The Statue of Liberty is one of America’s most revered and iconic historical landmarks. In the late nineteenth century to the early to mid-twentieth century, immigrants would arrive in America via a ship on the Atlantic Ocean, the first time they would see before disembarking onto Ellis Island is the Statue of Liberty. It is the all American symbol. At night the statue of liberty is illuminated, even at night the first thing travelers’ see is the illuminated Statue of Liberty. When weary travelers first caught a glimpse of this statue standing tall and proud, they knew they had made it. They were in America. America is imagined as the land of success and happiness. Immigrants settle into America, only to have their ideals and fantasies of America completely changed and disproved. The American culture is based off imagined notions of what America should be.
America is a democratic society with a capitalist economy, which allows for free markets. Every American is in search for success and happiness. Most Americans live their life searching and pursuing success, but the question is do most Americans know what they want in life? Is success the road to happiness? In Habits of the Heart, Bellah notes, “for most of us, it is easier to think about how to get what we want than to know what exactly we want” (Bellah 1985, 21). The idea of success is permanently engrained into our hearts and minds. Most of the time, Americans do not know what they want. People are hypnotized by the idea of happiness. They pursue an imagined goal. Even if they never obtain their “success”, people will continue to seek their happiness until the day they die. From the beginning of one’s life, one is taught they have the potential do anything and be anyone.
American culture is engulfed into the belief in individualism. Many are influenced in the idea that they are special and one-of-a-kind. The notion of individualism deludes and influences many Americans. Kathleen Stewart recounts on one of her experiences, “she says she’s talked to other people who have experiences like his [a man, named Bob from Henderson, Nevada] and think the way he does… this makes him mad (much to her surprise)… He’s an individual… There is no one in the world like him… He isn’t like anything” (Stewart 2007, 34). America encourages the idea of individualism and success to help fuel the drive for capitalism. Is America the land of success and individualism or is America the land of blissful ignorance? The ideals of happiness and success are obtained only a few Americans. Most people do not obtain happiness and success, and they realize it, but they pursue success if there is a slight chance of finding happiness.
The ideas of American success and happiness are not domestic. Ideas about American culture are found abroad. Many immigrants from all over the world, from Mexico, China, India, the Philippines etc., migrate to America with these ideals. America’s influence abroad came from American imperialism and America’s insistence on their exceptionalism. Genova states “the disparity between the exceptional status of the United States as the beacon of republican virtue in the world and its exceptionalism – “purely a question of might” – as the only remaining superpower, to signal a direct and absolute contradiction” (Genova 2007, 242). America strives to be exceptional, or at least that is what they think. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol. Both immigrants and American citizens look at it for inspiration and reassurance in their life pursuits.
The Statue of Liberty is not at all a negative feature in American culture and history. It can, also, symbolize hope, enlightenment, freedom, and democracy in America. Immigrants will look upon the statue, as they arrive into America, and a sense of hope and opportunity wash over. They left their home country for a reason, whether it was to start a new life, escape political persecution, or to be with family in America. They have hope and determination for their new life in America. There are many different paths and obstacles, they will encounter. That beginning hope and determination can either make or break someone in his or her pursuit for happiness and success in America. America can provide its citizens with great potential to succeed and find happiness. I believe that success and happiness do not have preconditions. Success and happiness can have completely different meanings for everyone. For one person, success can be having a six-figure salary, while for another person, success can mean having a quaint home and loving family. We all make different choices and take different paths, but we all have a common goal in mind: happiness.
Photo by Andreas Feininger