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Jennifer Hocschild Facing Up to the American Dream  

From Subject
Heather M. Sauber <hmsaube@ilstu.edu> Facing up to the American Dream (Sauber)

Date: Fri, 8 Mar 1996 13:09:36 -0600 
From: "Heather M. Sauber" <hmsaube@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review: Facing up to the American Dream (Sauber) 

Review: Jennifer Hocschild Facing Up to the American Dream

By Heather M. Sauber Illinois State University March 4, 1996

After reading Jennifer Hochschild's book, Facing Up to the American Dream. I felt as though I left a world renowned ping-pong match where the winner was you guessed it, nobody.

After the first three confusing chapters, the book was either sink or swim, in a sea of statistics and other conflicting view points. I think I pretty much sunk. Hochschild does give a fair amount of literature to back up her statistics, and she even has a point to this book, but you do not recognize it until somewhere within the fourth chapter. She does state in the first few pages what the book is about, but the trouble is that she never really gets to the point.

According to Hochschild the American Dream is a lifelong aspiration of all Americans, that someday we will all rise to the top. But she fails to mention that the American Dream is something that every person concludes to be something quite different. She only focuses on one aspect. That the American Dream is inherently monetary. She believes that the American Dream is not only the right to get rich, but rather as the promise that all Americans have a reasonable chance to achieve that success. In fact, she states that the American Dream has been a defining characteristic of American culture.

Hochschild has three meanings to success. One is the attainment of high income, another is a prestigious job, and the final is economic security. Although every American believes that it is their "god given" right to do better than the generation before them, what gives her the right to say that it is only economically. Other people, especially in the African American Culture of the 1960's, wanted to be more accepted, and less racially divided, as well as take pride in their own culture than just make an extra few bucks.  

Hochschild believes that everyone may pursue the American Dream, regardless of race, color, or creed. She states that what one pursues is something called reasonable anticipation, or just the right amount of their dream to keep people going and trying to achieve more. Hochschild believes that a Citicorp Bank ad that ran in national publications is the best way to describe the American Dream. Under a picture of different people of different races, as well as gender, reads the simple caption, "The Will to Succeed is a part of the American Spirit". This quote connotate Hochschild's third tenet, that the American Dream is attainable through one's own individual effort. Hochschild's fourth and final tenet is why is the American Dream worth pursuing? The answer according to the author is simple, because virtue leads to success, success makes a person virtuous, and success indicates virtue.

Within the first chapter only five pages after Hochschild makes her argument with what seems to be strong clarity, she contradicts herself. She believes that the first tenet is false. It can ot be achieved by women of any race, Black men, Native American men, Asian men or poor men because they were barred from all but a narrow range of electable futures. If this is the truth, without having to prove that the first tenet may have some sort of validity, than why include it at all. Would it not be pretty much assumed by all the rest of American society, that white middle class males fare better when it comes to actively pursuing the "American Dream".

Hochschild does bring up quite a few good points that should be given some serious consideration. The first thing that she does mention is that whites increasingly believe that racial discrimination is slight and declining while blacks increasingly believe the opposite. When one pays closer attention to this phenomena than it is easier to understand how race relations can break down into senseless acts as the Los Angeles Riots in 1992 and the Attica Prison riots.

Hochschild does mention that both Blacks as well as Whites believe that their needs to be an overwhelming support for the American Dream as a prescription to cure the infection that has seeped its way into all of their own lives. But blacks are believing more that racial discrimination is constantly worsening and it inhibits their chances to be active participants in the American Dream.

The most interesting chapter, and consequently the one I agree with the most, is entitled "Succeeding More and Enjoying it Less". She states that while the Black middle class is increasing in numbers, and are becoming more powerful, and stable in their new lifestyles, the members are enjoying it less than before. Hochschild believes that this could be rationalized by the idea that blacks have become more disillusioned and bitter about the entire idea of an universal American Dream. Most of black culture has a tendency to believe that the only people that still believe in the American Dream are poor blacks. Through surveys and interviews, poor blacks seem to be under the same spell as poor blacks of 30 years ago.

Hochschild goes on to prove that the final three tenets of her theory are true by simply looking at the black middle class. She states that Rapid growth shows that White Americans have abjured racial discrimination. Some strenuous efforts made to join the middle class show the appear of the dream, and many more have been awarded for those efforts that showed effectiveness. At one time blacks believed that the benign picture was simply wrong, but it was the relative depravation, caused by white america, which chastised black rising expectations and competition that partly explains the paradox.

I honestly believe that Hochschild could have written a better book. It probably would hev been shorter and a lot less rambling then it was. The topic in which she chose to devote this book to is very interesting. Unfortunately, she did nothing with it but put you to sleep, and make preposterous hypothesis, only to back them up with her own contradictions and feelings toward the subject at hand.

Heather M. Sauber


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