Old World Dreams and Promised Land Nightmares in Early 20th Century Jewish-American Immigrant Narratives

Brygida Gasztold


The origin of the concept of the American Dream is attributed to James Truslow Adams, whose The Epic of America (1931) was the publication that launched the popularity of the phrase. Adams referred to a dream of a better, happier, and richer life, which should be attainable for all people, and, in his view, America was the place which offers such an opportunity:

„That dream of the land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. [...] It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position (415).”


Adams, J.T. (1933): The Epic of America, Boston.

Antin, M. (1912): The Promised Land, Boston.

Cahan, A. (1917/2002): The Rise of David Levinsky, Mineola, New York.

Cavalcanti, H.B., Schleef, D. (2001): Cultural Loss and the American Dream: the Immigrant Experience in Barry Levinson’s Avalon, Journal of American and Comparative Cultures 24 (3/4): 11–23.

Cullen, J. (2004): The American Dream: a Short History of an Idea that Shaped the Nation, New York.

Gold, M. (1930/2004): Jews Without Money, New York.

Prell, R.-E. (1999): Fighting to Become Americans. Assimilation and the Trouble between Jewish Women and Men, Boston.

Shapiro, A.R. (1996): The Ultimate Shaygets and the Fiction of Anzia Yezierska, Melus 21 (2): 79–89

Vincent, B. (2005): The American Dream: When Was the Phrase Born? Les Journal du Printemps: 81–94.

Yezierska, A. (1925/2003): Bread Givers, New York.

Yezierska, A. (1991): Miracle, in: How I Found America: Collected Stories, New York.

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