Dreams vie in talk

Our ancestors originally formed their traditions and ideals in Europe, but after colonizing America, we soon began creating our own identity. In a lecture titled “Writers on the Old World: Competitions between the American and European Dream,” Paul Michael Lützeler, a professor at Washington University, talked about how American authors used their literature to influence how the American dream was thought of in comparison to the European dream — whether it was proving the superiority of the American dream or trying to show that Europe had not lost all of its grandeur. When the revolutions of 1848 appeared American writers were influenced and took a more critical stance on the American dream. They began to “deal with individual, social and political problems in the United States,” Lützeler said. Many authors including Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson also used their writing as “a celebration of American democracy … Finally, the American Dream was constructed, centered upon the desire for individual freedom, social recognition and material riches,” Lützeler said. Mark Twain, one of the most famous realist writers greatly influenced our understanding of the American dream as his work became “a kind of literary Declaration of Independence: Americans no longer looked at Old World history and current events with European eyes, but instead did so with a degree of distance,” Lützeler said. In the end, Lützeler pointed out that the similarity between the American and European dream was “the love of peace, the principle or national self-determination, the understanding of human rights.” The lecture was part of the Burack President’s Distinguished Lecture Series, which brings distinguished scholars to UVM.