The popular definition of the American Dream was defined in the 1930’s by James Truslow Adams. He defines it as “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. . .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.”
Contract with God by Will Eisner takes place in the tenements of New York City in the 1930’s when this version of the American Dream starts to take hold on the American psyche. Eisner even mentions the upward mobility that defines the American Dream in the introduction to the novel. While the American Dream is not specifically mentioned, I think there are some clear moments in which you can see the American Dream motivating characters. In general, it can be assumed that the foreign-born people living in this tenement are motivated by the desire to do better in America than was possible in their home countries. Also, the motivation of following their dreams – which could be encouraged by the idea of the American Dream – is particularly evident in the Street Singer.
The first example of this is between Eddie and the diva. The top right hand panel in which you realize that the diva has lost her chance to fulfill her dreams – which she gave up when she got married. These panels show that after her husband’s death, she is willing to do anything to get back to the top. She is using Eddie, not necessarily because she believes in his talent, but because she believes in HER talent to bring him to the top and bring herself back up with him. By giving Eddie the chance to fulfill his dream, she is also giving her chance to restart her life and follow her dreams.
This particular moment is much more interesting. One reason is because the wife’s life seems to resemble the diva’s trajectory. She gave up her dreams to get married and be a mother – possibly because that is what is assumed of a woman during this time period (for more on women in Contract with God, you might consider reading kfortier’s blog post.) But her life also resembles the dive because it seems that she is married to a person she does not like and has made her life worse than it was. But the more interesting part is when you realize that Eddie was previously an accountant – a person that can be considered successful and possibly the job that many people strive to achieve – yet he gave it up to wander the alleys to follow his dream of being a singer.
If their wasn’t a culture of the American Dream and the chance of becoming who you want to be no matter where you come from, all of these characters’ lives would be different and the stories would be told in a different way.