Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography Essay

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Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is widely considered to be one of the most important early examples of American literature, because his recollections not only offer important insights into the historical and social context of their writing, but also because Franklin himself attempted to imbue his autobiography with a distinct authorial voice and a number of important themes. Paramount among these is the theme of self-improvement, and at every stage in his narration Franklin attempts to demonstrate his own process of self-improvement so that it might serve "as a model for countless generations to admire."

However, when considering Franklin's reported attempts at self-improvement in the context of his own political, professional, and personal ideology, it is difficult to determine whether Franklin's instructions for self-improvement were born out of a genuine desire to help others, or were simply an attempt at self-promotion. By investigating Franklin's stated reasons for writing his autobiography alongside the overall trajectory of his life, it becomes clear that Franklin's focus on self-improvement was born out of a complex combination of societal concern and self-interest that motivated every major decision in his life.

Franklin's autobiography is not solely the product of a genuinely benevolent man desirous of helping others, but rather a self-serving text that nevertheless contains important contributions to society. In other words, while Franklin was clearly operating from a position of self-interest, part of that self-interest included the betterment of society, because Franklin recognized that his own success had come not solely from his own motivation, but rather from the combination of selfish and selfless acts that characterized the development and founding of the United States itself. The evidence of this actually comes in the first paragraph, when he explain his motivations for writing the first portion of his autobiography, which he addressed to his son William. Aside from satisfying what he imagines to be his son's curiosity concerning his father's earlier exploits, Franklin explains that his motivation for writing his memoirs stems from:

Having emerged from poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable degree of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which with the blessing of God so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated.
Firstly, Franklin recognizes that his own life represents something of a special case, because although he reached his ultimately well-regarded position through concerted effort, the kind of upward social mobility he experienced was not necessarily the norm in pre- and post-Revolution America. However, he also recognizes that although he was particularly blessed, his life story represented the promise of America that was first recognized by the colonists aboard the Mayflower, who saw the newly discovered land as a place where individuals might succeed regardless of prior experience or status.

Thus, almost immediately Franklin reveals that his motivation for writing his autobiography is simultaneously altruistic and selfish, because at once he is both recognizing the promise offered by America (made possible by sacrifice of those who came before) and offering a kind of "a celebrity endorsement […] the efficacy [of which] derives from his personal authority."

The mention of God in this paragraph is particularly important, because it links the trajectory of Franklin's own life to the Protestant work ethic so valued by the original colonists aboard the Mayflower. The passengers of the Mayflower fled England due to religious persecution, and a central component of their faith was a strong work ethic that viewed labor as a personal and public duty, which similarly brought personal and public gain. In the same way, Franklin implies that it is his duty to relate the means by which he achieved his privileged position, because he views his success not as the….....

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