One of the most prevalent idioms that exists about America is the notion of an ‘American Dream’. Usually this means a couple of things: the chance for a better life, the opportunity to reinvent one self for a more successful existence, the idea of upward social mobility. This ideology is seen to play out time and time again throughout America’s history from Pilgrims fleeing persecution in the 17th Century to the mass immigration that followed in the late 19th Century. This ideology is not without its contradictions however, as shown (albeit indirectly) in the painting, titled American Progress.
Another example of the so called American Dream playing out is the frontier era of the country, The American West is a source of much romanticizing and mythology for the country. The images and cultural ideas from the West, which acted as a quintessential example of the American Dream, pervade to this day. Cowboys and Indians. The popularity of the Western both here and over seas (such as the Italian Spaghetti Westerns). From the Homefront Act to the Gold Rush to the ever popular ghost towns in the West, this is true. The above painting, American Progress is from 1872 which is one of the most commonly discussed images when the concept of Manifest Destiny is discussed. Manifest Destiny, the supposed divine right/command to expand Westward, was seen as another manifestation of the American Dream.
This also exposes the contradictions within America. Manifest Destiny is one of the most infamous examples of American Imperialism. The painting shows this concept in a positive light. The left side of the frames is showing Native Americans run off into the darkness. The story of what actually happened to the Native Americans is very often brushed over or not discussed period. The fact that there is more fiction than truth about the ‘Wild West’ that pervade to this day is another example (a lesser extreme) of an inherent contradiction within this country. The American Dream is an idea, maybe not founded in reality, but in the popular conception of reality.