The concept of the “American Dream” and its consequent unfulfilled hollowness is an ever present theme in American literature. From The Great Gatsby to more recent works such as Buried Child, one can see how authors use the stereotypical disillusioned common man who wishes to rise above his circumstances as a platform on which to make their claim that the “American Dream” really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even in the earliest works such as The Algerine Captive, this motif of a character being able to rise above his circumstances is presented and is exemplified in the lives of Underhill’s master as a child and Benjamin Franklin.
In Chapter V of his narrative, Updike Underhill relates the tale of how his master, the minister, rose to his place in society from essentially nothing. The minister tells Underhill’s father that when he went to university, he “was poor indeed.” He then goes on to say how he “rubbed through” by working hard throughout his college career and that now, he is a reputable minister in America. The motivation for putting such an anecdote into the main narrative is so that the reader can understand that, even in 18th century America, the concepts of hard work, determination, and motivation will get you where you need to go in life. This sets a precedent for young Underhill, and allows him to have a role model on which he will base his own life and career.
Underhill, however, does not see his American Dream of being a well respected school teacher come to fruition. Poor Underhill did not take into account the fact that there are outside forces that will thwart the dreams that one has for life. He ends his short lived career as a teacher disappointed by the lack of interest that the children and the parents showed in getting an education, and moves on to his next aspiration, hoping that this time, his dreams will be fulfilled.
In Chapter XXIII, Underhill once again receives encouragement...