American Dream Critical Analysis

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Overcoming Obstacles Of The American Dream

In the literatures we have read this semester all of the characters have a dream that consists of a plan and multiple goals that sum up to the American Dream, however, there have been obstacles that sometimes hinder these American dreams. These obstacles range from internal conflict to society itself. The question is if it is possible for these characters to struggle with obstacles and overcome them to reach their dream?

In “Step Children of a Nation” Isabel Gonzalez explains how the probabilities for Mexican-Americans in America during the mid 20th century for achieving the American Dream were very slim due to the obstacles that were presented by society (Gonzalez 162). Pedro Pietri details in the “Puerto Rican Obituary” the personal struggles endured by five Puerto Ricans in New York while attempting to achieve the American Dream (Pietri 212). We have no choice but to accept the standard of the United States and act in accordance with the society expectations as we see Ysreal do in Junot Diaz’ “No Face” (Diaz 417).

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Each character in these texts has the opportunity of success and only those who are willing to make a persistent and consistent effort will be able to achieve their dream despite their own personal struggles and the obstacles presented by society. Even though there are many obstacles to achieving this dream, it isn’t impossible for it to become a reality. The Mexican-Americans in Step Children of a nation lacked the ambition needed to achieve the American Dream. The most difficult obstacles to overcome are those presented by society.

Isabel Gonzalez states what life was like for Mexican Americans trying to achieve the American Dream in the mid 20th century under poor living conditions and economic exploitation. These characters acculturated to the American lifestyle and the non citizens had the desire to become citizens. In fact they supported World War II (Leal) and Gonzalez noted that: It is a well known fact that the number of war casualties among the Mexican-American soldiers was very high in proportion to the population (Gonzalez , 163). But even after this the Anglo-Saxon society continued to discriminate and pursue segregation from their society.

The Mexicans were forced to live in slums. During this time the homes these people lived in were hardly fit for animals and had no repairs in years but yet brought in income from Mexicans far beyond the value of the homes (Gonzalez , 165). They arrived in the United States believing a promise of personal economic growth (Aguilar), but instead came to live in substandard conditions with the hope of a better future for their children. Gonzalez states that industries have succeeded in keeping the Mexican the most underpaid and most oppressed worker so that they will always have a surplus of cheap labor (Gonzalez , 167).

This economic exploitation caused the children to also have substandard education and health. These situations forced some of the characters to keep quiet due to fear of deportation and the reality of achieving the American Dream nearly impossible. But if these characters wouldn’t have overlooked the possibility of change and set aside their fear they would have been so much closer to achieving the American Dream. Another obstacle the characters from the texts we reviewed in class had to overcome was their own personal oppressions.

In “Puerto Rican Obituary”, Pietri talks about 5 characters: Juan/ Miguel/ Milagros/ Olga/ Manuel and their daily struggles as a Nuyorican (Monthly Review Foundation) who didn’t accept the standards of the United States. These Nuyoricans were motivated to immigrate to this country by the American dream which turned into a nightmare presented as death. They were divided between two cultures and two languages. Juan/ Miguel/ Milagros/ Olga/ Manuel are attempting to live as a “gringo”. Their unfortunate situation is that as they attempt to leave behind their language they are also leaving behind their identity (Brook).

And as they realize this they are torn between the dream and the nightmare. They feel overworked and underpaid. All died/ dreaming about america/ waking them up in the middle of the night/ screaming: Mira Mira/ your name is on the winning lottery ticket/ for one hundred thousand dollars (Pietri 36-41) The characters in this text believed they can achieve the American Dream by something simpler like winning the lottery. But by believing this almost impossible wish their dream becomes a nightmare which is reflected as their death.

They dream of belonging to a community of “clean-cut lily-white neighborhood/ Puerto Ricanless scenes” and being “the first spics on the block” where “gringos want them lynched” (215). By not being able to accomplish this dream the “puertorriquenos” find themselves shut out of America’s economic opportunities and lifestyle, and realize that they are unemployed, living on welfare, bitter, and degraded. This situation leads to the death of their American dream along with their dignity; therefore the characters in this text do not achieve the American dream.

Ysrael is a child with a disfigured face who knows all too well the difference between the nightmare and dream. He is a child that has accepted the fact that he has to wear a mask in public to be accepted in his community. He compares himself to Kaliman. Ysrael’s superpower is the power of invisibility (Diaz , 418). He dreams of escaping Dominican Republic and going “up north” and has hopes that the doctor will fix him. In the end of the story Ysrael has to make sure to wear his mask when his father comes out but doesn’t have to worry when he’s around his mother.

All of this symbolizes the life of an immigrant attempting to achieve the American Dream (Alford). Ysreal’s disfigured face is the life the immigrants have in their country of origin. The surgery that the doctor and the priest promise is the American Dream. The mask is the sacrifices the immigrants make by acculturating to the American society. The superpower of invisibility represents how people are obligated to put themselves out of sight from society when they do not act according to society’s expectations. When Diaz mentions that Ysrael wants to go “up north” he is referring to the United States.

Also the father is stands for the American culture (where Ysrael always has to wear his mask) and the mother represents his own culture or his identity. The boys who throw rocks at him and the cleaning lady represent the obstacles the immigrants must surpass to achieve their dream. In this text Ysrael does achieve the American Dream because he has accepted the fact that he has to wear his mask in front of his father and when he goes out in public. But at the same time he does not lose his identify because those who are around him remind him of how his face became disfigured over and over again (Diaz , 419).

Pietri talks about all the obstacles the characters face while attempting to achieve the American dream but if Juan/ Miguel/ Milagros/ Olga/ Manuel would have accepted the standards of society in the United States or if the Mexicans in “Step Children of a Nation” would have been more ambitious like Ysrael in “No Face” their nightmare could have converted back to the dream they immigrated to the United States for. So to answer the question if is possible for these characters to struggle with obstacles and overcome them to reach their dream the answer is only if they were all as ambitious, persistent, and committed as Ysrael.

The character Ysrael did not let his disfigured face or his father hold him back from achieving his dream. Ysrael had people yell out to him “No Face” but yet he continues his path to his set goal. He was determined to be persistent and consistent in pursuing his dream.


  1. Aguilar, Mario E. From Immigrant Ousiders to Indigenous Tribal – National Identities. Web. 09 June 2011.
  2. Alford, William. Junot Diaz’s Drown — Sex, Race and Power. 10 Feb 2005. Web. 08 June 2011.
  3. Brook, Elizabeth. Nuyroican Newness. 2010 11 May. Web. 08 June 2011.
  4. Diaz, Junot. “No Face. ” Herencia: The Anthology of Hipic Literature of the United States. Ed. Nicolas Kanellos. New York: Oxford Press, 2002. 417-420.
  5. Gonzalez, Isabel. “Step Children of a Nation. ” Herencia: The Anthology of Hipic Literature of the United States. Ed. Nicolas Kanellos. New York: Oxford Press, 2002. 162-170. Print.
  6. Leal, David A. “American Public Opinion. ” October 2005. webspace. utexas. edu. Web. 08 June 2011.
  7. Monthly Review Foundation. Monthly Review: Puerto Rican Obituary. 01 June 2004. Web. 08 June 2011.
  8. Pietri, Pedro. “Puerto Rican Obituary. ” Herencia: The Anthology of Hipic Literature of the United States. Ed. Nicolas Kanellos. New York: Oxford Press, 2002. 212-220. Print.

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