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