As the United States has never had an aristocracy and thus is better able to recognize that the contingent conditions of birth are not all that are determinant in how one will fair in life. The concept of the American Dream has had many detractors, most dreams do. The condemnations that beset the American Dream typically utilize one of two strategies: 1) the lavish materialism sought is spiritually destructive and the obsessive worship of the dollar borders on the cult-like, 2) the American Dream betrays certain disenfranchised groups by feeding them false hope about the existence of a meritocracy. Dana Gioia, current chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, writes a poem entitled "Money" that examines the many metaphors that we use to describe what it is and how we use it. In understanding our obsession with the dollar his poem offers some insight into its power and hold on us. In another work, Harlon L. Dalton, author of Racial Healing: Confronting the Fear between Blacks & Whites, discusses the destructive capacities of the American myth in an essay titled, "Horatio Alger." In examining these two works this paper will reveal that how we use the myth of the American Dream is just as important as the dream itself.
In the epigraph to the poem, Gioia quotes Wallace Stevens's line, "Money is a kind of poetry" (Gioia) If we think of poetry as a kind of writing which attempts to impress images on us through, symbols and metaphors rather than through explicit means, then money might be a sort of symbol or metaphor which conveys its own images and metaphors of the American Dream. In the first stanza Gioia lists a number of euphemisms and sobriquets that refer to the materiality: its color, shape, and texture. The next stanza describes some of the things we are required to do with it. One aspect of success is having money, just having it. Gioia highlights the metaphors we deploy to express the annoyance of having it to spend on necessities like rent, insurance, and the dreaded car payment (or even worse car repair). We "Chock it up, fork it over, shell it out" (Gioia, line 4-5). In this regard we are put in a double bind by the nature of success in America. Not only are individuals pressured by external forces to seek monetary compensation to afford a nice house, a fast car, or designer clothing; but, within us is constructed a sense of remorse at spending money on those things, which society suggests we should need anyway. The subsequent stanza illustrates what money can do for us. It can get us through problems, sometimes through illicit means, and it can make us comfortable. Making ends meet is often considered the baseline of success in the American Dream. If that is all one can do, then he or she is not making enough-but it is a start. Part and parcel of that dream is being able to get through the day, the month, and one's life by whatever means necessary. This imperative to persevere despite odds is an integral portion of the American popular psyche, and is more developed in the work of Horatio Alger as discussed by Dalton. Dalton is critical of the myth insofar that it presumes certain features about American society that are not actually realized in his estimation, namely