It's interesting to compare Tocqueville's excerpt, "Why the Americans Are So Restless in the Midst of Their Prosperity," to Whitman's poem "Song of the Open Road." They tell the same story: restless Americans, fleeing their mundane lives, always exploring, searching for satisfaction and happiness. Where Whitman's poem has an overwhelmingly positive outlook,
"Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe--I have tried it--my own feet have tried it well--be not detain'd!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen'd!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn'd!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law," Tocqueville's essay is rather negative:
"Among democratic nations, men easily attain a certain equality of condition, but they can never attain as much as they desire. It perpetually retires from before them, yet without hiding itself from their sight, and in retiring draws them on. At every moment they think they are about to grasp it; it escapes at every moment from their hold. They are near enough to see its charms, but too far off to enjoy them; and before they have fully tasted its delights, they die."
I see the truth in both pieces. They do of course, tell a very similar story, but differ in the way they view it. Even in this day in age, I see Tocqueville's thesis in my friends and family, and in myself. But I also see the hope that Whitman writes about.
I've recently had several unrelated conversations with people who are close to me about what they're going to do with their lives. They've all recently (within the past 4 years) graduated college, and some have steady, well paying jobs. But they're not satisfied. They either feel too tied down to their career choice, or too tied down to a location. Two who are each 25 and have regular jobs, need to constantly be traveling and moving around, or else they're terribly unhappy. I know two people who have quit or are in the process of quitting their jobs because they're not satisfied with them (although one isn't even American).
Our generation is different than the generation that Tocqueville speaks of, surely, especially because of the suffering economy. But there is definitely relevance to our generation in what he writes. I worry for my closer friends, the ones who seem to never be satisfied. Specifically my one friend, who is quitting her well paying job because it bores her and taking time off to travel. I hope for the best, I hope for Whitman's positivity. I hope that she finds herself. But I worry about what Tocqueville says, "At every moment they think they are about to grasp it; it escapes at every moment from their hold."
(photo is my own)