Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

views updated


AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, one of the foundational texts of American literature, has undergone a variety of published incarnations since Franklin's creation of the work in 1771. In his opening paragraph, the author introduces the twofold nature of his text, commenting first that it will be a means for his son William "to know the Circumstances of my Life" but also that "my Posterity … may find … fit to be imitated" some of Franklin's means of "having emerg'd from the Poverty and Obscurity in which I was born & bred, to a State of Affluence & some Degree of Reputation in the World." More than simply a memoir, the Autobiography presents Franklin's conscious recognition of his place in history; more broadly, it serves as an illustration of the author's identification with the new republic—the self-made man in the land of self-made men—and his desire to share that dream and achievement with his countrymen.

In Part One of the Autobiography, Franklin offers the story of his own life, beginning with his family genealogy, describing his childhood as the youngest son of a harsh father, and discussing at length his youthful rebellion against both personal and social patriarchy. From his earliest youth, Franklin displayed an optimism, self-confidence, and independence of thought that at times bordered on arrogance, traits that would come to define his life. While this attitude occasionally took its toll on the young man, it overwhelmingly factored into Franklin's success as a businessman, inventor, diplomat, and statesman. Intended as an inspiration to young Americans and written in 1784 and 1788 at the request of several admirers, Parts Two and Three continue Franklin's account of his life but focus more on the public and theoretical man as opposed to the private individual. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin achieves its goal of providing a model for successive generations, due in great part to the author's careful construction of his own persona as the representative American.


Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Louis P. Masur. Boston: Bedford, 1993.

Barbara SchwarzWachal