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To dream the American dream: American success narratives at the turn of the century

Elena Harriet Sharnoff, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The dissertation is an exploration of the allure and limitations of success in America at the turn of the century (roughly between 1880-1920), and includes both canonical and non-canonical texts, with an emphasis on the non-canonical. The proliferation at the turn of the century of novels which feature a "rags to riches" theme highlights in fresh ways many familiar sociological and historical problems, concerns, and conditions. Looking at issues of race, class, and gender difference, as well as the impact of the industrial revolution, and the emergence of consumer culture, this study explores the reasons behind the desire for financial and social success in America, and exposes the contradictions and limitations at the center of the American ideal of success. The dissertation addresses the cultural and historical anxieties inherent in the success myth, which are especially clear in the stories of successful immigrants, African-Americans, Native Americans, and women.

Subject Area

American literature|American history|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Sharnoff, Elena Harriet, "To dream the American dream: American success narratives at the turn of the century" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9606560.