American Dream Quotations

The idea of the American Dream has been discussed in everything from famous political speeches through to comedy, books and songs, with memorable quotes on the subject from people as diverse as Ernest Hemingway and Homer Simpson. Here we look at some of the ways the American Dream has been spoken of in some very different contexts.

Equality and the American Dream

Firstly, here is Martin Luther King on the subject:

“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Here, he is referring back to his famous “dream” of racial equality in America, and stating that the whole point of the American Dream as an idea is that all people should have the same freedom and opportunity to make their own success. This was a significant and powerful statement which has gone down in history.

Opportunity and the American Dream

Next, for the point of view of an immigrant, who came to America to seek out the American Dream and found it to be possible, here is Arnold Shwarzenegger:

“My fellow Americans, this is an amazing moment for me. To think that a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become Governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the President of the United States – that is an immigrant’s dream. It is the American dream.”

Addressing his audience as “fellow Americans” and showing his gratitude to the country for allowing him to come from humble beginnings in Austria to become first a huge Hollywood star and then a state governor, Arnie demonstrates that his own story shows just what can be possible for people coming to America. This is interesting, because it shows that the American Dream doesn’t just influence the lives of those born in America, but has always had a powerful impact on people from other countries who dream of a better life.

Of course, there is a flip side to this. English born travel writer Pico Iyer sums it up:

“American Dreams are strongest in the hearts of those who have seen America only in their dreams.”

He suggests that the people who believe the most in the American Dream and how much better a way of life it offers are those outside, who may think, as a result of American movies and TV that the “grass is greener” in the USA, but who may never find out enough to view the American Dream through anything other than rose tinted lenses.

American Dream Quotations and Community

Many US presidents have used the American Dream as a concept in their speeches to the nation, to inspire hope and patriotism or to talk about the ways in which the country should behave. Here is 42nd president Bill Clinton:

“We need a new spirit of community, a sense that we are all in this together, or the American Dream will continue to wither. Our destiny is bound up with the destiny of every other American.”

Clinton’s quote here is interesting, because traditionally the idea of the American Dream was based around individuals having responsibility for their own prosperity, which is kind of at odds with his message of community. This goes to show the way that as times have changed and social responsibility has become more important, the American Dream, or at least the way it can

American Dream Quotations about Expectation

Famous psychoanalyst and author David Abrahamsen warns in this well known quote, what the cost of the American Dream can be:

“The American dream is, in part, responsible for a great deal of crime and violence because people feel that the country owes them not only a living but a good living.”

He is saying that the expectation that just by being an American you are entitled to live the American Dream can lead people to act antisocially. This may be the case, however the ideals behind the American Dream are not about the country owing its people anything, rather it providing them the freedoms that allow them to make their own way.

American Dream Quotations and Responsibility

Well known author and columnist Florence King spent a lot of her career looking at what America was, and should be. Here is one quote from her about the American Dream:

“People are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be, that they’re all asleep at the switch. Consequently we are living in the Age of Human Error.”

This quote shows that the American Dream is supposed to be something that, as professionals, drives us forward in our work, and makes us want to do the best we can so we can succeed and live the dream. Yet for many, the idealism it brings with it, the lovely fantasy of the perfect life, distracts people from what they should be doing.

All of these well known American Dream quotations show different aspects of what the idea has meant and how it has been used powerfully by writers and speakers in all different periods and contexts. They show what an interesting and diverse perception there is of what the American Dream is, what it gives us, and what it can do for the people who pursue it. While the idea is positive, it is the responsibility of all those who believe in it to work hard and look after each other.

To finish, here is a great American Dream quotation from American poet Archibald Macleish:

“There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream.”