This introductory chapter discusses how Americans in the nineteenth century pursued the American Dream. It argues that moving the American Dream from the stratosphere in which it is often discussed into the mundane realities of everyday life forces it to be considered differently. The topics of relevance cease to be the long-term trajectory through which protagonists rise from rags to riches and become instead questions about the immediate contexts in which people live. It suggests that what we might call middle-class respectability gets us further than continuing to discuss the American Dream as an ideal or philosophy of life. Middle-class respectability was something that people may have aspired to as an ideal, but it was modeled, learned, and exhibited in practice.
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