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The American Nightmare

Published under category: Writing Ideas | 2017-03-17 01:14:47 UTC

Context: Life studies


Lauren Sandler’s “The American Nightmare” is a critique of the American way of life. Firstly, it is a critique of the superficial understanding of the American dream by the American society. The author defines the American dream as viewed by middles class citizens as a social profile that includes a married couple, a house, cars, and two or more children. This view of the American dream is focused on the child. According to Sandler, the middle class in other developed countries views family differently, the parents are the masters and children are the followers. This is opposed to the American model where the parents attend to children’s interest. Consequently, some Americans have gone to the extent of choosing to stay home and nurture the nuclear family rather than work. According to Sandler, the level of happiness expected in pursuit of the American dream is an illusion. Building of isolated estates has led to loss of public social life and resulted to overcompensation through opulence. Finally, the author concludes that material pleasure cannot make one happy, and sacrifices must be made in order to achieve some happiness.

The first problem in the American way of life as pointed out by the author is the generalization of the American dream. Americans have developed a materialist culture that associates happiness and wealth and self-sufficiency. Individualism has superseded communal living in American society as people search for the ideal American dream. Sandler says that despite all the acquisitive achievements of the American middle class, the American dream remains just a dream that is yet to be realized. Marriage, which is the foundation of American dream in the perspective of Americans, has proven that it is not necessarily a positive addition to life. Sandler and the critics she quotes seek to dissociate happiness and wealth, with marriage. To them the American dream, or objects such as houses, cars and suburban dwellings cannot define happiness. Even though Sandler could be right in criticizing certain aspects of the American lives, she ignores the fact that the American dream is a subjective concept. Her claim that the American dream has not been achieved is subjective and is based on her personal perception.

Throughout the article, Sandler does not offer an alternative perspective to the American dream. She criticizes American attempts at improving their lives. However, she fails to show that there could be a better way of living in order to be happy. For example, Sandler says that despite the fact that Americans are attempting to live in better houses and improve their neighborhoods, they are not happy. She does not an alternative to the suburban neighbor hoods or marriage. Sandler discourages seemingly progressive idea such as buying homes without providing an alternative that could make Americans a better people. Despite this flaw, Sandler is able to expose the fact that singular achievements such as buying a home or marrying cannot be a solution to life’s woes. The author is probably right in suggesting that living a better life cannot be achieved by simple wealth based solutions. Cultural flaws in American thinking are exposed. For example, Sandler views the child-centric families in America as dysfunctional establishments that put leadership into the hands of the children. Sandler illustrates this by drawing a picture where an American parent spends her time attending children’s birthdays rather than commit themselves to other duties. She makes a comparison between American nuclear families and families in other developed countries where people are said to be happier. This comparison could serve as an alternative even though the author does not offer it as a solution to the American situation. This singular view of American aspirations leads to another flaw in Sandler’s argument, her society of focus.

Even though Sandler talks about Americans in a general view, she directs her analysis towards urban spaces and ignores the rest of America. She talks about how Americans wanted to move from congested urban places to the much more spaced suburban settlements. This implies that Americans have been living in urban places alone. In describing American architecture before the quest for American dream Sandler says, “The double height entry hall is the surrogate of the town square; the media room supplants the theater; the master suite practically exists as its own townhouse.” (Sandler74). This description of the past and present situation in towns shows that the author analyzed the American dream from the perspective of urban settlements. Americans habit rural places as well as urban places. The focus on urban and suburban places implies that the author is only able to conceive the idea of American dream in the urban context. This is another subjective outlook of the ideal American life. Sandler’s seemingly narrow view of American society reduces the credibility of her arguments about happiness. Small towns and villages that could offer a social community as well as the facilities of a suburban culture are ignored. Assumption that the American dream, or happiness in the American context, can only be achieved in large towns is misguided.

Lauren Sandler’s criticism of American quest for happiness tells some truth, but suffers from the problem of stereotyping. The fundamental problem is that her view of American people is that of a middle class family living in suburban estates. For this reason, the author generalizes the ideal of American dream to owning a suburban home and cars, being married, and having some children. She does not discuss the fundamental basis of her analytical work, but she attacks some cultural inclinations of the American people. A better way to approach the argument would probably have been discussing the place of wealth and marriage within the concept of the American dream, or the pursuit for happiness. In addition, examining the effect of cultural bias on the progress of families in America could have improved her criticism of children centric middle class family set ups. Sandler could have held a more convincing position by describing her view of happiness in the American context, instead of discussing failure of the American dream without a proper context.

Lauren Sandler’s “The American Nightmare” is a critique of American search for happiness, commonly referred to as living the American dream. She highlights the failure of American society in creating a happy people through creation of wealth, marriage, and raising children. However, Sandler makes mistakes through generalization of the American dream into a few sets of achievements. Secondly, she fails to define the ideal situation of happiness in order to contextualize the ideal American dream. In her description of the failed attempts at the American dream, she does not define the ideal dream to which the current situation in American society can be compared. On the other hand, the author is successful in pointing out the flaws in the American ideal of true progress.



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