Many scholars say that Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography created the concept of the “self-made man”¯ that in America a man could find his way out of poverty through intelligence, hard work, and perseverance. Others point to slavery the way in which women were treated or the class structures in America and argue that the notion of the “self-made man”¯ was a myth. Which side do you take?
In my view, Benjamin Franklin is a significant public figure and a person of encyclopedic knowledge, so called “Renaissance”¯ personality. I think that he is fairly called a “self-made man”¯, a man having a great inner power and skillful enough to develop it in himself, showing the reader of his works, his Autobiography in particular, the way one can grow into a person of high rank. It is necessary to give arguments in favor of the point.
In his work Autobiography B. Franklin writes to William, his son and depicts his way from a craftsman’s son to prosperous and ambitious personality, who achieved everything step by step in daily hard work, persistence and developed his grit. He grows independent and his practical, pragmatic approach to life favors his success in business sphere. Franklin tries to render his experience, as he has time to depict all the details of his making, modifying himself, he has an opportunity to recollect his actions and brilliant solutions of problems. He gives instructions and teaches the way a young ambitious man should behave to do well.
Scientists say that Benjamin Franklin created a concept of “self-made man”¯ by his significant intellectual and physical deeds. The main character gains all the welfare, including so called moral wealth thanks to his hard work, but not to his luck or favorable occasion. It is labor that perfects a personality, forms his view and fosters him. That is the way to social stability and high worthy status. But their conceptions differ in their main character’s attitude to people.
What is more I feel that in his Autobiography Franklin clearly stated his position, attitude to life and strong motivation to succeed which grew into the result that he made an overwhelming career, going up the social “ladder”¯.
Though I noticed gasps in narration, one feels the close connection and interdependence of all its parts. At the very beginning he expresses his will to and necessity for his son to know the story of his life. He points out: “Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means I made use of”¦”¯(Part I, 16) In the following parts of his autobiography he tells about his parents, thereby describing what his roots are that also makes me think of him as a “self-made man”¯. Books are of great importance for Franklin and as he wrote in Autobiography they are “the means of improvement by constant study”¯ (Part IX). He remarked: “From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books”¯ (Part III). In the Autobiography the thinker concluded that “the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct”¯ (Part IX, 94-95). In my opinion this accentuates that he perfected himself all the time. Franklin collected thirteen virtues he gathered and analyzed in the part three. Temperance, order, industry, resolution, justice, sincerity are among them. He not only lists them but wants “to acquire the habitude”¯. With its simple and getting right into the mind language it gives unobtrusive lessons of life and was taken as an example and so called pattern of American dream.
Hence, W. Howells stated that “Franklin’s is one of the greatest autobiographies in literature, and towers over other autobiographies as Franklin towered over other men”¯.
I found out that Benjamin Franklin lived in the times of fundamental changes. And all the complicated conditions in which he worked and found his way are differently judged by scholars. In his epoch the country was still a colonial congregation, which occupied considerable areas and Franklin never saw their independence. America was rapidly developing and ridding of its former status, these were hopes for better future. The number of slaves constantly grew, the conditions were unbearable and African slaves represented the majority of the total number. Slave trade was at its height and attitude to women was especially inhuman, though some rebellions were made but they were not strong enough to withstand the whole class system formed in the period. In 1780s Northern States formally abolish slavery, but actually women’s role in society and decision making was still minor. Due to the class structure women were treated improperly, their rights were strictly limited and seldom fulfilled. In these complex conditions Franklin may have lived in a dream, dreamt of changing the world with his progress. So it is considered that Franklin created a myth of “self-made man”¯ who was capable of coping with all the problems on the way to success, but actually it may just be a conception everybody dreamt of, easily believed. This notion poured into American world outlook and took root in the society, was followed by thinkers of the century. As J. Donne remarked, “no man is an island”¯. Living in the society one is bound to its laws and circumstances. A lot is discussed about a “self-made man”¯, but all the colonial problems leaded to unjust and sometimes intolerable attitude to women in the society
But still judging from his Autobiography including all the facts stated above I consider him to be a great thinker who contributed greatly to his nation’s development. In one of the works he stated that “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing”¯. (Part II) He is a strong personality, formed under difficult circumstances, I may conclude, he is fairly called a “self-made man”¯.