Thursday, February 11, 2010

American Dream: How its Changed

Down With the Empire!

My first impressions of The Rise of Silas Lapham, were confusion. After reading books such as Blithedale Romance and Joaquin Murieta, where the focus was on the language and describing every little detail about everything surrounding the character, I was shocked to read The Rise of Silas Lapham. The focus is completely off the language and more on the characters and their experiences. I really benefited from the class discussion today when the point of differences between Brittan and the United States were brought up. We talked about how Realism, as opposed to Romanticism, is anti-aristocracy and pro-American Dream. I began to understand how the ideas of Eighteen Eighty-five, when the book was published, still reflected the hope of being separate from Brittan. The United States had only been in existence for a little over one hundred years, and was still feeling the influences of the once “oppressive” force.
Over the hundred years The United States had grown apart politically, there were attempts at separate economics; however socially society was still following the aristocracy system of worth. If you had old money you kept it in the family and married into other families of old money. Realists seemed to be breaking the mold, placing more value on what you did and not where you came from. This idea is what we as Americans refer to as “The American Dream” that anyone can make something of themselves if they try and work hard enough. It is interesting how in our society today there is still the importance of status regarding money, but it is still dependent on how you obtained the money. You are valued more as a citizen if you started off with nothing and built yourself up to being really successful. Realism was the gate through which this change took place. It will be interesting to finish this novel with the lens of today’s society and how things have shifted.


  1. It's an interesting idea that people are now valued more in society for making a fortune than maintaining a fortune. We, as common folk, find them inspiring and usually worthy of respect and deferrence. But I wonder how they really fit into the elite aristrocratic society of the eastern United States. Can you see Billy Gates rolling into the Kennedy compound and being welcomed without a few snickers?

  2. That's a good point, Lynette. Part of the outrage that greeted Howells's comment about James is that he was declaring a kind of literary revolution in not looking to England for literary values.

  3. Thanks for pointing that out! I had not thought of it before but it is amazing how we have shifted from a society that emphasizes "old money" as superior to people that inherited their money or caught a big break to now, a country that basically frowns upon the people that have it easy with their family wealth and puts the individuals that worked hard and made something of themselves up as role models. It really defines the american dream: that anyone can make something of themselves if they try hard enough.
    -allie reilly