Novel Reflections on The American Dream premiered on April 3, 2007 as a special presentation of the American Masters series.
The American novel is a powerful story. It unifies us, it motivates us, it gives meaning to our lives. It is a story affirming that success in this country is not a matter of inheritance but, rather a matter of determination. It is a story assuring us that we can, indeed, define our own destiny. Yet, experience tells us there is another American story, characterized not by infinite possibility, but by undeniable limitations – a story where one’s birthright is, in fact, a roadblock. This story is at the core of some of the best American literature, where many of our finest writers have dared to wrestle with the inequities that lie in the shadows, beyond the dream – class and money and, often, a false promise of upward mobility.
These themes are reflected through the universal characters found in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth; in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath; in Ann Petry’s The Street, in Gish Gen’s Typical American and in Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day. Passages from each book are dramatized through haunting still photography, which is inventively animated and effected, and is woven together with original and archival footage to form an evocative, intimate tapestry.