The Stereotypical American Dream. Then and Now

Term Paper, 2016
22 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1. Introduction

2. The Integration of the Urban Metropolis into the American Dream
2.1 Historical Context of the American City
2.2 New York
2.3 The American Dream
2.4 The Connection Between Urbanization and the American Dream

3. Song Analysis
3.1 New York, New York
3.1.1 Stylistic Analysis
3.1.2 Thematic Analysis
3.2 Empire State of Mind
3.2.1 Stylistic Analysis
3.2.2 Thematic Analysis
3.3 Comparative Summary of Both Songs

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

6. Appendix A

7. Appendix B

1. Introduction

The United States with New York as the country's largest urban city passed through an immense development in the mid-19th and early-20th century. The metropolis changed in terms of urban landscapes, industrialization, pace of life and importance, which influenced people's views on the cosmopolitan city New York. It is a fact that the city's population is growing since the early 19th century continuously and becomes more and more attractive for people from the whole world (cf. “Historical National Population Estimates”). Different artists of different groups and art movements concern themselves with the metropolis New York and its advantages and possibilities.

The aim of this paper is to show that the urbanization influenced the stereotypical American Dream in a negative way which has thus changed into a more realistic one. On this account this paper will show the shift of the American Dream on the basis of the metropolis New York, comparing the songs New York, New York (Frank Sinatra) and Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z & Alicia Keys), in relation to urbanization within the city.

The paper starts out by introducing its historical context: it points out the historical facts of cultural change of the American city in the late-19th and early-20th century, considering the industrialization, urbanization of landscapes and the integration of the urban metropolis into the American Dream. Further more the chapter focuses on the idea of the American Dream, its origin and development regarding the city's social and cultural background. The third chapter, involves the analysis of the two songs, which both pick out the metropolis New York and its opportunity as a central theme. The two songs are connected because of thematic reasons according to the depiction of New York in two different time episodes (1977 and 2009). Furthermore this chapter provides a stylistic and thematic comparison of both songs in relation to the American Dream, which existed at the time of both respective songs but differs in the late 19th century from the early 20th century. Comparing the similarities and differences of picturing the American dream, this chapter illustrates the change from then and now, giving consideration to the respective temporal circumstances. The fourth chapter contains a conclusion, which sums up all facts and gives an outlook on a possible shift of the American dream into a different direction and explains the maintenance of the American dream in a critical way.

2. The Integration of the Urban Metropolis into the American Dream

The urbanization of America and the development of the American Dream are linked processes which influenced each other. Considering the historical context of American cities, especially New York as Americas biggest urban city, the hope of individual success and progress through modernization and urbanization played a decisive role in forming this dream throughout the centuries.

2.1 Historical Context of the American City

The years 1820-1860 was an era of rapid urban growth of the American city. They increased between between nine and twelve times in population such as New York which grew in time period from 123,706 inhabitants up to 813,669 (cf. Steen 25). This was the result of the economic development of the West. American cities evolved into centers of commerce and thus became more urbanized. The development of manufacturing encouraged the growth of American urban cities because of “promoting the expansion of transportation” (Steen 35). Due to these economic advantages, there was a growth of foreign-born population within the American urbanization. Irish, German and other nationalities immigrated to American cities because of economic and political reasons (cf. Steen 36-39). These urban transformations also affected the appearance of urban scenes. Buildings, offices, hotels, restaurants and shops were erected. This expansion of the urban American city led to the increase of urban transportation (cf. Steen 43-55).

After 1860 commerce continued to be a very important economical factor. The railroad as the most important way of commerce took mostly place in west America and led to a rapid growth of western urban cities (cf. Steen 59-61). In the time period of 1860-1920 there can be observed a great progress in the development of industries, which led to urban growth which again led to manufacturing industries. With forty thousand manufacturing concerns, New York was the leading urbanizing city in 1910. But also other cities like Detroit and Pittsburg grew because of automobile, iron and steel production (cf. Steen 63-65). American cities were expanding and the urban population was increasing even more because of migration from country to city. “Farm life was isolated and lonely” (Steen 68) and social life as well as the hope for greater wealth in the urban city became more and more attractive. More that fifteen million immigrants arrived in America between the 1880s and 1914, whereby the cities had to expand outward and upward so that the urban town picture changed quickly (cf. Steen 72-85). New methods of construction and new materials like cast iron and steel made this development possible (cf. Steen 86). In the course of expansion of landscape, the transportation facilities also expand and influenced the urbanization of the city.

There was an economic slump in the 1970s but the number of immigrants was still high. A liberal immigration law made it possible for immigrants to settle even during the economic depression in 1992. Whereas the majority of early immigrants came from Europe, subsequent people were Asians, Afghans, Caribbean people and Hispanics, “seeking economic opportunity or political freedom” (Binder and David M. Reimers 226). This wave of immigration influenced the town picture by adding more diverse restaurants, stores and agencies.

