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Alex Schafer

Mrs. Field
English 406
30 January 2011
While America has been depicted as a land of opportunity for centuries,
much of the support for this idea is based upon idealistic views. Although the
American Dream does exist for some, it often evades others due to factors such a
s economic status. Low economic status can damage one’s chance of achieving the A
merican Dream by forcing him into crime, providing unequal opportunities, and in
creasing the gap between the rich and the poor.
Poverty often urges people to commit crimes in order to obtain financial
assets. These crimes, more likely than not, will end up putting individuals in
worse situations than they were in before. An impoverished person is much more
likely to commit a crime than a wealthy person. With a lack of financial suppo
rt, one may be willing to do anything in order to survive. Christopher Wildeman
and Bruce Western support this idea in their article “Incarceration in Fragile Fa
milies.” Wildeman and Western state that the “changes in imprisonment rate—commonly c
alled mass imprisonment or the prison boom—have been concentrated among those most
likely to form fragile families: poor and minority men with little schooling”(Wil
deman and Western). A good example of this comes from In Cold Blood in the form
of Floyd Wells. According to Capote, “He had attempted several careers, as soldi
er, ranch hand, mechanic, thief, the last of which had earned him a sentence of
three to five years” (Capote 159). Wells is a victim of hardships such as divorce
, and has a history with the military. Without a viable source of income, Wells
resorts to crime in an attempt to further his financial status. This crime may
have permanently damaged his chance of achieving his American Dream. Wells bec
omes a victim of the Nightmare while trying to achieve the Dream.
Some individuals are provided with unequal opportunities due to their in
itial economic status. Unable to afford higher education, the need for income o
ften forces individuals to assume lower income jobs, prohibiting them from climb
ing the financial ladder. Evidence of this comes from the University of Califor
nia, Berkley’s article “The Effect of Parental Work History and Public Assistance Us
e of the Transition to Adulthood.” According to the article, children who are rai
sed in households with below average income are much more likely to remain impov
erished in their adulthood. This parallels In Cold Blood in the form of Dick.
When describing the life of his son, Dick’s father says that he was “An outstanding
athlete—always on the first team at school.” He goes on to say that Dick was “A prett
y good student, too, with A marks in several subjects… After he graduated from hi
gh school—June, 1949—he wanted to go on to college… But we couldn’t do it. Plain didn’t
have the money”(Capote 166). Dick seems to be a promising individual, but he is u
nable to achieve his full potential without financial support. Without funds to
go on to college he is forced to work a low paying job, which may have ultimate
ly pushed him into crime. Even if financial aide or scholarship is available, i
t is not likely that this could cover all of his education. Poor economic statu
s can have other effects on education than a lack of funds. Evidence of this co
mes from “Educational Relationships and Their Impact on Poverty,” in which the autho
rs claim that their research explores the idea that impoverished children “are dis
advantaged in their potential to learn by the extent and quality of their social
networks and educational relationships”(Wikeley…). The idea is that children raise
d in impoverished conditions see less value in education due to the attitudes of
surrounding adults. This under appreciation makes the impoverished children ge
t less out of their education than someone of a higher economic status generally
would. Initial economic status can be a major contributing factor to an indiv
idual’s success in their later life.
With major business growing, it is more difficult for individuals to ach
ieve their full economic potential and break the binds of poverty. The same opp
ortunity is no longer available for an entrepreneur to have a “rags—to—riches” story. A
ccording to Luke S.H. Wright in his article “The Death of the American Dream,” which
expresses the ideas of Hunter S. Thompson, major corporations have caused “the ho
using bubble and crash, the inflation in the price of the commodity of oil that
resulted in $4 per gallon gasoline,” and other economic occurrences that have dama
ged the financial status of the lower class (Wright). The power of major corpor
ations has aided in the formation of a gap between the rich and the poor, and it
continues to grow. According to the Census Population Report, the percent of A
mericans that are in poverty is increasing over time. The relationship between
the Clutters and Dick and Perry serves as a good analogy. In In Cold Blood, the
Clutters stand for something that Dick and Perry cannot achieve. They are a we
ll-to-do family with an established farm. Dick and Perry have struggled and lea
d unfulfilling lives while the Clutters have been very successful. Dick and Per
ry commit they will likely never achieve what the Clutters have. Further suppor
t for the idea that a gap is growing between the rich and the poor comes from Da
niel A. Sandoval’s article “The Increasing Risk of Poverty Across the American Life
Course.” In this article, Sandoval discusses the idea that not only the poverty r
ate is increasing, but also the likelihood of someone experiencing poverty at so
me point in his adult life (Sandoval). This increase may be due to the new idea
s of social norms. Individuals want the nicest things regardless of if they can
afford them or not. People take out loans that they will not be able to pay fo
r when the money is due. This is also supported by banks that will give loans r
egardless of economic status. The gap growing between the rich and the poor is
fueled by the desire for a better lifestyle. This desire ultimately forces indi
viduals into poorer situations.
The American Dream has existed as an idealistic notion that has tempted
immigrants to America for years. With limited financial support, many will be u
nable to afford necessities for success, crime will tempt others, and with a gro
wing hiatus between the rich and poor, a greater economic challenge will exist.
Little financial help comes from the wealthy; some of the policies that put ind
ividuals in financial trouble in the first place are established by the wealthy.
The increasing poverty and difficulty in bettering one’s self financially will f
orce dreamers to face their Nightmares.