Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Just as Benjamin Franklin himself was a man of many interests, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin has many facets. It shows how an ambitious individual can move up in the world by being willing to work hard, by having a decent amount of good luck, and by seizing opportunities. Among other things, his autobiography is a study in entrepreneurism and individual pluck. Franklin’s economic climb came the hard way, as he worked first as an apprentice to his brother James, who published a newspaper, and eventually became the printer for the state of Pennsylvania and owned his own business. When Franklin was appointed to official government offices, such as postmaster, he also came to know people who were important politically, and some of these early contacts are described in the work. Yet what Franklin seems most proud of and what he spends the most time recounting are the many civic improvements that he had a hand in—from the formation of the first American subscription library to the first fire department, from a plan for improving city cleanliness by paving the streets and keeping the pavement swept to a design for a more efficient stove. Another area that he only begins to describe is his work as a diplomat. Unfortunately, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin ends before it reaches the period of Franklin’s international recognition.

When Franklin began his autobiography, he wrote in the form of memoirs and referred to the work...

(The entire section is 499 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Griffith, John. “The Rhetoric of Franklin’s Autobiography.” Criticism 13 (Winter, 1971): 77-94. A careful discussion of the strategies and aesthetics employed by Franklin in the execution of his literary designs. Emphasis is on literary analysis rather than on explication.

Jehlen, Myra. “ ‘Imitate Jesus and Socrates’: The Making of a Good American.” South Atlantic Quarterly 89, no. 3 (Summer, 1990): 501-524. General discussion of the moral and philosophical implications of Franklin’s described regimen for acquiring the thirteen virtues that would bring perfection to one who possessed them.

Levin, David. “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: The Puritan Experiment in Life and Art.” In Benjamin Franklin: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Brian M. Barbour. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. Distinguishes between the character of Franklin’s persona in the autobiography and the character of the writer himself; emphasis on Franklin’s effort to resolve the Puritan dedication to virtue and the work ethic with the Enlightenment focus on rational inquiry.

Seavey, Ormond. Becoming Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography and the Life. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988. A carefully documented and exhaustive two-part critical and psychological study of Franklin both as a writer with a rhetorical purpose and as a figure of the Enlightenment.

Shea, Daniel B., Jr. “Franklin and Spiritual Autobiography.” In Benjamin Franklin: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Brian M. Barbour. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. Identifies Franklin’s autobiography as a model in form and essence for the spiritual writings of Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, among others.