The urbanization of the American city can be observed on the basis of changing landscapes and changing technology, but as the Professor of Sociology Daniel J. Monti points out, urbanization is more like “a set of public habits or customs that are part of everyday life” (101). These urban public habits can be seen by the acceleration of society like the pace of life as well as the changing culture. These urban, dynamic and vital American cities welcome today's immigrants with programs helping to integrate into urban life. The cities count on newcomers and they are “more ready that ever to assist them” ( Binder and David M. Reimers 261)

2.2 New York

New York as the country's largest urban city was discovered by Europeans on April 17th in 1524 (cf. Binder and David M. Reimers 1). Like other large and urban cities, New York was confronted with a dynamic growth and diversity. The number of population went from 2.5 million New Yorkers in 1890 to 7.5 millions in 1940 which transformed the city into a modern metropolis (cf. Weil 187). This transformation needed better planning and activity of urban development. The metropolis was soon affected by skyscrapers, automobiles and roadway connections. Furthermore, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Queensborough bridges, the George Washington Bridge, the Holland and the Lincoln Tunnel were built in the 1930s and influenced the landscape of New York. The Upper West Side of Manhattan increased by size and attractiveness: apartments for the wealthiest New Yorkers were built in the early 1900s (cf. Weil 194). Other suburbs grew and new suburbs were created which were all accessible by rail or road.

New York's attraction grew and the city became more diverse within the years. Besides European immigrants the immigration of Chinese had to be limited because the number boosted up. The highest number of growth was that of the black people within New York who also had the hope of improving their living conditions (cf. Weil 199). Furthermore New York represented the city of all hopes and promises which distinguished the metropolis from other cities, but I will discuss this aspect in the section 2.3.

After World War II and the Great Depression, New York remained America's leading financial and banking center which led to an economic growth after 1945 and established new opportunities for its inhabitants, especially the Jewish ones (cf. Binder and David M. Reimers 197-198).

The construction of the World Trade Center began in 1966 and was completed in 1973. These icons of the metropolis provided space for offices and became a symbol for New York's economic and political power. These offices were fully rented after the stock market crash of 1987 followed by the economic boom in the nineties and shortly after attacked by two airplanes on September 11 in 2001 (cf. Reitano 182-183).

As New York moved from the 20th century to the 21st century, older residents moved out, new and young foreigners moved in and “the city's complexion changed “ (Reitano 183) again. The metropolis became more global than ever because of the 1965 immigration reform, which made the city's population grow by Caribbean, Asians and Latin Americans. New York attracted a greater variety than other urban cities, which made New York more diverse, dynamic and multicultural. The town picture was marked by a variety of food, shops, music, languages and religions. However, this multiculturalism has not only positive aspects, but always had a negative side effect: the problems of conflicts as applied to ethnicity, race, class and gender, which is still present (cf. Reitano 205-207). Even if the unemployment rate is at its lowest and crime had declined within the centuries, New York is still affected by social inequality, racism and tension between different groups (cf. Weil 285).

2.3 The American Dream

The American Dream was invented before the continent was discovered in 1606. Different nations used to dream this vision about discovery and settlement and considered America like a “paradise on earth” (Freese 95) when Columbus had finally discovered the country. For Puritans who fled from religious persecution, “America became the land provided by God” (Freese 100). These settlers were full of hope to explore the new country and live in religious freedom. Due to Peter Freese who is a specialist in American studies, a literary scholar and author of twenty books about American culture, the American Dream developed from the combination “the mythic projection of America [...] in which the Fountain of Youth bubble[s] forth in a pastoral landscape”, the religious assumption that America is “a new paradise on earth” given by god and the promise of “equality, liberty and brotherhood” (105). This concept of the American Dream was held up by letters or “stories from those who had gone there and returned, or had written to tell about their new lives” (Weil 200). The American Dream of a free life in New York was like a rumor in Europe and represented hope and promises for all poor unprivileged foreigners who longed for a chance of a better lifestyle (cf. Freese 106).

The phrase itself first appeared 1916 in the Chicago Tribune and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the ideal that every citizen of the United States should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative” ("American, N. and Adj."). That implies that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, birth or position is “able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are” (Adams 404). However, you have to work hard for your dreams to come true. Popular became this phrase in the 1930s when the movie industry grew and was booming. Celebrities and movie stars seemed to prove that everyone can be successful and have a stable life in America “even if [you] have no real skills” (Sternheimer 11). This assumption was also supported by magazines who reflected the American Dream so that this upward mobility of personal success and triumph defined the hope of America.

