In 1842, Charles Dickens travelled through parts of the USA. In this extract he describes the town of Cairo; no – not the capital of Egypt, but a small town wedged between two mighty rivers in the middle of America.
A visit to scenic Cairo, Illinois, USA!
I’m going to send this passage to the Cairo, Illinois, tourism bureau; they may want to use it in some of their promotional material:
The scenery as we approached the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, was not at all inspiring in its influence. The trees were stunted in their growth; the banks were low and flat; the settlements and log cabins fewer in number; their inhabitants more pale and wretched than any we had encountered yet.
No songs of birds were in the air, no pleasant scents, no moving lights and shadows from swift- passing clouds. Hour after hour, the changeless glare of the hot, unwinking sky shone upon the same monotonous objects. Hour after hour, the river rolled along as wearily and slowly as the time itself.
At length, upon the morning of the third day, we arrived at a spot so much more desolate than any we had yet beheld that the most miserable places we had passed were, in comparison with it, full of interest.
At the junction of the two rivers, on ground so flat and low that at certain seasons of the year it is flooded to the housetops, lies a breeding place of fever, disease and death.
A dismal swamp, on which the half-built houses rot away; cleared here and there for the space of a few yards; and teeming then with rank, unwholesome vegetation, in whose gloomy shade the wretched wanderers who are tempted there droop and die and lay their bones.
The hateful Mississippi circling and swirling before it, and turning off upon its southern course, a slimy monster hideous to behold; a hotbed of disease, an ugly tomb, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise: a place without one single quality, in earth or air or water to commend it: such is this dismal Cairo.”
You remember “The American Dream” from when you studied Of Mice and Men at the end of Yr.9 – George and Lennie endlessly seeking freedom and a place of their own in the Great Depression of 1930. In this article, Swedish-American journalist Sandi Lundstrom asks: What Defines The American Dream Today?
What exactly is The American dream, and does it even exist anymore, and if so, does The American Dream have the same meaning today as it had in the past? Is The American Dream only for Americans, or do people from around the world still move to the U.S., hoping to achieve their dreams?
The American Dream is considered an opportunity for success, a dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. To some, success is earning money. For others, success is all about family and happiness. My ancestors emigrated from Sweden to the United States, hoping for a better life. During that time, the definition of The American Dream was something different compared to what it is today. Back then, The American Dream was more about survival rather than success in terms of money. When one struggles to provide food and shelter for their families, any change for the better is success. The great majority of people who emigrated from Sweden to the U.S overcame difficulties and became successful in their eyes. A few years later, my ancestors returned to Sweden financially strong and were able to buy land and start over but this time with a more stable foundation. We do not need money and fancy cars in order to call ourselves successful. Sometimes food and a roof over our heads is what we wish to have and therefore, my ancestors were living what I define as The American Dream.
Gabriela grew up in Peru and was living there until a couple of years ago with her husband and their two young children in a poor town. Gabriella admitted, “we were working long days for a minimum salary, which made it hard to provide enough food and shelter for the family.” Gabriela and her husband knew that they had to do something about the unsustainable situation. “I moved to the U.S not only to fulfil my dreams but also my family’s dreams. I have been on both sides, but today, I can finally say that things are going well for my family and me and compared to our lives before, we are now living the dream.”
The American Dream is still alive; it just depends on how you define it. For me, The American Dream is about success in terms of what you wish for. Compared to many other countries in the world, America is a place where you have the opportunity to determine your own success. The American Dream is also about getting an education, building a family and to reach happiness and satisfaction. In fact, it has a different meaning for each of us, but I’m sure we can all agree that the American Dream includes hope for a richer life with freedom and opportunity.