Many people of today don’t really know what they strive for, or what their purpose in life is. This is a question and concern that many Americans have, as they find themselves going through the days, feeling unfulfilled and useless when looking at the big picture. Thus, there is the American Dream, something that gives these wandering people a chance for hope of a better and more satisfying life. The American Dream is defined as the ideal that all people have the same opportunities to achieve success only through taking the initiative and exerting the hard work that is required.
Although this may seem like a foundational concept, over the course and history of our nation, the philosophies of the Puritans searching for religious freedom, Revolutionaries fighting for unity, and Transcendentalists’ belief in the nonconformist lifestyle have all evolved with regards to the American Dream. The Puritans’ fervent search for religious freedom during Colonial America contributed to shaping the American Dream they held in value at that time. Puritans were a group of reformed English Protestants who fled Britain and the Church of England in escape from religious persecution for their extremely radical beliefs and lifestyles. They were one of the very first people to emigrate to America, where they found new opportunities, specifically in a religious sense. In Satisfaction in God, by Cotton Mather, a socially influential New England minister, he speaks of how all “of our enjoyments lead us unto God” and how He has a satisfaction in doing things to people on Earth. The Bible and faith in God were the Puritans’ sole authority. In this sermon, Mather preaches that they shall have continual satisfaction in God for all that he does for them. Later going on to explain that all enjoyments have some aspect of God in them, Mather reflects the ideals of Puritanism in regards to the American Dream because during the colonial era, Puritans exercised their right to freedom and individual prosperity through land and riches.
Thus, the Puritans allowed the foundation of the American Dream to form. One of the major philosophies of the Puritans was the belief that God is almighty and plays a hand in everything that happens on Earth. In Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards, a revivalist preacher, argues that God has a role in every sinner’s route to hell, and that the only way to change their path in the afterlife is to have faith in God and he will “wash them from their sins in his own blood.” This depicts God in a heavenly and forgiving light, encouraging Puritans to live a model lifestyle with God as their guide.
Therefore, Puritan beliefs showcase the American Dream by allowing people to take pride in their path to freedom and individual liberties. While the Puritans were able to set the stage for more diverse interpretations of the American Dream, the Revolutionaries of Colonial America had a continual goal of unity that ultimately helped it evolve. In the passage from Thomas Paine’s, The Rights of Man, he argues that America houses a wide range of cultures and politics. While this is true of modern America, Paine also claims that our government, created “on the principles of society and rights of man,” is able the live in harmony despite the differences mentioned above.
However, in my opinion, this part of his visionary description does not hold true of today’s society. The feuding and disharmonious coexistence of all of the cultures and different peoples we house in our country can be seen through both our history and in today’s time. Paine argues that it would appear that “the union of such a people was impracticable,” which in my opinion, is true. While in today’s time most people can hold stable and harmonious relationships with their neighbors, there are events throughout our history that prove otherwise. For example, while looking at the #blacklivesmatter movement, we can see that black people feel outcasted and feel that they have been receiving unfair treatment as a whole separate people. This proves how when Paine says that “all parts are brought into cordial unison” this is not shown through events of modern American society. Along with the social aspect of his argument, he includes an assertion that “the poor are not oppressed” and that the “rich are not privileged” regarding our economy of today.
This is obviously untrue as we can probably all already tell. After the recession or slowed down economic activity back in 2008, the gap between the upper and lower classes had widened significantly. Statistics actually reported that smart poor kids are less likely to graduate from college than dumb rich kids merely because of the economic advantages that are more available to them. This therefore shows how Paine’s characterization of America is not entirely true to todays standards. Another flaw in Paine’s argument is when he admits that our government “is just” and instigates no reason for “riots or tumults.” I would have to disagree because as of this year, the Congressional approval rating is at one of its lowest points. In addition, there are riots in the news all over the world. Recently, in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was an incident that took a simple protest to the point of breaking into violence over the issue of whether to tear down or keep some confederate statues standing.
The government did a very bad job at addressing this issue, which directly disproves Paine’s argument regarding the “just” government. As you can see through the reasons I have pointed out, I would say that to very little extent does Paine’s argument in, The Rights of Man, actually characterize modern American society to its true status. The Join, or Die political cartoon drawn by Benjamin Franklin was used during the French and Indian War to showcase the importance of unity within the colonies with Britain in oder to win the war and protect their country. This political cartoon gathered support amongst the colonies in a fight for a better life and better opportunities for Great Britain and America. Thus, these acts of protest and calls for change are what enabled the creation of the basic ideals of the American Dream by the desire to create success only through hard work. These ideals can be translated into contemporary America because people today aim for and institute successful lives by making a living off of what can get them that privatized lifestyle behind the so-called “white picket fence.” However, in Martin’s TedTalk, she made a valid argument that the new American Dream is evolving away from what it was back in Franklin’s time.
