Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Lori Marso




political, science, american, journeys, quest, displacement, escape, american, way, life


The “American Way of Life” is deeply engrained into the narrative of America and the dreams of many Americas—so much so that it often goes unexamined. This thesis explores the American Way of Life and related narratives—including American individualism, American exceptionalism, and the American Dream—and examines its tendency to disappoint and damage those who strive for such a way of life. I ground this analysis in three major works of American literature: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and Richard Wright’s Native Son. With a special attention to critical and political theory, my analyses these novels shed light on some of the pathologies inherent in the American Way of Life.

A diagnosis of America’s pathologies is only part of this thesis; through these novels, I explore possibilities for bettering America’s impoverished political, social, moral, and spiritual condition. This thesis rethinks the American Way of Life and calls for a reorientation thereof. First, we should respect everyone and approach human relationships with openness, honest, and love; there is always a potential for fraternity or coexistence. Second, we must acquire greater social consciousness, both through encounters with different people and/or places and through solitary respites in nature. Finally, we must make time and space for listening and dialogue, both of which must be guided with empathy, respect, and compassion. Ultimately, this thesis contests political/social structures and narratives established through domination, and encourages flexible, consciousness-driven, interpersonal connections grounded in dignity, humanity, and mutual respect.