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The American Dream?

Last night when I was doing the reading I felt some dissonance. It could have been because of the tryptophan in the turkey sandwich I had eaten earlier, because about 9 pages in I nodded off for an hour and a half. I think it was mainly because the world being presented by Olmsted conflicted with the image of the west that I have carried with me ever since I’ve taken Texas History courses.

Growing up from age 8 in the Texas hill country, all you hear are stories about great frontiersmen who traversed the land killing rattle snakes and raising cattle. They built those houses that had an open hallway in the middle so the warm breezes could blow through. You can drive through the hills of Lago Vista and Marble Falls and see the wilderness and landscapes all around you on 1431. I mean, it was Manifest Destiny right? The American Dream! People going out into the unknown to tame the wilderness and make something of them selves. My idea was so romantic, so idealistic, and so wrong; and it really shocked me in a way to read this narrative.

The dirty, lazy, vagabond world of Texas described was not the American Dream. It was ugly, and stupid, and it just seemed so un-american. A part of me kept hoping to see the good guys that I had always read about, to see the heroes and the dreamers. The guy who came up with the ingenious and yes comfortable housing ideas. Within slavery these people were not to be found. What I really understood from the reading was that slavery was so detrimental, so anti-american, that it reduced this part of America into something stinking and dirty, and took the people with it. No wonder this history of Texas tends to be glorified. The people had nothing to cling to but their pride in their state.

I suppose overall this reading really made me question America in general, and really brought to light some of my own blind ignorance. I’m a bit of a romantic, and this world presented, this reality that we are facing now as we all explore the ugly and private sins of our county have really been throwing me for a loop. Does an idealist and a romanticist have a place in this reality? I’m also curious to know, what is the current idea of the American Dream? I think the Germans best epitomized this for me, and it is perhaps why Olmsted liked them best (besides the butter). How ingrained is this dream in our systems?

Curiosity will kill my idealism, I can tell.


I think it's strange that the man resembles Hitler with a cowboy hat. Wilkommen!

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 8, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Yeah, I was disappointed too. I’ve always thought of Texans to be hardworking and motivated, and always envisioned Texas as being not just big, but beautiful. Unfortunately, this reading does much to disprove these ideals. I wonder how much being a famous landscape architect played into his criticism though, was it really as bad as he portrayed it, or was he being critical because his profession demanded it in order to be a successful landscape artist?

  2. rh567
    February 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    There is a quote I really like by Logan Pearsall Smith. “When they come downstairs from their Ivory Towers, idealists are very apt to walk straight into the gutter.” It is kind of harsh, but I think that it is true. America, and Texas in particular, is not a very beautiful place; we like to think that it is because, like you so aptly said, our pride is ‘all we got.’ I think the questions you raised in your post are questions we all, or at least I, have to ask myself. Do I really want to know what the real America looks and feels like? Or am I too afraid of the dirt?

  3. carinaevans
    February 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    “I think it’s strange that the man resembles Hitler with a cowboy hat. Wilkommen!”

    Okay, that sign is just bizarre!

  4. February 10, 2011 at 8:38 am

    “Does an idealist and a romanticist have a place in this reality?”

    I had a long conversation with a dear friend of mine just the other day about this very problem and we essentially came to the conclusion that, given the slow plodding of every other country’s history to the social improvements of now, America’s movin’ pretty fast, actually. Not quickly enough, obviously, but it’s getting there. After all, though we still have many issues and a great deal of injustice pervading our states, becoming pessimistic does nothing to help the situation. Maybe not remaining a romantic, but remaining an optimist will help us improve this country, one day, into something that we truly can be romantically proud of — I hope, anyway. Let’s not allow pessimism to transform into apathy and become a self-fulfilling prophesy — I know I have to watch myself carefully at times because I often feel helpless at learning about all these issues. And I know I tend to get more frustrated than hopeful about the state of our country but, hey, we do have an African American president! And at least we are talking and learning about these problems and injustices instead of continuing the cycle of cover-up.

    And also, I wouldn’t let Texas become your template for the state of the rest of the country — it seems to me that things really are just generally worse here.

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