1 The American Struggle Artists often use their work as a form of expression. Whether it is through music or literature, there is meaning to the work. Furthermore, the time period from which the work comes can impact the meaning behind an artist's work. One topic of interest to many artists over the years includes the American Dream. The notion of the American Dream has existed in society for many years, although the interpretation of what the American Dream entails has evolved with society. Generally, the American Dream can be defined as the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone (Barone). In America, there is an abundance of diversity as the country was built by immigrants. Due to the level of diversity and the well known history of racial inequality and segregation in America, many individuals have faced barriers in achieving the American Dream. The struggles faced in American society have not created an equal opportunity for all. Works by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Joyce Carol Oates, Childish Gambino and Rihanna all reflect on the meaning of the American Dream throughout the years ranging from 1860 until 2018. In the 1860’s, Walt Whitman published the original poem “I Hear America Singing”. During this time period, the Civil War was a prominent event where America became a divided country. Despite the fact that Walt Whitman wrote the poem during a time of division among the country, Whitman writes of America being a peaceful place. Whitman uses the symbolism of singing to convey the idea of harmony and a sense of joy. Whitman envisions life in America through his writing, and includes people of all different fields of work. Mechanics, carpenters, masons, shoemakers, the boatman, the wood-cutter, the mother and the young wife all represent different groups from society. Males, females and those from different classes are included in 2 Whitman's interpretation of America. Although all the people included in the poem are doing different things in their life, they all have one thing in common, which is that they are singing. Singing represents the joy and pride each individual takes in how they are actively taking part in society. When Whitman states, “Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else”, he emphasizes individuality and how all Americans can find a sense of belonging through their work (9). In Walt Whitman’s interpretation of the American Dream, all individuals are in a different line of work and doing something different, yet singing together while seeking their own goals. All members of society are seen as being equally important in their duties by Whitman. Each individual is also described as working hard in their endeavors. Whitman conveys the idea that each American is hard working through his choice of words. Whitman uses action verbs to describe each individual is actively doing something. Since Whitman uses action verbs, the reader can better picture each individual as being motivated in their work. When the carpenter “measures his plank or beam” (2) or the girl who is “sewing and washing” (8), Whitman uses his choice of words to show that Americans are not lazy in their work. Not only are the individuals motivated, but they are enjoying their work which is shown by the fact that they are all singing. The individuals in Whitman's poem all are depicted as working hard towards the American Dream, together in song yet separately in their endeavors. Similar in title to Walt Whitman's poem “I Hear America Singing” is Langston Hughes “I, Too, Sing America” from 1925. Immediately, the poem can be recognized as a response to Walt Whitman's poem of an earlier time. Whitman and Hughes have different notions of the American Dream due to the racial inequality faced by Hughes, and not by Whitman. Though it is unknown if it was an intentional omission, Whitman failed to mention African Americans in his 3 poem. Hughes identifies himself as the “darker brother” (2). Despite the challenges faced by Hughes due to his race, he shows his resilience. Hughes refuses to let obstacles get in his way of being an American, “But I laugh / and eat well / and grow strong” (5-7). The tone Hughes chose to use brings a sense of hardship and challenge, as opposed to Whitman's melodic and optimistic tone. Langston Hughes notion of the American Dream revolves around race and inequality. Hughes emphasizes the challenges African Americans face based on race in America, as opposed to working a job to attain the American Dream. Without equality, it is much harder for African Americans to attain the American Dream. The American Dream during this time period can be thought of as to be attainable by only White men. Despite Hughes being an African American, he considers himself as being as much of an American as a White man. Hughes also sings like the White men, although he is treated much differently. The poem is a very personal poem, as Hughes chose to use the pronoun “I” in the poem, signifying that he is the speaker. Hughes also uses the pronoun “they” to refer to the majority of White men in America, who view him as an outsider for being a Black man. “They send me to eat in the kitchen” Hughes states (3). “They'll see how beautiful I am”, Hughes expresses his beauty although he is different from the majority (16). The resilience and determination by Langston Hughes is apparent throughout the poem because of his tone and word choice. Joyce Carol Oates poem “Dreaming America” from 1975 analyzes the American Dream as something that has failed. Oates presents America as a place that lost its beauty, and destruction has taken over. The evolution of America is apparent in Oates poem. The opening of Oates poem, “When the two-lane highway was widened / the animals retreated” (2) uses the symbolism of the highway as the American Dream evolves, pushing out the inhabiting life. The 4 connection between the earth around us and the American Dream is important. The country has changed, and Oates sees this as a negative. The urbanization of America does not support the dream. Fields are being destroyed and there is little regard for other life forms that are hurting from the selfishness of humanity. “When the cornfields were bulldozed / the farmhouses at their edges turned into shanties” (14-15) Oates emphasizes the devastation of the demolition. The industrialization and development of America creates a society that focuses on material items, losing sight of what once was important to preserve. When Oates states, “Where did the country go? - cry the travelers, soaring / past. Where did the country go? - ask the strangers. / The teenager never ask” (31-33) she makes the point that teenagers cannot see what has happened as this is the life they are born into. The teenagers will grow up with no regards to or appreciation for nature. Teenagers and the youth of America will learn to follow a materialistic dream. The direction in which America is headed is seen as a failure in the American Dream, because of the destruction of nature while chasing an urban dream. Joyce Carol Oates uses her tone and symbolism to effectively convey her notion of the American Dream. Oates' tone remains solemn throughout the poem. There is no sense of enthusiasm or delight in her writing. There is a sense