Reality, Poverty and the American Dream: An Analysis of Two Course Readings Essay

The American Dream and its realization has been a concept that has captured the imagination of countless immigrants and citizens of the United States for many generations. In many ways, the myth of the American Dream is in and of itself a self0perpetuating system. Due to the fact that there will always remain the separation between the rich, the middle class, the poor, and the ultra rich, it is not hard to envision the means by which those unhappy with their current station look to the more fortunate exhibitions of happiness and wealth within the United States and seek to emulate their role model as a means of acquiring the same level of success. For many, this works after many long decades of hard work and persistence. For others, it fundamentally fails as they find themselves mired in a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty, exhaustion, poor health, and misery. Rather than taking a definitive stance on the issue of the American dream and stating that it is categorically dead or completely alive within the system, this research piece will review two of the readings that have been thus far required in class. These will include: “Serving in Florida” by Barbara Ehrenreich, and “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara. Both of these stories integrate with what is the reality of the American Dream for many low-income and/or underprivileged families around the United States. Rather than seeking to state that these two particular stories are indicative of the experience that each and every lower income family within the United States may experience, the author intends on using these examples to illustrate the point that many of the problems that exist within the economic realities of the society of the United States exist seemingly outside the bounds of mainstream understanding.

The first of these readings which will be engaged with is that of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Serving in Florida”. This piece is especially useful to understand due to the fact that it racks the actions, mental exhaustion, physical fatigue, frustration, hopelessness, and misery that necessarily follows many that seek to carve a life for themselves with few opportunities or little education. Although it is simple to merely utter that the American Dream is available to each and every citizen that seeks to expend the hard work necessary to realize it, Barbara Ehrenreich proves that the reality of the situation can oftentimes be far different than the ingrained cultural norm. As such, Ehrenreich first notes that the work is demanding, degrading, physically exhausting, and completely incapable of covering all of the bills that she incurs as a function of her long commute. Regardless of the fact that she rents practically the cheapest efficiency apartment money can find, she struggles to put food on the table and pay the high cost of commuting 30 miles each day.
As a function of this very real and present reality, the author determines that she must necessarily take a second job in order to meet the extant needs that her financial situation engenders. This choice requires even more commitment, hard work, longer hours, and fewer and fewer hours of sleep and leisure (Ehrenreich 17). Ultimately, such a choice is not surprisingly exhibited on the health and outlook that Barbara experiences. This particular level of analysis is interesting and unique in the fact that it relates the true reality of what such a level of decision making and choice effects on the reality of life that Barbara must face. It is further enlightening that it is not long after she engages with working two jobs that she begins to become increasingly mentally, spiritually, and physically exhausted; rapidly thereafter exhibiting symptoms of exhaustion. Though the piece is enlightening, it does not however pay a particularly close level of attention with regards to the lack of education that Barbara was utilizing in order to seek out employment. It is of course unreasonable to assume that each and every individual can be able to attend and afford higher educational facilities; however, the author of the piece would have done well to at least include a cursory overview of the means by which educational attainment ultimately harmed her chances of being able to pursue a higher paying job. This of course opens up a whole new subject area of the availability of education to the lower levels of the socio-economic strata, as well as calling into question the level of social mobility that our society engenders without the requisite stamps or pieces of paper that exemplify higher education, training, or specializations in various fields.

Similarly, the second piece which has been considered for this analysis is that of Toni Cade Bambara’s short story, “The Lesson”. This particular short story integrates with the economic realities that face entire swathes of the American population. Rather than taking a distinctly personal view, although the author does integrate the personal side of the story at almost every occasion, the author instead seeks to bring out the realities that harmful economic circumstances effect on the larger community. As a function of integrating the reader with such a level of understanding, the author introduces a lower class neighborhood populated predominately by poorer African Americans. Into this story, a teacher Miss Moore is introduced. Miss Moore represents the good natured and giving side of the relatively better off segment of society. As such, she continually works to integrate a sense of inquiry and desire to learn among the shareholders she integrates with. However, what is further interesting about the dynamic that Miss Moore plays within the story is the fact that neither of the two cousins are particularly fond of Miss Moore. Rather, they see her as so different and foreign to their way of life as to have little if any relevance. This understanding is interesting due to the fact that Miss Moore within the story can be understood to represent many of the qualities of the upper class; dutifully committed to providing the “tools” of societal advancement to the lower classes while at the same time so detached and infinitely far removed from the realities that defined the lives of these lower classes of the economic strata as to be patently worthless in seeking to better their lives.

The crux of the story takes place when Miss Moore takes the cousins to Fifth Avenue and they realize that the economic reality that many within society are faced with on a daily basis is so desperately different from the one that they face that they cannot come to grips with the fact that they truly live in a democracy (Bambara 3). This realization leads the reader to examine the way that many of the less fortunate members of society struggle to get by whereas others are busy planning the next vacation, purchase, or other luxury that few can afford or appreciate during their lifetimes. Although it was heavily implied, the author did not take the opportunity within the piece to heavily discuss the issue of race. It is the belief of this student that such an oversight has served to somewhat weaken the story’s overall appeal. Due to the fact that it is practically impossible understand and appreciate the role that race plays within poverty without discussing the history of the United States and how discrimination has served to create the situation that exists, seeking to relate a story of two underprivileged black youths without discussing such an externality leaves the story somewhat incomplete.

Ultimately, both of these pieces help to approach the great disparity that exists within the American society from different perspectives. The largest realization that this student was able to draw from a careful analysis of both of these pieces was the feeling of entrapment that must be a very real and present threat to all of those that find themselves in similar situations. Whereas, depending upon your economic roots and familial history, it might be easy to just form an opinion in one’s mind relating to the need of the characters to simply make a statement of purpose and seek to better themselves accordingly, this is oftentimes neither a part of the equation, of their education, or of the economic realities that ultimately govern these situations. Seeking to better one’s life without resources or the access to these resources is something of an impossible task. In this way, the reader can rapidly begin to appreciate why so many that languish within the underprivileged communities find it so desperately difficult to escape from the realities and clutches that bind them. Moreover, from the examination that has been performed within this brief essay, the reader can and should understand that although it is still possible for an individual to better their lives within the current economic system, the means by which such an opportunity exists for each and every person is greatly exaggerated. Depending upon the race, age, class, and educational level of the individual, opportunities can fall by the wayside or serve to rapidly vault the individual to the upper echelons of the next social class.

Works Cited

Bambara, Toni C. “Bambara’s “The Lesson”.” Redirect to Teaching Writing with Computers. N.p., 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. .

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and dimed : on (not) getting by in America. Waterville, ME: Wheeler Pub, 2003. Print.

Gorski, Paul C. “Perceiving The Problem Of Poverty And Schooling: Deconstructing The Class Stereotypes That Mis-Shape Education Practice And Policy.” Equity & Excellence In Education 45.2 (2012): 302-319. ERIC. Web. 7 Mar. 2013.