The American Dream

Le rêve américain

  • false, rich, life
  • for the majority
  • freedom, meritocracy, self-reliance
  • Great Gatsby, fictional, oppressive
  • hardworking, idealistic, "rags-to-riches"
  • house, family, job
  • Invention, Freedom, Success
  • Liberty, happiness, family
  • Lie, Racism, Intersectionality
  • Lies, Hope
  • Manifest Destiny, Freedom
  • Meritocracy, Freedom, Opportunity
  • Privileged, esoteric
  • rags to riches, politics
  • riches, happiness, family
  • social mobility, opportunity, freedom
  • success, fulfillment, freedom
  • The Great Gatsby, wealth
  • white picket fence, college degree, education
  • white picket fence, success
  • work
  • work, money
  • Accomplissement, dollar, Green Card
  • Apple, Obama
  • Capitalisme, Mirage, vieux
  • Difficulté, réussite, migration
  • famille, argent, indépendance
  • frontière, prospère
  • immigration, prospérité,
  • Irréel, Instable
  • Obama, Silicon Valley
  • Poursuivre, Oscar Wilde, Déception
  • réussite, pouvoir, argent
  • rêve, blague, motivation
  • Rêve, Irréel, Rare
  • Start-up, libre
  • travail, argent, découverte
  • union, bonheur
  • utopie,crédits
  • Utopie, Individualisme, Etre Vicieux
  • voiture, road-trip


I noticed the lack of “family” in the French responses, even though I believe that family is very important to the French.
None of the Americans responded with “Obama” even though he’s the president, while many French students associated him with this topic.
None of the French responses had “social mobility” related words, even though the American Dream is originally about social mobility - being able to become who you what to be no matter where you started - which I thought was very interesting.
I think it’s interesting that many students from both sides responded that the American Dream is a lie and unrealistic.
I think that the French students believe that Americans don’t care about family as much as other things, which is why they didn’t associate “family” with the American Dream.
I think that Obama is the international face of the United States and many people think he’s a good example of social mobility (because he’s African American and he was from the middle class), which is why many French students associate Obama with the American Dream.
I think that family is very important to the French. Why was “family” not a word you associated with the American Dream?
None of the Americans associated “Obama” with the American Dream. Why do you associate Obama with this topic?

On the American side, there are some doubts about whether the American Dream is all it’s made up to be. The French side is much more optimistic and seems to associate the American Dream with capitalism, especially the new form of start-up culture that has been taking over the economy recently. The French connect the “American Dream” term to more specific examples of how they perceive it: successful people or tech companies that have “made it”.

To the French: Do you think the American Dream is a reason for people immigrating to the US? How strong of a reason is it?

I noticed that the French students mentioned “utopia” many times, a word which never occurred to the American students. The word “utopia” has, to me, the connotation of a naive fantasy, a perfect world that can’t actually be achieved. Maybe in France America is frequently criticized as trying to achieve an unrealistic goal of success for all? I would like to ask – do you believe that a “utopia” is something that we can achieve?

Le mot liberté revient souvent du côté Américain. Je ne comprend pas le lien entre la liberté et le rêve américain. Est-ce un rêve d’être libre? Est-ce en achevant le fameux “rêve américain” que l’on devient libre?
La liberté est un droit et n’a pour nous rien à voir avec un rêve, en théorie.
Est-ce parce que vous sentez que la liberté n’est pas accessible que vous la mettez en relation avec le rêve américain?

The American Dream is originally about upward social mobility for a person and their family (which then helps them achieve prosperity and success), but social mobility is only possible when the person is truly free. This was relevant back during times of slavery and blatant sexism (with the lack of women’s suffrage) when the American Dream could only be applied to white American men. I think this is why liberty is such an important term that comes to mind when people talk about the American Dream. Even today, the “American Dream” is much more difficult for people who are not white and not men to achieve, because of racism and sexism that is still prevalent in our society today.

I also think that the American Dream was more of a concept applied to people outside of America who were dreaming of how their lives could be bettered by immigrating here. So most of these foreigners did not feel free enough in their home countries; thus, they dreamt of the liberty that would be given to them if they started new lives here.

Remi: In America, the “American Dream” is usually thought of as a thing that is achieved in this country, rather than a thing that people aspire to have. While it is not always true, it is generally thought of as being something everyone in this country inherently has or could have if they were someone who worked hard. Hence, by saying something is part of the American dream, it is more a statement that this thing occurs in American society (or in an idealized view of American society that the speaker has) rather than a hope for the future. Liberty is an important value in an idealized America, and consequently when people talk about the American dream they like to believe that liberty exists in this country and hence it is a part of the dream.

Le rêve américain, beaucoup d’appelés et peu d’élus. Est-ce qu’il existe encore des gens qui veulent y croire ? C’est aussi une forme de refuge. On préfère croire au rêve américain qui tombe du ciel plutôt que d’assumer sa vie “normale” et ses echecs. Comme en France finalement, simplement on ne dit pas explicitement “rêve américain”.
Et que fait on de tous les gens qui se sont ruinés pendant la ruée vers l’or. Est-ce que le rêve américain date de cette époque ?

Alex: The American Dream is actually rooted in the Declaration of Independence (“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”). When immigrants first starting coming to America, the dream was to restart their lives and help themselves out of poverty on the new land. The gold rush is actually quite a while later (in the mid 1800s; America gained independence - kind of - in 1776). However, I’m sure the gold rush movement itself is rooted in the American Dream - people believed that moving west and exploring what they thought of as uncharted land and finding gold would help them succeed (I think this was called the California Dream, because the gold out west was in California).

Alex: In addition to hera013’s comment, I think the gold rush movement was just one example of the “American Dream.” It was the notion that you can move away from your past and find success and hope in the future. I think in that way the American Dream is still alive in that it is possible to choose your path and find a way to your own definition of success, whether it’s happiness, family, money, a career, etc. I think this broad, realistic definition would also be applicable in a country like France.

Alex: Keep in mind that America is a nation of immigrants. Besides the small population of Native Americans, we our our families all came to the US at one time or another. The “American Dream”, though not 100% attainable, is in my opinion still an important and valuable concept which describes how people from many different backgrounds were able to build new lives and profit from their merit to an extent not possible in the “Old Country”.

On a personal note, my great-grandparents came to the US from Russia and Poland, and were able to thrive here. Their friends and family who stayed in Europe were murdered in the Holocaust. I think for American Jews in particular the “American Dream” was particularly resonant because they were able to find refuge here from vicious anti-Semitism and build new, freer lives.

On a similar note, I think a side effect of the American Dream is the celebration of the “self-made man”. My Dad grew up in England, and he would always comment how back in the UK, there was a lot of tension between the self-made wealthy and the inherently wealthy people, and how the self-made people were not looked at in the same regard. In the United States, I think a big part of the American Dream is celebrating those people who do succeed the dream and admiring their accomplishments. So it isn’t only the ability to thrive here, it is also the reward and regard for thriving here.