Barack Obama and the American Dream

Analysis of different speeches with special focus on the American Dream

Seminar Paper, 2011

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Index of contents

1. Introduction

2. The American Dream
2.1 Definition and history of concepts
2.2 History
2.3 The American Dream as a subject in political speeches

3. Barack Obama
3.1 Biography
3.1.1 Childhood
3.1.2 University and Business
3.2 Political Developments
3.3 Obama’s biography compared to the American Dream:

4. Speeches
4.1 Announcement for President
4.1.1 Analysis with special focus on the American Dream
4.2 Obama’s Inaugural Speech
4.2.1 Reproduction of content
4.2.2 Analysis with special focus on the American dream
4.3 The European Speech
4.3.1 Analysis with special focus on the American Dream

5. Results of Analysis
5.1 American Dream as an important component of Obama’s way of argumentation:
5.2 Ideals and values of the American Dream, Obama refers to
5.3 The influence of different audiences on the usage of the American Dream

6. Conclusion

7. Index of Literature

1. Introduction

The acting president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, fascinated millions of US-citizens in many of his campaign speeches in 2008. With his slogan “Yes we can!” he offered them a new, believable perspective.

Finally, this wave of euphoria brought him to the White House and made him, contrary to all expectations, the first black US-President.

I looked fascinated and interested at all important incidents happening in the USA in 2008 and I just wondered why it was possible to this man, like no other person, to fill so many people in this great country with enthusiasm and to give them a new hope of a better future.

Looking back on these events and irrespective of the fact if his goals were achieved or not, I ask myself which values, ideas and aims made the people so absolutely excited and how they were influenced by Obama.

If you only take a superficial view on this issue, it already becomes clear that the very popular American Dream, which is based on American history, is and was one of the important subjects of Obama’s speeches.

How Obama uses this Dream and the way he updates and enlarges it, should be the central question of this thesis.

In order to do so, it is at first important to take a close look at Barack Obama, his curriculum vitae and his political rising. On the other hand, I want to present the history of the American Dream, as well as a preferably general but handy definition of what the American Dream actually is and what it wants to express.

Based on this, a detailed analysis of certain speeches of Obama with a special focus on the American Dream follows.

Outgoing from the results of the analysis, I will examine how Obama encloses the dream in his way of argumentation, the different values he refers to and the influence of different audiences on the usage of the American Dream.

In order to answer the general question of this thesis, explained above, in a good and suitable way, these points will be synoptically summarized in the conclusion. Of course, it is impossible to take a serious look at all his speeches or to pick up every single aspect of the American Dream coming up during American history, as this would exceed the extent of this essay. Nonetheless, a coherent, objective and differentiated answer to the general question should be the goal and claim of this thesis.

2. The American Dream

2.1 Definition and history of concepts

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, which describes the values and social standards that people traditionally try to achieve in America, such as democracy, equal rights and wealth.[1] It contains the belief that every individual can achieve prosperity and success through hard work and with strength of mind.

The phrase “American Dream” was first expressed and coined by the historian James Truslow Addams in 1931. In his book “Epic of America” he wrote that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

The main idea of the American Dream is also part of the Declaration of Independence. The second sentence proclaims that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endowed by their creator with inalienable rights” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. But in spite of these facts, there exist no more precise definition of the American Dream. Peter Freese calls the attempt of defining it “subjective and incomplete”. The desires and dreams of the people resemble each other, but they are not the same. There are “national” values, everybody wants to achieve, but there are also individual parts. So the American Dream has a different meaning for everybody.[2] [3] [4]

Generally speaking, the basic values are, apart from success through hard work, personal liberty and freedom from persecution, individual self-fulfilment, personal happiness, prosperity and equality.

2.2 History

“Europe in the 17th century was a time of political and religious persecution with the lives of many Europeans determined by unemployment and poverty. Looking for a better future as well as for personal and economic advancement, many people decided to immigrate to the USA.”[5]

The first settlers who arrived on the East coast of North America believed in religious and political freedom and in the equality of opportunity. They were willing to work hard (Puritan work ethic) in order to succeed in their new country. So they were the first who “lived” the American Dream, which seems to be rooted in the Puritan faith.[6] [7]


[1] Cf. Hornby, p.46.

[2] Cf. Freese, p.68.

[3] Cf. Wikipedia: American Dream (D).

[4] Cf. Wikipedia: American Dream (USA).

[5] Schlitt, p.11.

[6] Cf. Anonymer Autor: Puritanismus.

[7] Cf. Schlitt, p.11.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Barack Obama and the American Dream
Analysis of different speeches with special focus on the American Dream
University of Cologne
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Barack Obama, American Dream, Announcement for President, Inaugural Speech, European Speech, analysis, special focus, politics, usa, rede, speech, US politik, politische, rhetorik
Quote paper
Bernd C. Schmidt-Nagel (Author), 2011, Barack Obama and the American Dream, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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