want to do better for yourself. Families add more activities in their lives to live up to societal expectations of what they are expected to do for their families.



I have seen this struggle for mobility through my own family. My mother grew up in poverty and often times did not have enough food to eat. All her life she has worked so hard to better herself; she has taken many odd jobs, some required her to work for days straight. She did all of this to try and provide a better life for her children. Even though she worked so hard, she could never make enough to support my siblings and myself. My father came from an upper middle class family. Once my mother married him it didn’t really matter how much she made because my father could support our family. No matter how hard she worked she could never reach the income that my father makes. She struggled to better herself all her life. Even though she worked as hard as she could, she would have never gotten out of poverty without my father. It is a hard truth to swallow, but the barriers that had limited my mother, because she was born to a family of the lower class, were not things that my father had to overcome.

The other members of my mother’s family are still struggling to get by. They take very laborious jobs because that is what is available to them. Despite working very hard they have never been able to move up from where they are. When my grandfather tried to move to his dream house, where he did all of the work on it himself, he lost all of his money and then later lost the house. He is stuck in the same run-down house that he has rented for the past 30 years.

I have seen both extremes of class. Most people are exposed to either one or the other. I believe this limits their understanding in seeing how societal structures limit a person’s ability to better themselves. They think that their dream will take them where they want to be. This makes them question those that are still in poverty; they cite certain cases of people that came from poverty that are now in the upper classes. Yes, I am not ignoring the fact that these people “made it” but it is very rare. They have certain skills and specific opportunities in their lives that allow for mobility. This is not the case with most individuals.

In Busier than Ever!, there is a family that worked hard to achieve the American dream but failed. The Tran family had the dream of owning their own business. In their house, above their kitchen table, they had a poster of a mansion on a hill with expensive cars in front of it. This was the dream they had for their future; they believed that this was possible through education and hard work. To acquire this dream they decided to put all of their life savings into a food truck. They devoted a lot of time and hard work in this business because it was supposed to better their family. Their food truck did not make enough to support their family and they started to struggle financially. In the end they had to give up on their dreams because it was not providing them with the life that they wanted. This is what most Americans that are in the lower classes have to deal with. This dream seems easily attainable as long as they work hard. They are constantly told that they just need to work harder. But how much harder will they have to work? The Trans thought that their hard work would pay off. But in the end it did not better their family and caused more problems for them. Mobility upward was a plausible dream before but turned into a dream to return to financial stability.

Mobility is an important part of the American dream. People want to believe that there is a better future for themselves than being stuck where they are. They try to work harder to be better than everyone else because there is an unconscious awareness that upward mobility is declining in America. The limitedness of opportunities for lower class and working class Americans is declining their ability to move up. I believe that the more aware people become of their situations, the less willing they will be to play into these structures. The American dream is an unattainable goal that we set for ourselves; structural barriers restrict our ability to achieve this dream by limiting our access to opportunities that may lead to upward mobility. It is nothing but a false hope given to the lower classes to retain their compliance to these structures.

by Catelynn Danell

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