american identity how is american identity formed through Mary Rowlandson, Benjamin Franklin, and Olaudah Equinano? Is our American Identity dependent on individual perception as a product of our...

american identity

how is american identity formed through Mary Rowlandson, Benjamin Franklin, and Olaudah Equinano?

Is our American Identity dependent on individual perception as a product of our personal self determination?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ben Franklin is indeed an interesting representative of American values and the influences upon the American character. There was a cultural dichotomy in Franklin that illustrated two sets of values that are still very much a part of American identity.

First was the old Puritan influence (not to suggest that Franklin was a Puritan!) In his autobiography, though, he explains how he attempted to make his character perfect, free from defect. He made a little book of virtues and practiced one virtue each week, making a black mark for any day he had failed to live up to it. The idea was to perfect the first virtue, then add the second and try to keep two of them for the week, then add the third, etc. until he could go for some length of time with no black marks in his book. He never made it and eventually gave up. But hey, at least he tried--or more importantly as one reflection of American culture, he valued virtue and morality, even if he couldn't achieve it to his satisfaction.

An interesting contrast to this side of Ben is the fact that he was such a bold and creative entrepreneur and strove to succeed financially. As a result of his diligence, talent, and hard work, he became America's first millionaire. Not bad for a boy who walked into Philadelphia with just enough money to buy three loaves of bread. Ben was perhaps our first American rags-to-real-riches story.



Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Equiano represents the darkest chapter in American history, the importation of slaves into the colonies and the horrors born of that practice. His literary account of being enslaved in Africa as a child, surviving the horrific voyage to America, and living as a slave in Virginia where he witnessed torture, serves as a searing condemnation of the brutality of slavery. Eventually freed, Equiano became a leader in the abolitionist movement, both as a speaker and a writer. Therefore, he also represents those who rejected slavery and its evils. In Equiano we find the struggle for freedom and dignity that still remains a strong force in American society.

limefruit93 | Student

Hey there :) Me and my class mates are doing a project on pocahontas. One of our main questions is, what The myth and story about pocahontas, means for the american identity. If any of you know of something of this, please respond ;)!

janetbarnes | Student

what about Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano? How do they represent what is now the United States of America?

epollock | Student

Benjamin Franklin, is quite possibly an anomaly. Franklin's astounding list of achievements during his lifetime constitutes a record that no other American, before or since, can match. His early years consisted of establishing himself as printer, then journalist and writer. From 1732 to 1757 he wrote Poor Richard's Almanac, the first American periodical and source of proverbs that is still a bestseller even today.

Franklin's accomplishments in civic and public life are even more striking. A few of his noteworthy contributions include the following: He organized the Union Fire Co. in 1736, became Philadelphia's Postmaster in 1737, proposed the idea for the American Philosophical Society in 1743, organized the Pennsylvania Militia in 1747, and founded the Philadelphia Academy in 1749 (which later became the University of Pennsylvania).

Franklin's exploits in science and technology are equally historic. They include his invention of the Franklin fireplace (stove) in 1741, experiments in electricity in 1745, his assistance in founding Philadelphia Hospital in 1751, and his famous experiment proving that lightning is electricity in 1752.

Hostilities between the colonies and England engaged Franklin from the 1760s through the 1780s, as a representative of Pennsylvania, initially, and, after 1776, as chief negotiator of both the war and the peace. Franklin signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

He worked to abolish slavery, to extend the vote, and to implement a bicameral legislature. He died in 1790. He appears to be, from his writings, in my opinion, a congenial, albeit shrewd man, one possessed of humor and common sense, both in large doses. Poor Richard's Almanac, which Franklin published for 25 years, contains bits of folksywisdom that are still with us today. Moreover, his Autobiography reveals a man who was able to laugh at himself even while pontificating. This genial manner characterized Franklin right into his old age, even in elegant Parisian society in the 1780s.

His autobiography is properly regarded as Franklin's most significant literary achievement, not so much for its own artfulness (though it is artful) as for its status as a great American model of selfhood, though my students still marvel that it is just a small sampling of his life's works. Franklin tells the story of his life with a certain modesty, but future generations have seen in it as the great American rags-to-riches story. From obscure origins in Boston in the1720s to a celebrated man of the world, Franklin moved in a trajectory that helped define American thinking.

He also reveals himself, in his Autobiography, to be a profoundly public figure, and critics looking for intimate confessions and secrets are disappointed. But Franklin, makes us understand that the public man and private man were inseparable in 18th-century life. Plus, he provides us with actual strategies for succeeding as a "public" figure, and nowhere is his legacy stronger than in this regard.