Misled by the American Dream: The Egg

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October 21, 2012 by chriszumtobel

Last night, my good friend asked me if I had read the short story, “The Egg”.  I had never heard of it and as soon as I got a chance I looked it up.  It’s a very easy, short read (you can find it here) but I was very impressed by the ideas that Sherwood Anderson was able to get across in so few words.

It charts the life of a man who was initially, perfectly content to just spend his life as a farmhand, until he meets a wife, with whom he has one child (the narrator), and finds uncontrollable ambition instilled in him.  He begins a new life of entrepreneurship, knowing many struggles and much hardship as he fights for success, in his pursuit of the American dream.

It is difficult not to pity the man and we find ourselves wishing he hadn’t found it necessary to seek such success.  He was perfectly happy at beginning, but this is another story about how the need to satisfy and provide for a family or loved ones can drive a person to do things, or strive toward things, that they would never care about, or even dream of, for themselves.  In this way it made me think about the sister in Crime and Punishment, when she gets engaged to a terrible man, only in order to have the money for her brother to finish his education at the university.

My friend who recommended me the story has always told me that a perfect life to him is just a regular job with a regular life and no fame or fortune, just to keep it simple, the way the man in the story is early on.  I have always been more like the man later in the story: constantly pursuing some undefined success, overly ambitious with no real idea of what I want to achieve, and struggling between my own expectancies for myself and those that other people have for me.

I think there has been a transformation of the American dream for all of us.  It used to be a dream of providing – of normality: mediocre success, a wife and family, home ownership, the white picket fence.  It has become one of celebrity – of fame: the mansion, the following, the popularity.

People are all looking for something special, something that has always been reserved for a select few -the athletes, the celebrities, the self-made billionaires – but what we don’t seem to take into account is that they never seem any happier than us.

The whole time I was reading “The Egg” I wanted to jump in and talk to the father, to tell him, “Hey, don’t worry about it.  Just enjoy your son, enjoy your wife, enjoy your life and quit obsessing over this idea of success that you’ve gotten so caught up on.”

He was always so hung up on more, I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to try to enjoy life with a little bit less.  And I think that would be a step in the right direction for most Americans… And for the future of our country as a whole.



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