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The American Dreams

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The American Dream of Potatoes: McDonald's and Ragged Dick

Did you know that you can pay a week's worth of rent for only seventy-five cents or that a single man can own land bigger than the size of Delaware? Since the beginning of the 19th century, the thought of America has been understood to be the land of the free--the land of opportunity where every American aspires to achieve a "dream," known as the American dream. How does one achieve the American dream? Traditionally, the American dream has been recognized and understood as the accomplishments and wealth through saving and hard work. The American dream has brought these accomplishments and wealth to many, legally, as well as illegally, to seek out upward economic mobility. Everyone naturally strives to live a better life by achieving this dream. A downfall about this upside achievement that even as one climbs up a ladder, another falls.

Horatio Alger's novel, Ragged Dick and Eric Schlosser's journalistic expose Fast Food Nation both describe the opportunity of accomplishments through the stories of individuals striving to reach their American dream. Alger helps his readers understand the honesty and morals of a single individual struggling to reach his "dream", and shows a different viewpoint of the American life in comparison to Schlosser. Alger also teaches his readers that poor individuals with the right genetics would, with luck, escape poverty and rise to the top. While Schlosser reveals the true facts about our society and the system in which people succeed to conditions that seem beyond our control, Alger's viewpoint is appealing and more likable because he creates a hero to give people hope, he depicts that honesty and good morals prevails, and to get ahead ethically is the way to go.

A very important figure in Fast Food Nation is J.R. Simplot. Simplot is a successful entrepreneur who developed the process to make frozen french fries and supplies french fries as well as other products to fast food chains. Without him, much of what we eat may not have been discovered. However, Dick is quite the contrary, he is a simple young individual struggling everyday in life, but seems to bring a positive environment and takes the time to help those who come across him. The experiences of Simplot and Dick have a few similarities, however, more differences. Both grew up struggling, but with a determined mind. Their family life was different, which was an influence to the future paths of Dick and Simplot. As in example, Simplot had a father who taught him the tricks of the trade about the land owning business, "Simplot's father became a homesteader, obtaining land for free and clearing it with a steel rail dragged between two teams of horses. Simplot grew up working hard on the farm" (Schlosser 112). While, Dick is an independent street-smart young man, who earns his living as a book-blacker. Being this, he was self-taught and had no family for influences. His determination does help him become motivated and successful just like Simplot.

Both young men start off as poor laborers and an unforgiving lifestyle. Initially, Ragged Dick sleeps off a vacant wooden box, is very poorly dressed, and depends only on himself. "His bedchamber had been a wooden box half full of straw, on which the young bootblack had reposed his weary limbs, and slept as soundly as if it had been a bed of down. He dumped down into the straw without taking the trouble of undressin" (Alger 1). His appearance resembles that of a homeless person where his attire is a regularly and religiously ragged clothes that he rarely changes along with a soiled face. He works day to day as a measly boot-blacker. Simplot is in a similar predicament. He begins as a poor boy that "grew up working hard on the farm" (Schlosser 112). His childhood was based on farm laboring, which directed onto the rest of his life.

Simplot and Dick both have breaking points in their careers that improve their lives exponentially. Dick's pathway to success all started from a patron, by a man named Mr. Whitney. Dick's honesty and quick characteristic caught Mr. Whitney's eye. His involvement with Mr. Whitney encourages him to start making changes in his life. Mr. Whitney first gives Dick a new suit, "my nephew here ... he has a suit of clothes in his trunk about half worn ... is willing to give them to you, I think they will look better than those you have on " (Alger 4). Mr. Whitney then gives Dick good advice that starts him towards a very successful pathway. Even the gift of the suit alone, presented an immeasurable change for Dick where he eventually took advantage to this and entered the world in a more positive light. This provided him a new positive mentality that restructured his thoughts on the goals he had already planned. Dick's gambling habit soon fades, and he especially realizes that he has the likelihood to broaden his learning from books. These few contacts lead to other people noticing Dick. These encounters were brought upon respect.

Just as Dick moved forward onto this stepping-stone, as did Mr. Simplot, but not through respect, yet luck. Simplot was fortunate to "learn how to grow potatoes from his landlord" (Schlosser 112). That was the start of his potato career. "Soon he was buying and selling potatoes, opening warehouses, forming relationships with commodities brokers nationwide" (112). Lindsey Maggert was his landlord that also became his partner, but there was only one electric potato sorter and both had to choose who would keep it. This sorter would make or break Simplot's career. After a simple coin toss, Simplot won the sorter and thus provided him with more job opportunities and knowledge using that sorter as a tool to earn money from other farmers.

As the careers of Simplot and Dick launch, so does the size and weight of their careers. The fast food industry has boomed over the last three decades (3). Fast food is being served everywhere in the world, from shopping malls to schools. It has made changes in the American society, and the most "powerful symbol of America's service economy" is the McDonald's Corporation (4). These fast food chains spring in almost every corner. "Fast food is now so commonplace that it has acquired an air of inevitability, as though it were somehow unavoidable, a fact of modern life" (7). Boot-black in sharp contrast, is a very small business. It is based out of young males, in contrast to workers of the fast food chain being of various backgrounds and ages. They do not work around the clock resembling the fast food industry, but preferably in the mornings.

Dick leaves the career as a boot-blacker just



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