2.4 The Connection Between Urbanization and the American Dream

The urbanization of America and the development of the American Dream are linked processes which influenced each other. The introduction of the steam engine and the railroad as a result of industrial revolution, the expansion of bicycles, automobiles and later planes as well as the evolution of communication facilities like the telegraph, telephone, mobile phone and internet are reasons for dynamization of American life and urban development (cf. Rosa 40). This technological acceleration, processes of transportation and communication changed American culture into a modern and urban world which had an impact on the acceleration of pace of life as well as patterns of relationships (cf. Rosa 152-153).

Modernization and urbanization arose through the “scarcity of time resources” (Rosa 152). Though the acceleration of transportation, communication and production made it possible to save time which can be used for other activities. The development of this assumption had his height at the time of the industrial revolution from about 1760 to 1840 as well as later at the turn of the century, when the digital revolution emerged (cf. Rosa 152-154). The circulation of the promise for more time, the growth of consumption, the ongoing dynamization and the development of America as the urban modernity grew so that the American Dream was created and raised (cf. Rosa 174-177).

America symbolized and signalized hope of individual success and progress through modernization and urbanization. The development of different industrial techniques and machines made the country attractive and the American Dream accured. The desire for success was supported by the acceleration of transportation and production which goes along with working conditions “of fairness and equality of opportunity” so that the “vision of a perfect world” (Ghosh 7) in urban America was widely spread.

The chances America held for immigrants during the industrialization was enormous and well-known not only in Europe. The development of the infrastructure, the increasing employment opportunities and the transformation into a modern urban culture defined the American Dream before the turn of the century. Not only the urban landscapes but also the “pluralist and progressive efforts” (Weil 225) has changed the view of New York, which became the most booming and attractive American metropolis. Furthermore the development of sensationalism and urban, modern leisure influenced Americas attractiveness more than it influenced other industrial countries. This aspect is still an important factor for today's American Dream: the celebrity culture represents a wealthy, happy and famous life whereof people dream.

The American urbanization includes political and social changes as well as cultural and economic changes which leads to today’s dream of liberty and equality. Furthermore immigrants have to hope of the fusion into a new nation with a peaceful life of diverse cultures and multiculturalism (cf. Freese 108). As America still becomes more and more multicultural, the politics will strengthen the democratic inclusion to retain the American Dream (cf. Ghosh 170).

3. Song Analysis

The upcoming chapter will focus on the analysis of the songs New York, New York and Empire State of Mind to identify the American Dream within the songs and to find out if the urbanization of the American metropolis influenced the Dream in a negative way. Since New York incarnates the American Dream as I described in the previous chapter, both songs focus on the metropolis New York. My stylistic analysis is based on Werner Faulstich and his literary work Rock, Pop, Beat, Folk: Grundlagen Der Textmusik-Analyse (1978). I will restrict the analysis to a stylistic and thematic one and I will not go into the musical analysis since that aspect does not play a role from my point of view.

3.1 New York, New York

The more correct title of the famous song is Theme from New York, New York since it was written and composed by Fred Ebb and John Kander for the movie of the same title (Akalin). New York, New York from 1977, plays in in the 1940s and is about the love story between two musicians and their rise to fame (cf. Connelly 49-53). The protagonist Liza Minelli performed the theme song of the movie which is well-known because of Frank Sinatra's cover from 1979 (cf. Akalin).

3.1.1 Stylistic Analysis

The song consists of eight verses and no real refrain. The first, second, fourth and seventh verse are each shaped in the rhyme scheme of abcd. So there is no rhyme within one of these verses but the repetition of this pattern makes the verses rhyme. This can be seen as a kind of alternate rhyme. In the third verse can be observed an other alternate rhyme with an interruption (efgf). An other emerging verse is gghd which can be seen in the verses five and eight. This repeating scheme can be seen as a kind of refrain in the song New York, New York. It consists out of the same rhyme pattern and similar words but differ in the length of the lines. Seven of eight verses consist out of 4 lines, the sixth verse involves seven lines with no transparent rhyme scheme and can be seen like the bridge of this song.

According to this structure the song can not be allocated to a certain strophic form. The song may be interpreted as an ode with free rhyme patterns. The free verses are alike ordinary speech which is supported by use of whole sentences. The first-person narrator uses everyday language and each verse consists of one sentence. This text construction entails that the first-person narrator shares a story or message with the listener. On these grounds the song is not a fictive monologue but the unfolding of a story directly addressed to the listener. Furthermore the narrator formulates his message as a calling.

The only symmetrical rhetorical device within the free structure is the repetition of the term New York. It draws attention to the term and shows its importance. It becomes clear that the city New York is the focal point in the song. The song New York, New York is a homage to the city New York and its “show business ambition” (Connelly 62). How this mood and attitude is constructed will be analyzed in the following sub chapter.


Excerpt out of 22 pages


The Stereotypical American Dream. Then and Now
University of Osnabrück
Urban Landscapes of Modernity
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
American Dream, Life, US, United States, Stereotypical
Quote paper
Lara Luisa Schöber (Author), 2016, The Stereotypical American Dream. Then and Now, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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