The Dream of Success: A Study of the Modern American Imagination

The Dream of Success: A Study of the Modern American Imagination

The Dream of Success: A Study of the Modern American Imagination

The Dream of Success: A Study of the Modern American Imagination

Excerpt

In the decade before the Civil War, a new literature began to appear in quantity in the United States. Its forms were various, but it was dedicated to a single theme: life in America was a fluid, wide-open race in which everyone competed on an equal basis -- winner take all.

To a people whose massive agricultural expansion proceeded apace with the acquisition of Texas and California and who yet at the same time accelerated the process of shifting from an agrarian to an industrial footing, books on success were no more than mirrors held up to nature. The success literature of the 1850's established a popularity which has since persisted. Indeed, success books have constituted "perhaps the most flourishing of all branches of American literature."

This popularity, however, is not the principal reason why the literature of success deserves attention. The primary significance of books entitled There's Plenty of Room at the Top or Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Americans is that they distill a scheme of values, a conception of the world, a way of life, which has in varying degrees been shared by the great bulk of the American people for over a century. Such books are the conscious, explicit rendition of that shadowy cultural . . .

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