Tag: Dorothea Lange

It was all a Dream…by Annie B Persico

What is the American Dream? White picket fences? Success? Financial stability? OrNotorious-BIG-with-his-daughterthQMQPT97B can we bring it all down to a more basic understanding? The need to survive is what drives humanity, survival of the fittest is what determines evolution.  Whether it be emotionally, physically, spiritually, nationally or independently: America from its conception has been trying to survive. This achievement of survival is what constitutes the American Dream.

In the immortal words of Biggie Smalls- we are presented with the idea of the American Dream as an achievement of survival: 

 Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me

 I’d never amount to nothin’, to all the people that lived above the

 buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of that called the police on

 me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughter…


That album was a culmination of his struggle to survive. And in those lyrics, we see the Migrant Mother. We see Carter Revard. They survived.

The “problem” with poverty in the U.S. is that we see those who suffer from it as incapable of achieving the American Dream. But those in poverty are the people that are illustrating the American Dream of Survival the best- the Migrant Mother and Biggie were just trying to feed their kids—and eventually they did. Carter Revard was just trying to overcome the sadness and depression of the Dust Bowl, and he won by writing poems about privies.  The relation is astounding; in fact it is influences of people who survive that poverty that developed my understanding of the American Dream.  Poverty is suffering, we see it illustrated in the words of Biggie and Revard, in the image of The Migrant Mother, but understanding their ability to overcome it is what really constitutes THE American Dream to me.

Uh, damn right I like the life I live

‘Cause I went from negative to positive


He might as well have said “Cause I achieved the American Dream, do you know what I Mean?…” (but I’m not sure that would have sold as many records…)

Dreaming of Success in America by Sarah Klein

While the “American Dream” remains a stereotyped ideal of success in the back KingRAKBradleyetalof all Americans’ minds, in reality it takes on a varied definition for each individual. I always imagine the American Dream consisting of immigrants, rags-to-riches and achieving success through hard work. In reality though, that is not how the American Dream has manifested itself in my family.

On my mom’s side, I am the first-born American, as her family is from Canada. My grandfather grew up on a farm and a single mother raised my grandmother. They live comfortably now and came from backgrounds where they had to work hard for what they earned.

My dad’s side is where it gets slightly more interesting. I am 3rd generation American. My great grandfather immigrated to America from Poland in the early 1900s. He came with a suitcase and little to no English speaking skills. By the time my grandmother was born in 1928, he owned a candy factory and was to become the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He went on to own the radio station WDAS where my grandfather worked as general manager. The station worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the advancement of civil rights.

My grandmother eventually owned a jewelry magazine; my aunt and uncle own a contracting company; my parents own a small community newspaper. With such great achievements in my personal history, it is ingrained in me that the American Dream is to be independent in business and life. Success is found through owning one’s own business and striving to do good for the community.

My version of the American Dream differs greatly from that of the Migrant Mother’s. As Florence Thompson was struggling during the Great Depression, the main goal was to keep her family fed and alive. When her children achieved enough success to buy her a house, she refused because she, “need[s] to have wheels” under her.

Thompson’s American Dream differs from the norm and mine as she actually refused to own a house. Ownership is a huge part of what makes up America and being American. From the beginning, explores came to America to obtain land and power. When pioneers ventured out West, they hoped to own land and obtain new wealth. In the 1950’s when suburbs were exploding, people dreamed of owning homes, cars and innovative appliances to make their lives better. The American Dream of ownership can take any shape or form, but remains constant throughout history.

Thompson’s refusal of the typical American Dream represents an entire segment of Americans who cannot find success through traditional means. Thompson worked hard her entire life and barely had anything to show for it at the end, besides of course the survival of her family. The problem that many impoverished Americans face is the endless cycle of never receiving the chance to break free from poverty, a problem that the archetypical American Dream simply cannot solve.

(Photograph from family records. My grandfather Bob Klein is second from the right, to the right of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. along with other important members of the community. Early 1960s.)

The Great Depression, Poverty, and the American Way by Nicole Thomas

If I had to define the American Dream, I would define it as being able to have tamerican_wayhe opportunity to be successful (however you might find fitting), having the opportunity to be free to express yourself, and being able to live independently. These things require some financial stability. The migrant mother photo contradicts my own idea of the American Dream, and I’m sure it also does so to the rest of the world. The Encyclopedia of American Studies entry on “America Perceived” states that “The perception of America as a land of economic opportunity was broken only during the years of the Great Depression.” The migrant mother photograph does a really good job in representing that sudden change in view of America with the coming of the Great Depression.

The Depression was full of inequality between the rich and the poor, and whites and blacks. African Americans were hit very hard by the Depression, and because of discrimination, they often had to give up their jobs to white workers. The image below is from the Depression, the background shows the happy all white family of four as the “American Way,, and in the foreground is a line of jobless African American and migrant workers.

In the Migrant Mother photo, I see poverty and depression, but I also see strength and perseverance. In the selection of readings from Carter Revard, he mentions “bridges” frequently. On page 132 in the Going to College section he says “we should remember that a small group of persons who have shown themselves unusually able to learn from the regular curriculum what their teachers want them to learn are supposed to include the bridge-builders, the language-translators, the power-transformers who will help us get across time and space and the rivers of Babylon to significant others, even as we are swinging dangerously into the future.” Revard is trying to get a certain point across about the Great Depression. The hard working impoverished people in the United States, like the Migrant Mother, were able to survive, even when the odds were against them. They were able to build the bridges to the future by surviving the Dust Bowl. The people were able to push the widely ridiculed President Hoover out, and bring Roosevelt in. After elected, President Roosevelt promised his “New Deal”, creating several programs to help end the depression, including an effort to eliminate discrimination.

