The theme of American Promise has always been fundamental to the stories we tell about our country and the way we see ourselves. We are a nation of opportunity, of potential, where the next generation can always do better than the last one.

The United States prides itself on being a place of more liberties than other countries, and American writing is filled with examples of people seeking to realize the full extent of possibility: chasing upward social mobility, fighting for political equality, cementing a feeling of belonging. Just as significantly, there are also works that illustrate the elusiveness of the American Dream, written by those who have been shut out.

Perhaps there is no better example of this than Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again” in which the speaker refuses to relinquish his grip on the American Dream despite the fact that in his own experience, he laments, “It was never America to me.”

Ivy Wilson

Ivy Wilson
Associate Professor of English and Director of American Studies, Northwestern University

Ivy Wilson (Ph.D. Yale University) teaches courses on the comparative literatures of the black diaspora and U.S. literary studies with a particular emphasis on African American culture.

Symbolism of Belonging

Upward Social Mobility

Political Equality