Now, she argues that the American Dream is one of unity and coexisting with our neighbors despite the differences in age or race, for example. Transcendentalists: I thought the idea or belief of nonconformity was a major theme throughout the Self-Reliance reading. Emerson continually engrained the argument that people need to avoid conformity at all costs, and goes even further to claim that being a man means following your own conscience and what you believe in. I especially liked the quote where he explained that it is easy to live in the world’s opinion, yet the great man lives in the solitude of independence. I found this eye catching because it perfectly depicts transcendentalist thought by demonstrating that the most important thing is to maintain independence and individuality in the midst of the crowd. He acknowledges that it is often easier to follow along with what everyone else is doing, but that living in the solitude of your own independence is better than jumping on the bandwagon of what you think society expects you to do. In Nature, by Emerson, he talks mainly about the importance of nature.
Specifically, he talks about how nature allows people, despite their age, to feel young and free like children. I think the Self-Reliance reading had a bigger impact on me because it talked a lot about conformity and how it is bad. I think this is something we all struggle with as teenagers, where we are surrounded by high school stereotypes and are expected to live up to those. However, like Emerson had preached, nonconformity is the solution because living in solitude with your individuality is more important than “fitting in” and jumping on the bandwagon of what everyone else is doing.
The two reading show highlight how transcendentalism holds the beliefs of free thought, nonconformity, self-reliance, confidence, and the importance of nature in high value. Emerson demonstrates how these five characteristics of transcendentalism allow people to find the purpose of their existence in a new spiritual way of life. The transcendentalists despised organized institutions whereas the Revolutionaries promoted them and often used them, such as the church. Revolutionaries wanted an organized democratic government, however transcendentalists wanted the opposite. They were against these organized institutions because they prioritized the group over the individual, which goes agains the foundation of what transcendentalists believe in.”It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience” (Civil Disobedience, 4).
This quote demonstrates Thoreau’s view on the transcendentalist idea of nonconformity. At this point of the passage, he is talking about how corrupt the government is and that the smaller governmental involvement, the better off we will be as a nation. He is asserting that corporations like the government just follow the majority opinion, and don’t always do what is right, therefore they have no “conscience”. However, Thoreau is saying that if people stick to their beliefs and don’t follow along with what they know is wrong, they are conscientious, and thus the corporation will also be conscientious. “The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies..
. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and… wooden men can perhaps be manufactured” (Civil Disobedience, 5).This section is from Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and embodies the free thought idea of transcendentalism.
He is basically saying that corporations like the government abuse people and belittle them down to machines and robots that follow orders rather than the human beings that they certainly are, with consciences to do the right thing. Thus, Thoreau is explaining that these people are allowing themselves to be controlled by not exercising their right to do what they believe is moral, ultimately expressing their free thought as individuals. “Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency.
Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it… A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority” (Civil Disobedience, 12).Thoreau goes on further to address how the government has even corrupted the voting system. Even if people express their obligation to do the right thing by voting for who is right, it won’t matter because it will never turn out to be anything other than what is convenient for the majority, despite the immorality that is involved here. Thus, he explains that wise men don’t let that happen; instead wise men take action to stop this kind of injustice.
He goes on to complain about the lack of intellect and self-reliance of people. “Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is,” (Where I lived, and What I Lived For, 22). This quote represents the importance of nature because in it, Thoreau is saying that people need to stop worrying about the affairs and problems that come with civilization because nature is where you can find the simple life you have always dreamed of. By using the metaphor of prejudice and delusion being made out of mud, he is illustrating how difficult it is to get past them. However, he later on in his passage explains that in nature, you can find the purpose of your very existence, thus further demonstrating nature’s importance.
I think Emerson and Thoreau’s readings are very similar. Both in Nature, by Emerson, and Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, by Thoreau, we are able to see the clear significance that nature has on existence itself. Both readings display the idea that in nature, you are able to feel free, young, and just live an all around simple life, away from the worries and struggles of civilization. Similarly, Emerson’s Self-Reliance and Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience both describe the transcendentalist idea of nonconformity. In Self-Reliance, Emerson explains that people shouldn’t be afraid to follow what they believe because living in the solitude of individuality is better than the easy life of conformity. Much the same, in Civil Disobedience, Thoreau, with his comparison of people to wood, demonstrates how humans allow themselves to carved and manipulated into doing what the majority wants, however, he criticizes these people and tells them that they have an obligation to do what is right. Thus, I think each book from both authors directly correlate because they portray similar ideas and messages. PROMPT: In the past few weeks you have surveyed the philosophies of the Puritans, Revolutionaries and Transcendentalists.
In a well-developed essay, trace the ideas of the philosophies, including but not limited to, their ideas of work, education, man, God. Look at their values, their society and their authority based on the readings. In your essay, use textual evidence to support your claims on what each philosophy believes and it has changed over time. Do not summarize, but instead, focus on tracing the path of the American Dream. As a conclusion, make a connection to any relevance you may see in the ideas of the 21st century.