Autobiography On Ben Franklin Essay Research Paper

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Autobiography On Ben Franklin Essay, Research Paper Franklin’s memoirs, his Autobiography, project a Benjamin Franklin who is a highly self-conscious individual able to reason himself into a life of self-control, self-improvement, virtue, and multifaceted success. To what successful ends does this Franklin apply himself? Some may argue that Franklin takes no action but that which ultimately benefits himself. This paper argues, however, that the Franklin we see in the Autobiography-as author, as boy, and as young man-is not merely self-serving (in the positive sense) but also other-serving. Indeed Franklin has eliminated self-denial from the picture, but has he eliminated self-sacrifice? When the interests of self and society seem to conflict, we discover a Franklin who from

almost the beginning tries to find a way to be a good citizen as well as a good man, a friend both to himself and to others. What shall we make of the motives the author gives for writing the Autobiography itself? Franklin explicitly lists eight reasons (Lemay 1307-8): (1) his son (though anyone may become Franklin’s moral descendant) may have a filial interest in the events of his ancestor’s life; (2) Franklin has the time and ability to write a good memoir; (3) his moral posterity, desiring self-improvement, may want to imitate those actions, “suitable to their own Situations,” that led to Franklin’s successes; (4) composing his autobiography provides Franklin the pleasure of recollecting his successes; (5) recording his memories permits him to return continually to

more pleasures of recollection in the future; (6) old men, as a rule, tend to repeatedly recount their lives; (7) Franklin aims to gratify his vanity; (8) he desires to acknowledge God’s part both in leading him into success and in making his efforts successful. Of these eight, (2) is merely instrumental, (8) is beyond anyone’s control, (1) and (3) overlap considerably, and (4) through (7) overlap as well. Franklin’s insertion of the phrase “suitable to their own Situations” emphasizes from the start that Franklin has in mind a more diverse audience than himself and his son. The author envisages a book available to anyone. Through specific examples it teaches general means and methods that may be used to different degrees in different situations. Franklin charges each

member of his audience to command an independent reading of the book, even to the extent of deciding whether to read it in the first place: “this may be read or not as any one pleases” (Lemay 1307). More telling, while reasons (4) through (7) are characterized primarily by simple vanity, Franklin creates the paradoxical oxymoron of useful vanity: vanity “is often productive of Good to the Possessor & to others that are within his Sphere of Action.” Even Franklin’s professed inclination towards doting self-love ostensibly carries an outward component. The reader begins to notice that Franklin sees writing the Autobiography not as merely self-indulgent words but as a moral action valuable to others. For rhetorical reasons he explains later, Franklin remains content

merely to suggest his strong moral purpose. Having begun to examine Franklin as author, let us examine him as the historian in the narrative. This Franklin finds that his family name had a noble public presence in the distant past of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Franklins of old had “great possessions” and served admirably on juries; Chaucer’s Franklin was “worthy . . . generous, just, . . . Renown’d for courtesy, by all beloved” (Lemay 1308-09). But this Franklin also finds himself, quite humbly, “the youngest Son of the youngest Son for 5 Generations.” Nevertheless, his great-great-grandfather was an ingenious freethinking Protestant, his grandfather worked until he was too old to keep going, and his father and uncles became important in public