Ben Franklin is one of the most dynamic figures in the history of America. As a philosopher, scientist, writer, inventor, diplomat, and more he had far reaching effects on America and the world both in his time and today. Franklin was one of the first people to recognize himself as "American" and distinguish the people of the new nation as something more than British colonists. As an American, Franklin sought to improve the country through the creation of institutions and the development of personal moral and financial success for its citizens.
GENRE:Autobiography, Personal Narrative
In the first part, Franklin is speaking to his son, describing the past. He talks about his childhood, family, upbringing, and general manner in business and life. In the second part, he is more conscious of the larger audience and there is a definite change in tone. He seems more pretentious as he discusses his quest for "moral perfection" through thirteen self-defined virtues, library system, religious views, and more. Franklin was influenced by Enlightenment thinking and writers such as Cotton Mather whose book Bonifacius: An Essay Upon the Good discusses coexistence between different groups and going out to good in society. In many ways, the autobiography work can be seen as the first self-help book. Franklin wants to be seen as a normal everyday kind of person who, through hard work, perseverance, and luck, brought himself up to a high level of personal achievement. This contrasts the styles of Mary Rowlandson and Frederick Douglass who prefer to lay out their experiences and allow the reader to react to the situation. There are some interesting postings addressing these issues: one by me on Franklin, one by Tony comparing...
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... at each step any rational reader would accept them. As he nears the crux of the issue at hand, however, the reader is in a position where they must accept the whole of the argument or retract all the previous steps they have just affirmed. Also, his self-effacing common-man style lulls the reader into a sense of trust with Franklin, allowing many of his ideas to be accepted more readily with less deliberation. This is similar to the technique he learns from Socrates for drawing people in and breaking down their argument. "Modest diffidence," the practice of not stating anything as certain or definite, seems to have also served him well. When considering the autobiography critically, the reader should keep in mind that we are all vulnerable to Franklin’s devices and he surely uses them to influence how we will view him as a person and how we will see his points.
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