What is the American Dream? White picket fences? Success? Financial stability? Or 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…)