Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography is broken up into four integral parts, all written during different periods in Franklin’s life. The first part, addressed to his son, William, was written when Franklin was sixty-five years old. Before he began the task of recording his past, Franklin carefully wrote out a list of topics he would narrate to his readers. Eleven years later, this list somehow fell into the hands of Abel James who urged Franklin to finish writing his memoirs. In 1782, Franklin completed the second part of his autobiography in France where he served as a peace commissioner, and in 1788, Franklin composed the longest part of his autobiography at the age of eighty-three.
The tangled history of how Franklin’s autobiography became to be is interesting in itself. It shows Franklin’s motives behind writing his autobiography. When Abel James wrote “kind, humane, and benevolent” Franklin to finish his life story, he told Franklin that his autobiography”would be useful and entertaining not only to a few but to millions (55).” Franklin wrote to his friend and confidant, Vaughan, for advice. Vaughan agreed with James and also urged Franklin to print the history of his life because he could think of no “more efficacious advertisement (56)” of America than Franklin’s history. “All that has happened to you is also connected with the detail of the manners and situation of a rising people (56),” he replied to Franklin.
It is obvious that when Franklin resumed writing his story, he did so knowing that his story would serve as an example for Americans and as an advertisement to the rest of the world. He wrote his autobiography in full self-consciousness that he was offering himself as a representative of the American citizen. Just as America had succeeded in creating and forming a nation, Franklin was successful in showing how an American went about creating his own character. Instead of being a personal account of his past for his son, Franklin’s autobiography became a model for those who wished to fulfill the rags to riches American Dream. He was successful in fulfilling the image that his public wanted him to play.
Following James’ and Vaughan’s letters, Franklin wrote about some important aspects of creating oneself: the image that one wanted portrays, how to appear generous and humble, keeping informed and educated, giving time and energy to public causes and the thirteen rules to live a virtuous life. Here, in one neat package, Franklin constructed a prescription that went into making a self-made man. In the land of opportunity and democracy, Franklin made a name for himself, and his autobiography reveals how one goes about following his footsteps and making a success of one’s self. In the opening section of his autobiography, Franklin’s message to his son is the same as the one to the rest of the world: how to go about making a success of oneself. “From the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and in which I passed my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of affluence and some degree of celebrity in the world (1),” writes Franklin to his son. The text recording Franklin’s life is more than simply anecdotal: “my posterity will perhaps be desirous of learning the means, which I employed, and which, thanks to Providence, so well succeeded with me. They may also deem them fit to be imitated (1).” The book serves as a guideline for those who read it and would like to imitate Franklin’s actions.
It is exemplary because Franklin’s Autobiography paints a picture of a penniless boy without the assistance of his family, walking down the streets with two large rolls under his arms, who ends up helping to create a new nation. It is about the formation of the character that makes success possible. The purpose of the Autobiography is to show the making of a character in hopes of serving as an example to the American community. Franklin describes that he has “raised himself (2)” and challenges the normal American citizen to follow his steps that will undoubtedly lead to a path of success, honor, and respect. Throughout his autobiography, Franklin insists on distinguishing between appearance and reality, between what he is and what he seems to be.
Franklin tells his readers in so many instances that it is not the reality of things that are important. On the contrary, it is the appearance of things that play a grander part in making a character. In order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances of the contrary. I dressed plain and was seen at no places of idle diversion. I never went out fishing or shooting; a book, indeed, sometimes debauched me from my work, but that was seldom, and gave no scandal..
Thus being esteemed and industrious, thriving young man, and paying duly for what I bought, the merchants who imported stationary solicited my custom (27). If one wanted to sit with kings, Franklin advised that one should help them see one’s merit. There were a number of “rich merchants, nobility, states, and princes” who were in need of honest people to manage their affairs, and there were “no qualities so likely to make a poor man’s fortune as those of probity and integrity (34).” Early on in his career, Franklin learned that his impeccable appearance and reputation were good for business. Another instance where Franklin points out the importance of appearance takes place in Philadelphia. Upon arrival, Franklin offers to give his shilling away to the people who owned the boat that brought him to his destination.
First, they refuse to accept the payment on grounds that he contributed in rowing the boat. However, Franklin “insisted in their taking it, a man being more generous when he has but a little money that when he has plenty through fear of being thought to have but little (19).” It is odd that Franklin uses the word “fear” in describing how he would feel if people believed that he was poor. Again, in this incident, similar to the one before, Franklin expresses his desire for people to ha …