Franklin`s Autobiography

The Autobiography of
Benjamin Franklin
America’s first novel?
In Your Notebook…
• On more than one occasion, Franklin
has been referred to as “The First
American.” Obviously this is not
factually accurate, though there is a
certain metaphorical truth to it. Based
on what you’ve read so far, what
qualities does the young Franklin
display that make him seem so
representative of “American-ness”?
• Before we can truly appreciate
Franklin’s message(s), we have to
consider his audience… (opening para.)
• To whom is he writing?
• Also, consider when he wrote this…
• What is Franklin’s stated purpose in
writing this autobiography?
• Might there be another, less-obvious
intention on his part?
• Again, when did he write this?
• (opening paragraph)
• How would you describe the tone, or style, of
his narration?
• “Having emerged from the poverty…”(193)
• “I had risen gradually from the middle…”(195)
• “Socratic method” (197)
• “I have been more particular…”(201)
• New Word: didactic
WHAT he tells us / HOW he tells it
How does he come across?
How does he want to come across?
Is he deliberately “shaping” the events
of his life paint a particular picture?
• Old Ben writing about Young Ben?
“Method”: The Franklin Way
“About this time I met with an odd volume
of The Spectator…”(196).
What does he want to do?
How does he go about doing it?
What is the end result?
What is his purpose for including this
Oh that Ben…
• Can we trust that Franklin is telling us
the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth? Where might a skeptical reader
suspect that Franklin is consciously
shaping a character? How and Why?
• purpose(s)?
– rhetorical strategy
Deism vs. “Revelation”
• How might Franklin’s encounter with
books on “Deism” help us understand
the larger shift away from Puritanism of
the 17th century and towards the
Enlightenment values of the “Age of
– What conclusions does he reach?
– What becomes most important to him?
“Moral Perfection”
• What would his Puritan ancestors likely
think about Franklin’s quest for moral
– Tone?
– How would they feel about the virtues
• Which would Winthrop or Bradford would object
Thirteen Virtues
• Look over Franklin’s virtues and
schedule; what in here still holds value
in contemporary American life?
– What in our world is a descendent of
Franklin’s method and virtues?
– Does his schedule remind you of anything?
“The Art of Virtue” and
“Moral Algebra”
• How is virtue similar to an art, and why
should it be practiced as one does the
• What are the common practices and
• What is “moral algebra,” and what is its
intended purpose? Is it effective?
(listen to this link)
“Benjamin Franklin Drawing
Down Electricity from the Sky”
(Benjamin West, ca. 1816)
“A Man of the Times”
• Think about all of Franklin’s
contributions to American ideas,
innovations, and institutions…
– To what Enlightenment values and beliefs
do these seem related?
– What effect does he hope these will
contributions have on society?