Between the World and Me

The Dream Symbol Icon

One of the most important concepts in the book is the Dream, which is Coates’ own twist on the idea of the American Dream. Traditionally, the American Dream refers to the idea that, due to the freedom and equality of opportunity built into the foundation of the country, anyone can achieve prosperity in the US as long as they work hard enough. Coates’ version of this story is notably different. In Between the World and Me, Coates emphasizes the fact that the US was not built on a foundation of freedom and equality at all, but was in fact constructed through the exploitation and oppression of black people.

Rather than being disconnected from the Dream, however, this exploitation and oppression is deeply implicated within the aspiration for security and material success. White people have profited from the brutal treatment of black people since the slavery era and continue to do so in the present. Coates emphasizes that the Dream does not exist without racist injustice, as material prosperity in the US is inevitably tied to the exploitation of African Americans.

Coates refers to the people who buy into the Dream as “Dreamers.” They are characterized not only by their choice to live in fancy houses in the suburbs and other cultural dimensions of the Dream, but also by their belief in the false myths of American history, including the idea that the country is equal and just and that pursuing the Dream is morally innocent. Although not all Dreamers are white, the Dream is deeply tied to whiteness. In many ways, those who pursue the Dream aspire to a white way of life, even if they are not white themselves.

The Dream Quotes in Between the World and Me

The Between the World and Me quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Dream. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Spiegel & Grau edition of Between the World and Me published in 2015.
Part 1 Quotes

For so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker), Samori Coates
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Part 3 Quotes

Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world. But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers––lost in their great reverie––feel it, for it is Billie they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley they hum in love, and Dre they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here.

Related Characters: Ta-Nehisi Coates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dream
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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The Dream Symbol Timeline in Between the World and Me

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Dream appears in Between the World and Me. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...days. He feels sad, and realizes this is because they are living in “a gorgeous dream.” This Dream, which encompasses all the desirable aspects of American culture, such as “perfect houses”... (full context)
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...like another planet, it is in fact just the world of white people and the Dream. (full context)
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...knew that this fear was connected to the carefree lives of those living in the Dream. (full context)
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As a child, Coates is curious about the way in which racism simultaneously sustains the Dream and perpetuates the oppression of black people like himself. However, there are no opportunities to... (full context)
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...are irrelevant, because most Americans do not advocate racist violence directly but do support the Dream, which indirectly oppresses black people. Coates brings his concerns to his parents. Paul rarely gives... (full context)
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...black people have the right to defend violations to their bodies. Unlike the schools and Dreamers, “Malcolm never lied.” Coates identifies with Malcolm’s life story, and begins to feel hopeful that... (full context)
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...DC. He reflects on what it means to lose one’s body, and concludes that “The Dream is the enemy of all art.” Coates is inspired by black artists whose work embraces... (full context)
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...Howard, where the faculty assure him that his search for new myths to replace the Dream will not end well. One of Coates’ professors helps illuminate the fact that some black... (full context)
Part 2
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
...result of phenomena that appear innocent, which explains why racism is inherently connected to the Dream. In order for the Dream to function correctly, the people who buy into it must... (full context)
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...slavery existed in the first place. Coates takes this as evidence that “historians conjured the Dream.” He wants Samori to be aware of the fact that it is “heritage” in America... (full context)
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...that without the right to “break” black bodies, white people might “tumble out of the Dream.” Only if this happens will it be possible to build a country that is truly... (full context)
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...and remade” him, and this kind of rebirth is only possible when one rejects the Dream. Coates admits that Kenyatta let go of the Dream earlier than he did, perhaps because... (full context)
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...go about their days seemingly free from fear. Coates concedes that “France built its own dream” through colonization, but that the legacy of this dream plays out differently in France than... (full context)
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...nature of the country he lives in, the reality is that the crimes of “the Dreamers” are expansive and relentless, stretching beyond Ferguson (where Mike Brown was killed), across the US,... (full context)
Part 3
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...did. Prince attended private schools throughout his life, but even though they were “filled with Dreamers” Prince had no problems making friends. He excelled in school, and Dr. Jones admitted that... (full context)
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...house and reflects on his visit. He wonders if it is possible to “awaken the Dreamers” and, in doing so, raise the possibility of ending racist injustice. At the same time,... (full context)
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Coates reflects that in the past, the power of the Dreamers was curtailed by the “limits of horsepower and wind.” However, as technology and capitalism have... (full context)