Essay: Myth of the American Dream: Mr. Smith

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¶ … myth of the American dream: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Dumbo

One of the most enduring myths of American culture is the notion of the American Dream, or the concept that anyone can 'make it' in America, provided they work hard. A corresponding notion attached to this myth is the idea of the underdog, or that it is when people are 'down and out' that they can rise to the challenge and achieve greatness. This ideal is embodied in the films Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Dumbo: both depict environments which are riddled with injustice which the central characters are able to overcome though individualistic, heroic efforts. This suggests that the American way does not need to be questioned or fundamentally changed. Directors Frank Capra and Walt Disney have been called mythmakers as much as movie makers and both celebrate protagonists who are naive, unaware of their own strengths, and who eventually convince even their most cynical friends that faith can move mountains.

In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the 'everyman' character of Mr. Smith is appointed an interim senator, mainly because he will not ask questions about the political corruption and pork barrel politics around him. Ultimately, Smith's moral fiber is no match for his senior colleague, the corrupt Senator Paine. When Smith proposes a Boy Ranger camp to be built in the place of the useless dam Paine wants to build, he starts a filibuster in the senate talking about truth, justice, honor, and the American way and eventually is able to sway the masses with his patriotic fervor. Smith believes what no one else in Washington seems to believe -- in the virtues of democracy, which is illustrated in a montage of the institutions of government and Smith standing in awe before them when he comes to the city. Through Smith's act of personal valor, not through any fundamental changes to the government, the genuine ideals of the Founding Fathers are restored.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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