How does social mobility play a major role in Benjamin Franklin's life? Give some ideas or an outline to develop into an essay.

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lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Franklin's Autobiography is considered the quintessentially American autobiography as it describes the author's self-made "way to wealth". Franklin has also been hailed as the prototypical American man of the Enlightenment. His initial journey in the book from Boston to Philadelphia is considered symbolic of the transition from Puritan to Enlightenment values. The Autobiography revises Puritanism's moral virtues in a secularized way stressing the importance of industry and temperance in the path towards "moral perfection".

The first part of the text introduces the theme of social mobility by showing how Franklin progressed from his brother's small print shop to his own larger business in Philadelphia, where he becomes the city's most respected printer. The second part of the Autobiography details Franklin's project to get to "moral perfection", a project that is not to be read in religious terms, but in secular ones. Franklin details how he pursues what he has identified as the 13 most important virtues to succeed in a capitalist society. He does not seek moral perfection to be saved in the afterlife, but to attains salvation on earth. This stress on social mobility has been the focus of both praise and criticism. Famous intellectuals such as Max Weber and D. H. Lawrence were harsh detractors of Franklin ("the first American dummy" who sacrifices everything to material gains according to Lawrence). Others have instead praised Franklin for his quest towards self-improvement.