Cadillac: The American Dream
For more than a century, the American car company, Cadillac, has continually served as a symbol of what a dedicated, determined individual could accomplish. It has consistently led the parade for automakers and was the first to innovate many aspects of the car. Cadillac is the automotive expression of the American dream, built for the belief that it doesn’t matter where you came from, just how far and how fast you want to go. The Cadillac also represents patriotism because it is an American brand. This paper will discuss how throughout the decades, Cadillac has grown as both a status symbol in the U.S. and a representation of America’s consumer society.
The idea of the American dream in “Typical American” by Gish Jen is represented through Cadillac. Cadillac epitomizes one of the aspects of the American dream that people have hoped to attain. Ralph, as a Chinese immigrant, first sees America as the land of opportunity. Gish Jen used the character of Ralph as a skewed representation of the “typical American” who dreams of going from rags to riches. “Typical American” begins with “It’s an American story: Before he was a thinker, or a doer, an engineer, much less an imagineer like his self-made-millionaire friend Grover Ding, Ralph Chang was just a small boy in China, struggling to grow up his father’s son” (1), setting the stage for Ralph as a man who gained his own wealth. Because he is a Chinese immigrant, he is slightly different than the average American dreaming of a successful life. The American dream consists of being successful enough to own a beautiful house, a nice car, and have a beautiful, content family. Because many people have come to American hoping to gain this luxurious life, Cadillac has monopolized on this belief. As an American car company, throughout the years they have advertized themselves as the car that the honest, hard working person can buy. Despite Ralph’s father’s anger towards him for traveling to America, Ralph continues his route because he wants to gain success and bring honor to his family. As Ralph’s story continues, he becomes more and more obsessed with achieving the epitome of the American dream. As he becomes more desperate for the luxurious life, he begins to drift away from being an honest hard-working man and goes towards achieving success the dishonest way. The material things represented by the American dream become so desirable that people shift their values in order to gain them. Over the years, Cadillac has grown and developed to always fit the needs and ideals of American citizens. They have continually come out with new cars that revolutionize the style of cars of the age, which has intensified their success. Since the introduction of the car, finally buying a dream car has always been part of the American dream. In the U.S., the two biggest representations of a person’s wealth are their home and their car. Because Cadillac has been around for so long, it has become a classic American car. People of all ages know it as a classy car company. Older people remember the classic cars they grew up admiring, and younger people marvel at the new luxury styles that have come out within the last few years, such as the Escalade. Part of achieving the American dream is being a part of the upper class or upper middle class. Although the U.S. has strived to create a classless society, classes always exist. Being within the upper class range involves living without stress from money problems. One of the main reasons the American dream has come to exist is the desire for the unfortunate to relieve their stress from money problems. The meaning behind the song, “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman can also be elicited through Cadillac. She sings about her own desire for the American dream with hope, ‘I know things will get better. You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted. We’ll move out of the shelter. Buy a big house and live in the suburbs. You got a fast car’....
Cited: Carolyn de la Peña, “Saccharin Sparrow (circa 1955)” from Object Reader (forthcoming), 506-509
Jen, Gish. Typical American. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991. 1-296. Print.
Jules David Prown, “The Truth of Material Culture: History or Fiction?” from American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture, edited by Jules David Prown and Kenneth Halfman (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2000), 11-27
Tracy Chapman. “Fast Cars.” Tracy Chapman. DGC, 1988. CD.
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