Term of Award
Master of Arts in English (M.A.)
Document Type and Release Option
Thesis (open access)
Copyright Statement / License for Reuse
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Department of Literature
Olivia Carr Edenfield
Committee Member 1
Committee Member 2
Committee Member 3
Jared Yates Sexton
Committee Member 3 Email
The American Dream was first epitomized by Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography (1791), in which he instructs his fellow citizens on how to procure the American promises of social mobility and economic prosperity. However, the moral and social performances reinforced by Franklin’s recipe-for-success promote an ideological system that prevents marginalized communities such as women, immigrants, and people of color, from procuring the Dream’s most foundational features. Inequitable access to the Dream is a theme revisited throughout American literature, wherein disenfranchised characters consume the aspirational narrative of American social mobility through art, media, and propaganda. This essay tracks the representation of the American Dream throughout American literature, placing particular attention on the ways it manifests in artistic forms and experience. While Rebecca Harding Davis’s “Life in the Iron Mills” (1861) anticipates a commodification of the Dream’s most essential features through a conflict between artistic experience and privileged aesthetic indifference, works like Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) and Ann Petry’s The Street (1946) reveal the disillusioning effects such indifference bears on the disenfranchised, who are unable to perform within the standards Franklin defines. Meanwhile, though Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (1952) challenges traditional notions of the Dream through an unconventional artist’s attempt to reform her craft, it exposes a conflict between self-expression and social compromise.
Barrow, Savannah M., "American Performance: Artistic Experience and the American Dream" (2022). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2372.
Research Data and Supplementary Material