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The American Dream

4. A Happier Life

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In this module, we think about the “happier” aspect of the American dream, focusing on: (i) the centrality of optimism and hope to American identity, from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama; (ii) John Steinbeck’s research on the struggle of migrant workers searching for a better life in California, published in his book Their Blood is Strong (1938); (iii) Steinbeck’s idea that community and collaboration between these workers are fundamental to the hope and struggle for a better life, as presented in The Grapes of Wrath (1939); (iv) Ma Joad’s reference to the “people” that the US Constitution addresses; and (v) American exceptionalism.


In this course, Dr Niall Munro (Oxford Brookes University) explores the concept of the American dream throughout American literature. In the first module, we think about the origins and nature of the dream, focusing on James Truslow Adams’ definition of the dream as searching for “a better, richer and happier life”. In the second module, we consider what a “better” life means through the lens of immigration, from John Winthrop’s A City Upon A Hill (1630) speech, all the way to Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). In the third, we look at the idea of a “richer” life, examining generational wealth and privilege in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Finally, in the fourth module, we turn to the idea of a “happier” life, outlining the importance of optimism to American identity and to John Steinbeck’s work The Grapes of Wrath (1939).


Dr Niall Munro is Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Oxford Brookes University and Director of the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre. His research and teaching focuses on American modernist writing. His most recent publications include Hart Crane’s Queer Modernist Aesthetic (2015) and (as co-editor) On Commemoration: Global Reflections Upon Remembering War (2020).

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Munro, N. (2022, September 06). The American Dream - A Happier Life [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Munro, N. "The American Dream – A Happier Life." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Sep 2022,

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