of disappointment given through the tone. In “Dreaming America” Joyce Carol Oates compares the gas station signs to eyeballs on stalks: The Sunoco and Texaco and Gulf signs competed on hundred-foot stilts like eyeballs on stalks white optic-nerves. (19-22) Her comparison takes the new, illuminated signs comparing them to what used to stand in its place. Prior to the development of the gas stations and their signs, there were stalks in the field, 5 which used to be of great value to society. The stalks of a plant with an eyeball on top would resemble the life form of what used to exist in place of the gas station. The gas station has ultimately taken the place of the life that used to inhabit the land. Furthermore, gas stations represent harm being done to the environment. Oates uses her creative language and comparison to present the changes in society that have harmed the environment, which Americans used to value. In more recent years, song lyrics by artists Childish Gambino and Rihanna have highlighted the modern interpretation of the American Dream. Music videos for the songs “This Is America” by Childish Gambino and “American Oxygen” by Rhianna also visually represent modern interpretations of the American Dream. Both artists show the harsh reality of the challenges that come with chasing the American Dream. Although according to the American Dream upward mobility is supposed to be possible for all regardless of race, class or immigration status, this idea falsely leads one to believe there has always been equality. Certain groups, such as minorities in America, have had to fight relentlessly to keep their freedom and promote equality. Childish Gambino released his hit song and music video “This Is America” in 2018. The song opens up with a gospel choir, without any special meaning to the lyrics. However, the gospel choir symbolizes Blacks in America as it originated in Black churches in the Southern United States. Following the introduction of the gospel choir, Gambino starts the song off with the lyrics: We just wanna party Party just for you We just want the money 6 Money just for you These lyrics highlight some of the basic American desires, including socializing and making money. When Gambino says “we” he is referring to the Black population, and when he says “you”, he may be referring to the White population. The White population historically had more than Blacks due to segregation and racism. Gambino highlights the differences between Blacks and Whites, and how Blacks were denied these basic freedoms to socialization and money historically. Later on in the song, the gospel choir returns and sings the lyrics “Grandma told me Get your money, black man”. Gambino is emphasizing the motivation and drive for Black men to be financially successful and attain a living. Although he is inspired to make money and be successful, Gambino emphasizes his status in America regardless of his success with the lyrics “You just a black man in this world, You just a barcode, ayy, You just a black man in this world”. Race and inequality is apparent in America. Historically, and even in today's society racial inequalities persist. In addition to Gambinos lyrics, the music video that accompanies the song represents America as a place of inequality and injustice. At the end of Gambinos music video, Gambino is shown running from the police, after he was seen smoking a joint. This symbolizes the injustice faced by Black men in America for a seemingly small crime. Gambinos tone is sad and dark, highlighting gun violence as one of the main themes. Gun violence is well known to have plagued the Black community, especially at the hands of the police. “This is America, Guns in my area” Gambino emphasizes. America is not glorified as the land of the free. Overall, Childish Gambino presents the American Dream as an obstacle for Black Americans due to gun violence, racism and police brutality. In 2015, Rihanna released her song “American Oxygen”. In contrast to Childish Gambino's “This Is America”, Rihanna maintains a mellow tone which conveys a less harsh 7 message. Rihanna’s tone remains empathetic and somber in “American Oxygen”. Throughout her music video, multiple videos are put together to accurately portray the true diversity in America. Rihanna does not solely focus on race as a theme, as she includes videos of homeless Americans and events such as 9/11, American soldiers and American astronauts. The overall notion of the American Dream in Rihanna’s “American Oxygen” is concerned with the fight for freedom and equality. Barack Obama being sworn into office and Martin Luther King’s life and funeral are important to the history of America, which positively shaped the country, and were included in her video. Rihanna highlights the struggles of achieving the American dream, when she sings “"Every breath I breathe / Chasin' this American Dream / We sweat for a nickel and a dime". One must work hard to achieve their American Dream, which we are all chasing. Throughout the years, although there has been inequality and a lack of freedom for minorities, Rihanna conveys the message that we must keep our freedom and equality that we worked hard to achieve. “This is the new America / We are the new America” Rihanna proudly sings at the end of the song. In the music video, as she sings the prior lyrics, Whites and Blacks are shown to be helping one another in times of need. Black and White children are also shown playing together. Rihanna effectively emphasizes that we have worked hard for our freedoms as a nation, and must continue to keep fighting racism and for civil rights. Throughout the years, it is clear that the American Dream has evolved. Each artist interprets the American Dream through their own eyes and experiences as well, providing unique and diverse points of view on the American Dream. The differences in how each artist presents the notion of the American Dream also impacts the meaning of the work, by changing the tone, using words selectively, and through the use of symbolism. Despite all the obstacles chasing the American Dream, America is still a desirable country, and many people attempt to immigrate to 8 the country. Living in America is not as easy as the definition of the American Dream makes it out to be. The artists make it clear that one must work hard to achieve their dreams. Challenges with racial disparities still exist in society, although we have come a long way over the past century. 9 Works Cited Barone, Adam. “What Is the American Dream?” Investopedia, Investopedia, 30 Dec. 2021, www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-dream.asp. ChildishGambinoVEVO. “Childish Gambino - This Is America (Official Video).” YouTube, YouTube, 5 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjWnS4cMY&amp;feature=youtu.be. Hughes, Langston. “I, Too, Sing America” 1925. Mamo, Heran. “Here Are the Lyrics to Childish Gambino's 'This Is America'.” Billboard, 6 June 2018, www.billboard.com/music/lyrics/childish-gambino-this-is-america-lyrics-845953 0/. Oates, Carol J. “Dreaming America” 1975. RihannaVEVO. “Rihanna - American Oxygen.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Apr. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao8cGLIMtvg. Whitman, Walt. “I Hear America Singing” 1900.