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Home arrow Geography arrow The Myths That Made America : An Introduction to American Studies

Study Questions

  • 1. Define the cultural type of the self-made man, and explain its ideological function.
  • 2. Give a definition of Algerism, and discuss and contextualize the statement “Horatio Alger must die” from Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country? (2003).
  • 3. Discuss how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and its 1974 and 2013 film adaptations represent class in American society.
  • 4. How does the meaning of the phrase “pursuit of happiness” change when we focus on the notion of “pursuit” instead of “happiness”?
  • 5. In the context of the Great Depression many texts about the experience of migrants offer a profound counter-narrative to that of expressive individualism and success. Studs Terkel writes: “Failure was as unforgivable then as it is now. Perhaps that’s why so many of the young were never told about the depression; were, as one indignant girl put it, ‘denied our history’” (American Dreams xxiv). Discuss the 1930s and the Great Depression in light of the myth of the self-made man.
  • 6. Analyze the particular ways in which Bobbie Carlyle’s sculpture Self-Made Man visualizes the myth. You may also refer to the artist’s website: http://

Illustration 5: Self-Creation

Bobbie Carlyle, Self-Made Man (1988).

  • 7. What distinguishes self-made women (in the dominant cultural logic) from self-made men? Give examples and discuss Little Miss Sunshine (2006) as a film about and a comment on beauty pageants.
  • 8. How do self-help books connect to the ideology of self-making and to the myth of the self-made man? Discuss the self-help genre with regard to social, cultural, and economic aspects, and analyze How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) by Dale Carnegie, who has been considered as having created a new and attractive blend of “success ideology, charismatic personality and self-fulfillment, positive thought, human relations, and therapeutic well-being” (Watts, Self-Help Messiah 7).
  • 9. How are success and failure represented in advertising? Compare, for instance, Nike’s “Failure” commercial with Michael Jordan and Citibank-City “Moments of Success” commercial (both to be found on the web).
  • 10. Discuss how the rules, options, and gratifications of the board game Monopoly connect to American ideas of self-making, classlessness, and success.
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