What literary devices are used in Franklin's autobiography (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin)?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are quite a few literary devices used in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.


Assonance, typically seen in poetry, is the repetition of a vowel sound within a line. The opening of the text offers an example of assonance.

Dear son: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.

Here, the "a" sound in anecdotes and ancestors is repeated.


Alliteration is similar to assonance, but a consonant sound is repeated. In the second line of the autobiography an example of alliteration is found.

You may remember the inquiries I made among the remains of my relations when you were with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that purpose.

The "r" sound in remember, remains, and relations is repeated and exemplifies alliteration.


Imagery is the use of words which come to allow a reader to create a mental picture of what is being described. Many times, imagery appeals to the reader's senses (taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell).

In chapter two, the following excerpt has wonderful imagery:

There were canoes on the shore, and we made signs, and hallow'd that they should fetch us; but they either did not understand us, or thought it impracticable, so they went away, and night coming on, we had no remedy but to wait till the wind should abate; and, in the meantime, the boatman and I concluded to sleep, if we could; and so crowded into the scuttle, with the Dutchman, who was still wet, and the spray beating over the head of our boat, leak'd thro' to us, so that we were soon almost as wet as he. In this manner we lay all night, with very little rest; but, the wind abating the next day, we made a shift to reach Amboy before night, having been thirty hours on the water, without victuals, or any drink but a bottle of filthy rum, and the water we sail'd on being salt.

The bolded passages appeal to the senses of the reader. One can easily paint a picture of soaked men, thirsty and beaten by the water and wind. The mentioning of salt can leave a reader's mouth dry and while their face will feel dried out and stretched from the salt's drying nature.

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Franklin begins his two-volume autobiography with the words "Dear Son," crafting the work as an extended epistle, a formal letter that is designed to teach. Franklin was addressing his son William, a Loyalist who was to take on the role of Royal Governor of New Jersey.

The work is crafted as a narrative told in first-person. Franklin selects many anecdotes from his life experiences as illustrations of what he learned in his dealings with people, with travel, and with educating himself. Franklin had achieved many tremendous successes in his life, and the autobiography is meant to show others how he was able to rise from poverty and obscurity to become an accomplished and prosperous businessman, inventor, and statesman.

Franklin utilizes both chronological and topical organization to structure the autobiography. He also utilizes humor at times, particularly, self-deprecating humor when he describes the "failure" of his experiment in attaining moral perfection through the analogy of the "speckled ax."


Further Reading:

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