From Rags to Riches: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of the United States. He helped write the Declaration of Independence, and co-wrote the U.S Constitution. However, he is remembered more as the face on the $100 bill than the man that invented electricity. Despite all of his accomplishments and contributions in the United States, Franklin believed himself to be more of a scientist than a political thinker. This irony is evident is his autobiography which does not even discuss the revolution or anything of that nature. Instead we see a full picture of Ben Franklin as a scholar. He was very fascinated with learning and was interested in making a difference in the lives of all mankind. He believed that the way to please God was to help others and this manifested itself in his public services and contribution to science.The beginning of the autobiography addresses two themes; bettering yourself and religion. The tone in the beginning is very humble. Franklin claims that his only reason for writing this was so that his son can look at it as an example on how one should live their life and how he can get through the hardships of life. His motive for writing in general was to be a role model for the betterment of others. He doesn’t show a religious side too often however, he makes sure to thank God for helping him lead a good life. Franklin explains later on that he is a deist, which leads us to believe that there was false humility in the beginning or that he just eventually grew in his faith. He had a strong determination to better his writing and we see him at a young age practically teaching his self how to write. He checks himself to make sure he’s improving and seeks help from no one. This is an original rags to riches story. Here we see a boy rise up from humble beginnings to a man of great wealth and pretty good social standing. Benjamin Franklin essentially created the legend of The American Dream.
Ben Franklin talked about how he enjoyed his life but would change a few things if given the opportunity. It gives off an arrogant tone yet praises the importance of humility. Franklin demonstrates the possibilities of life in the new world through his son and starts from the lower middle classes or youth to one of the most admired men in the world as an adult. He achieved success through a solid work ethic; this passage remains a classic for historic reasons. Franklin established the autobiography as a work that is meant to not only tell about a person’s life but also educate the reader in ways to better life also. He tells us what life was like in the 18th century and reflected on 18th century idealism; often called the age of reason. Intellectualism flourished along with scientific inventions and advancers in political thought. Many people held to the optimistic belief that men could be perfected through scientific and political progress. Franklin ascribes to these beliefs partially he tries to live them out.
Franklin’s plan to attain perfection would shock anyone in this generation, for many reasons, for one, that such a plan was even based. Benjamin Franklin assumed not only that man is capable of being perfect, but also that the perfecting can be done quickly if you work hard at it. Franklin assumed that man can control himself, and that he can resolve, at any given moment, to unlearn “bad habits” and substitute good ones. Franklin’s view of man lacks the complexity of how things are today. But if he appears too optimistic about human nature, he will ultimately and unknowingly acknowledge his failure to attain perfection. Realizing that perfection would never be his, he decided that, that would make him a hypocrite and sound ridiculous; that a person can still be perfect while still being hated; and that a man filled with such kindness and good will should allow just a few faults in himself, to keep his friends. Franklin always believed that virtue was worth pursuing. His approach to different virtues was practical. For example in learning silence, he allowed himself to speak what would benefit him, and in learning how to be economical, to come into expenses that would do him good. It is not surprising that the original group of twelve virtues includes both temperance and moderation and franklin obviously believed that even his own virtues should be improved, within moderate bounds of course in order to be happy. It is in that way he found success. Although Benjamin Franklin does mention that there are things in his life he would change if given the opportunity, it is no doubt that he stayed true to him. Franklin is no longer consulted as a philosopher, he is considered as a stylist and an inventor. Not necessarily in material things, he invented new ideas, new views on life; in the hopes in having the
privilege of changing someone else’s life for the better. Franklin felt that everyone and anyone had the ability change his own economic and social status through the way they chose to live their life. He preached that the possibilities were limitless for those that practiced frugality, honesty, and like virtues. His own life was proof of this. He had left Boston at seventeen, with not much education and not much knowledge of a trade, had arrived almost broke in Philadelphia, and had been able through hard work to become quite wealthy and was able to retire at the age of 42. Franklin believed that such a career was possible for any American. Franklin’s Autobiography is significant because it shaped American character and American expectations. In this biography we learn that the lowliest citizen was still as humanly worthy as the wealthiest because of his potential for earning wealth. People remained in poverty simply because they failed to do something about it. Also, it teaches us formal education was unnecessary, since an intelligent one could learn by themselves. According to Benjamin Franklin, America was the land of endless opportunity for everyone.