Although I define America as a land of opportunity and success (overall), the “American Dream” and the ability to live the “American Dream” did not come without sacrifice. Going back to the America Perceived entry, although the rest of the world viewed America as “young, fresh and full of possibility,” they also viewed it as “immature” and “lacking history.” The Great Depression is a prime example of our “New World” and the flaws that were (and still are) in it. Because America was youthful and young and new, it made many mistakes.  And through those mistakes, America created its own history and learned what was good and what was not good for the nation. After spending some time with the Migrant Mother and the Great Depression, I have come to find that as Americans, we really are (as Revard puts it) a nation of “bridge-builders” and “language translators” and we continue to pave our way into the future, trying our best to decide right from wrong. We strive to learn from the people of our past, like the Migrant Mother, in order to build more bridges towards the future of America. At first glance, America (easily and simply) seems like the land of opportunity and independence, but when we take into consideration what we had to go through as a country to get to where we are now, that is what defines America.


The American Dream and Poverty in the U.S. by Sarah Butler

The American Dream to me is the idea that you have to be successful and have 2childrenmoney to be happy. The American Dream has many facets that change over the course of US history as well as facets that contradict each other.

There is the idea that with hard work, you can come from nothing and achieve the dream life of a happy family and successful career. The iconic Migrant Mother photograph from 1936 during the Great Depression paints a picture of poverty in the West during this time period. This photo is hard to relate to the American Dream. The mother, Florence Owens Thompson is working as a crop picker to provide her 7 children with food. This family doesn’t have a home all they have is a tent and an old car.

It is hard to relate my idea of the American Dream to this family because they are in such dire conditions. Their mother is stressed and worn down because she is unsure of where their next meal will come from. She is caring a heavy burden and wants to care for her children. Because The United States was so poor at this moment in history it was hard to pursue the American Dream without an income. Thompson could hope to achieve the American Dream but in the state she was in, as well as the state the country was in, it was more about survival than dreaming.

The problem with poverty during the Great Depression according to Dorothea Lange and Carter Revard is that it was so severe. Poverty was on a new level and when people would go to California for jobs they were met with low pay and increasing debt. This level of poverty relates to the American Dream in that the dream becomes unattainable. These people were putting in hard work with nothing in return. They were not slowly climbing the ladder to happiness through hard work. The American Dream becomes distant because during the Great Depression it is unrealistic because of the high level of poverty.

The American Dream relates to how we understand the ideas of America in the ways that America was founded. America was built on the ideal of freedom. Europeans moved to America to be free but at the same time that was a contradiction in that there were slaves and women didn’t have equal rights. This is similar to the American Dream in that the American Dream can be a contradiction. In the case of the Migrant Mother hard work didn’t lead to overall happiness and success, which is the basis of the American Dream. The American Dream is an idea that creates what America is, but its complexity has to be fully understood to find the deeper meanings of what America stands for.

Photo: http://gogetfunding.com/project/helping-families-overcome-poverty

The American Dream: A Fallacy for Some by Angie Indik

AMDreamThe American Dream is said to be attainable by anyone. Politicians boast about this notion during campaign speeches. “If you work hard enough, you will achieve your ambitions in America!” Movies throughout time, such as The Pursuit of Happiness, Cinderella, or Arthur, portray the “rags to riches” story that attract a sizable audience. Famous people like Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, or Sam Walton have all come from financially meager backgrounds but they acquired great wealth in their adult lives. It is these stories, fact or fiction, that give life and hope in the American Dream. For some people, the American Dream does not have to mean huge riches. It could involve living in a comfortable home. It can entail providing necessities like food and clothing for a family along with attaining some extras like toys and the ability to take a vacation every year. This American Dream is certainly a reality for many people, but for others like Florence Owens Thompson pictured in the famous “Migrant Mother” photograph, the American Dream is an absolute fallacy.

mmThe “Migrant Mother” photo was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936. Florence Owens Thompson is the focal point of the picture. The woman is surrounded by three of her children. Thompson carries a worried expression. Two of her children hide their faces from the camera, perhaps out of shame. The third child is an helpless infant. The photograph displays depravity. These people are wearing old, torn clothes. They appear unbathed. The message is the mother and her family are poor. This picture is iconic for not only presenting what poverty looked like in the 1930s, but because of the emotional response it received. A parent’s job is to provide necessities to his or her family and it is apparent that Thompson was unable to do so.  Lange took this picture to show the inhumanity of being one of America’s poor. For the people who were not devastated by the Depression, Lange was telling them the American Dream is not alive. The message was the system is broken and we as Americans need to do something about it. As photographer Jacob Riis brought awareness of the horrors of child labor (and poverty) around the turn of the century, Lange was doing the same with her pictures as she was exposing the degradation of poverty. Both photographers were motivating people to act.  The “Migrant Mother” was an important picture then as it is today. While America has not experienced this grand level of poverty since the Great Depression, this photograph is a reminder of the time when we did. It reinstates that poverty is real and that the notion of the American Dream does not exist for all.