The American Dream

(Students, in groups of 3-4, are given one biography from the selection below.  Each biography has a "head" and a "tail" - a "before" and "after" section - which have been separated.  The sharing activity following Task 2 becomes interesting when students discover that there is more to their biography than they might have guessed.)

1. Bearing in mind the ideals expressed by various American leaders (e.g. in the Declaration of Independence) and your own knowledge of the country, try to define "the American Dream".

2. In your group, read the brief biography you have been given.  Discuss how it relates to the American Dream.  A good example of the dream becoming reality?  Or an example of dream becoming nightmare?

At a signal from the teacher, one member of your group should visit other groups to share your story with them and hear theirs.  Meanwhile, the rest of you should listen to the students who come from other groups.  Continue to think about how their stories illustrate the American Dream.  Any surprises?


3. Read the article entitled "American Dreamers".

What does the author mean when she suggests that the American Dream is "the opiate of the people"?  (Who used this phrase originally and about what?)

4. a) According to the author, which group of people continue to enjoy the American Dream even in hard times?

   b) According to the author, which group of people feel most excluded from the American Dream?

5. In your own words, what does Anthony Giffen, executive producer of the TV programme, think about the American Dream?


  • Kalman Manoff arrived penniless from Russia in 1905.  He delivered fresh food around Manhattan on a horse and cart and set up some of the first ever delicatessens.  His son Dick went to college and became successful in advertising - a new industry at that time.  Dick's son, Gregg, went to Harvard.

  • John Gage is happily married to a television journalist.  He is director of Sun Microsystems, one of the most successful companies in America.  For him, the Internet is "the ultimate expression of the American Dream" - which has now become a global dream.

  • Jae-Yul Kim grew up in Korea with dreams of America, the land of cowboy movies.  At the end of the Korean war, he emigrated there and started work as a janitor, living "like a dog" in a New York basement.  Five years later, he moved to California.  Eventually, he saved enough money to bring his wife and children over from Korea.  They started a machine shop but this failed.  Eventually, though, they ended up owning a very  successful supermarket in South Central Los Angeles.

  • Alfredo Vea is a successful lawyer, but he is scarred forever by his memories of the Vietnam War.

  • Alfredo Vea, a Mexican, was born in an immigrants' transit camp in Arizona.  He fought in Vietnam and later became a successful lawyer serving the Hispanic community in San Francisco.

  • Gregg Manoff avoided the Vietnam draft by inventing a psychiatric problem.  He became a hippy and turned his back on his father.  He "hung out" in the back streets of lower Manhattan, disgusted by his father's wealthy lifestyle which he regarded as empty and meaningless.

  • General Baker Snr (his first name is General) is the eighth child of Georgia sharecroppers.  (His grandparents were slaves.)  General moved to Detroit  - "Motown" - to work on a car assembly line.  His son went to college - the first in the family to do so - and took part in the civil rights movement.

  • Endicott Peabody became Governor of Massachusetts and was a member of Lyndon Johnson's presidential team.  Recently, he failed to win a Senate seat but remains wealthy, like many generations of his ancestors.

  • Gerald Wolford's parents lost everything in the dustbowl of 1930s Arkansas and moved to California.  Gerald became a truck driver and mechanic.  He prospered in the oil boom of the 1970s, earning $200,000 a year.

  • Endicott Peabody was born into one of the oldest and wealthiest families in New England.  He excelled in school and college, married the daughter of the Governor of Bermuda and did well as a Wall Street financier. 

  • John Gage is the son of the pioneer of America's aerospace industry.  In his youth he almost made the national swimming team.  For some years he drifted through Vietnam protests, unfinished degrees and casual jobs.  Then a combination of good contacts and personal enterprise helped him become part of the Silicon Valley computer revolution.
  • The Kims lost everything in the Los Angeles riots of 1992.  Black people in South Central L.A. expressed their frustration at unemployment, poor housing, educational failure and general lack of opportunities by attacking businesses, many of which were Korean-owned.  Many Black people felt that Koreans were racist towards them.  The Kim family were caught completely by surprise.
  • General Baker's son - General Jnr - has been unemployed at various times.  Now he works on the same assembly line that his father worked on.  His step-daughter, Jackie, a college graduate, also works there.  The father of Jackie's child was stabbed to death in a gangland feud.  All she wishes for now is enough food for her child and a roof over her head.
  • Gregg Manoff has abandoned his hippy lifestyle.  He is now a rural doctor in New Mexico, married to a Southern Baptist.  They have an adopted Bangladeshi child and a son of their own.