The American Dream is a relatively ambiguous term. It has meanings that range from the success of the individual, to the national hope for equality and justice. Many people who arrived in American when the term was first used believed it meant the pursuit of a lifestyle that would allow them to live a life where equality and justice reigned supreme, and where everyone had a chance at attaining happiness. This definition will be applied to this essay’s look at the American Dream’s relationship to the 2005 film Cinderella Man. The movie depicts boxer James J. Braddock who is struggling to support his family during the Great Depression. Prior to the Depression taking hold in 1929, Braddock had a strong career as a boxer. But he invested into stocks most of the money he realized from that success. He would later lose this money during the market crash. He broke his punching hand around the same time, and this made him relatively ineffective in the boxing ring. His license was revoked and he had to try to work shifts at the dock. But they were scarce, and they paid very little. After a while, his hand healed, and he was asked to fight the runner-up to the heavyweight title of the world. After he won, he was asked to box again, and he kept fighting. He eventually won the heavyweight championship of the world, and those who were struggling to make ends meet rallied behind him, vicariously living the American Dream through him. Braddock, as depicted by Russell Crowe in the Ron Howard Film Cinderella Man, represents the American Dream, and his 1930s struggle relates to the challenges faced by people in attaining the Dream today.
The American Dream as depicted in the film, relates closely to how Americans are struggling today. James Truslow Adams is credited with coining the phrase: “[The American Dream is] that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (Brock, 2). He goes on to say it is more a term that people other than the upper class would really understand. However, contemporary economic and social challenges are making it difficult to achieve the American Dream. Defaulting mortgages, high fuel prices, high tuition prices and outsourced jobs, for example, are just a few of the challenges people face, (Jillson, 4). The American Dream was once something that was attainable by everyone. However, the challenges that people are facing in the 21st century have resulted in the unattainability of the dream for many people. This has been fueled by challenges that were not commonly faced throughout the history of the United States, except during the Great Depression in which Braddock literally fought for his family’s survival, and people have a similar fight today. “Despite two long economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s, the dream has been fading for many Americans” (Jillson, 4). This shows the similarities in the challenges that were faced in the Great Depression, with the challenges that are being faced now in achieving the American Dream.
Americans are currently disenfranchised due to an education system that makes it challenging to achieve the American Dream. According to The American Association of Community Colleges, competition from abroad is making it challenging for Americans to enter the education system so that they have the tools to succeed. The economic challenges that have been faced by Americans over the past several years is similar to what Braddock, and many others went through during the Great Depression. Ron Howard, director of the film, said he took a keen interest in the Great Depression, and his words reflect the similarities between the contemporary times and the 1930s’ Great Depression. “While the economy is mostly up and then sometimes down – the Internet bubble bursting felt a little bit like ’29, where people had overextended and fallen into that trap again – we’re anxious” (Cinderella, 7). The challenges to which Howard is referring came prior to the Great Recession, as the Internet bubble burst early in 2000. The Great Recession had a much larger impact on the economy and is a better comparable to the Great Recession. But his comments help draw a link to contemporary challenges and those that Braddock faced. Howard provides a valuable perspective on the reasons why he wanted to make the movie, and this allows the reader to see whether the intention of the movie was to communicate the American Dream. Howard does not specifically mention the American Dream, but he does discuss the challenges that were faced during the time, and compares them to the challenges faced after the Internet bubble after the turn of the century. That brings the context to a more contemporary time, and adds an element of relevancy when discussing the American Dream now, and how it was applied during the period Cinderella Man depicts.
Cinderella Man shows that attaining the American Dream is possible even at the worst of times. Braddock was at the bottom with many people, but he showed he could rise to the top with hard work. People rallied behind him, and he represented what they might be able to achieve. It did not take the American people a long time to discover the substance of the American Dream. It is the pursuit of happiness, liberty and life. Braddock showed the dream can be applied to anyone, because it is not mean to just say that some women or some men, or some white men or some white women; it means all people of any gender and race, (King Jr., 2). This text provides a valuable look at what the much-admired Martin Luther King Jr. thought of the American Dream. It provides the perspective of a black man who was going through a time of oppression for his people. Similar to how James J. Braddock was experiencing a very low point, King Jr. was experiencing a low point. Similarities between these two men provide a valuable take on how the dream has applied to disenfranchised Americans throughout history.
The American Dream is under siege, (Reclaiming, vii). Specifically, this is in relation to the contract between a generation of Americans and the next. It is becoming progressively more difficult for Americans to realize their dreams, as there are new challenges faced every day. These challenges might not be as obvious as the 20% unemployment reached during the Great Depression, but it is becoming much more difficult to achieve the type of lifestyle where Americans feel affirmed that they have realized an ideal lifestyle. Education is a main component in attaining the American Dream in contemporary times, and it is becoming more challenging to achieve due to increasing costs and competition. Furthermore, the greed that possesses many of the “haves” is colliding with the dreams of the “have-nots.” Corporations continue to provide the wealth to their top executives, who then collaborate with politicians in “old-boys clubs” to increase their monetary supremacy over the majority. That makes it vitally important to improve community colleges to ensure that the needs of students are attained, and they can compete to make their way to the top. But utopia is letting fewer and fewer people through its razor-sharp doors. While times are tough for many people today, Cinderella Man shows how someone can rise to the top even during the worst of times. The film represents a hope that even when life seems unbearable, hard work and persistence can result in achieving the American Dream, even if it is only there for a few.
Brock, Charles. “The Institute on the American Dream.” Penn State University. Web. 27 Oct. 2013
“Cinderella Man.” Columbia University. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.
Cinderella Man. Dir. Ron Howard. Perf. Russell Crow, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Bruce McGill, and Craig Bierko. Universal Picture/Miramax Films. 2005. Film
Jillson, Cal. “Wide Awake and Worried: Today’s American Middle Class.” Southern Methodist University. Web. 27 Oct. 2013
King. Jr. “The American Dream.” Stanford University. (1965). Web. 27 Oct. 2013
“Reclaiming the American Dream.” American Association of Community Colleges. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.