Realism and Freedom
Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated, "Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed-else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die" (Rather 1). The meaning of the term freedom is often open to interpretation, and can represent different meanings to different groups of people. Up until the Realistic time period, many Americans viewed freedom as being able to enjoy the rights given to them under the U.S. Constitution. They saw this concept as something they had already attained, not something that they had to strive towards. Many of them lived their lives based merely on emotion and did not take into consideration that all men were not treated equally according to their lifestyle. The Civil War altered the way Americans viewed life and shifted their emphasis from emotion to reason; this marked the beginning of the Realistic time period and transformed the American Dream into a longing for freedom.
While the Realist time period had many defining characteristics, the American Dream centered on freedom. Realism in America was an era which took place from the Civil War to 1914. This time period was set apart from the Romantic period in that the focus shifted to the common person instead of an over dramatized hero. Contrary to the previous beliefs of romantics, realists valued everyday life and events. They demonstrated this through their use of familiar speech and daily struggles (Arpin 457). According to Josh Rahn, "Students of the human mind were beginning to realize that an individual is composed of a network of motivations, interests, desires, and fears. [...] Realism, at its highest level, attempts to lay these internal struggles bare for all to see" (Rahn). One of these struggles was the American Dream that now centered on a pursuit for freedom. Over the course of history, the American Dream has had numerous different forms, which are often related to the values of the time period. Jim Cullen stated, "Simply put, the American Dream of the Founding Fathers was freedom. [...] it took them a very long time to realize that achieving freedom was their dream, because in some important respects freedom was not a dream at all but rather a living reality" (41). When the Founding Fathers first established the American Dream of freedom, they thought this meant simply being free from England, however, during the Realistic time period, Americans realized that this dream was much more than just being a free country. This Dream was for the individual, rather than the country as a whole, and therefore had not been achieved. One group that realized this reality was the slaves. Up until this point, slaves did not question their position in society, but during the Civil War they now saw that the American Dream of freedom was attainable for them as well; they just had to fight for their individual political and economic freedom.