Benjamin Franklin was not just one of the most instrumental founding fathers of America, but a true polymath, a person who specializes in a variety of fields. Franklin was a printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. He truly was a thinker, innovator, and yet a man of action. Ben Franklin was one of the most intelligent people in the history of the world. Yet Franklin wanted to teach and spread his knowledge. There was many times, especially early in his life when he made mistakes and suffered hardships. Franklin was able to overcome these challenges. This greatly affected Franklin’s life as self-improvement became a model for which he lived his life by. Self-improvement is prevalent throughout his entire autobiography. Franklin did have a sense of pride, but he also was a pragmatist and always looked toward the greater good. With all of his knowledge and experience, Benjamin Franklin’s story is a great model to help guide people to a improved life.
Self-improvement becomes an overlying theme straight from part one of Franklin’s autobiography. It is important to note that the first part of the book is to notify his son, William of his past. William was a loyalist, and he and his father had a falling out during the colonists rebellion against Britain. So Franklin starts with his son, of whose relationship has been damaged tragically. So the autobiography itself becomes a way to improve Franklin’s relationship with his son, and perhaps to make up for his shortcomings as a father.
This itself seems to imply from early in his life Franklin did indeed suffer some hardships. Born into a middle-lower class family, Franklin demonstrated a talent for industry at a young age. He was a very talented writer and began sending anonymous essay to his brother’s press. But when his brother found out he put Franklin’s writing to a stop, and made him sign indenture papers, forcing Franklin to work for James until his contract was up.
However when the two had another disagreement Franklin left anyways. However, Franklin knew that James would not produce the indenture papers because James had got into trouble with the colonial assembly. Franklin admits, "It was not fair in me to take this Advantage… and this I therefore reckon one of the first Errata of my life." Franklin admits his mistake, the first step to not making the same mistake twice. This is one example of self-improvement.
However, Part 2 of the autobiography is by far the most dedicated of any parts of the book to self-improvement. Franklin catalogues his attempt to perfect 13 different virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, Justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. The entirety of part of the book is dedicated to self-improvement. Franklin marks a black spot in a journal for each offense against each virtue. Franklin explains how one can better improve themselves on each virtue. Franklin legitimately tries to help the reader realize these virtues endeavors in a method to help the reader improve on them. Franklin is not just a self-promoting egomaniac. He states that he has flaws without question, “I was surpris'd to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish”. Here Franklin admits his shortcomings and yet acknowledges the value of improving oneself.
A note on self-improvement and the arrogance of Franklin. It does seem that Franklin was a bit prideful for a number of reasons. Firstly the whole basis of self-improvement set forth by himself implies that he recognizes his own rise from humble beginnings to an elated, wealthy, prestigious position in which he eventually achieved. Secondly, he mentions it personally in his autobiography that complete humility is totally impossible. Franklin was after all only human. Franklin was not disproportionately proud, since his talents were great and his achievements monumental.
Next, Part 3 of the book deals mostly with history and Franklin’s life. Self-improvement is does not seem overtly mentioned in this part of the book. However, there is a more implicit example of self-improvement and the generosity of Franklin. In 1740, Franklin invented the Franklin stove, but he refused to get a patent on the invention. Franklin’s reasoning was that he wanted it for the good of the people. This is more evidence that Franklin was in fact a righteous man, and not a self absorbed man who was only after personal gain.
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Franklin begins the story with his son, and ends the story with his son. There is no doubt that Franklin felt bad about the souring relationship between him and William. Once again Franklin expresses his love for his son and the yearning for a renewed relationship. This also expresses, either implicitly or subconsciously, the shortcomings Franklin felt as a father. He could not quell the quarrel between himself and William, and therefore missed all the years of being a father to his son. This demonstrates the importance Franklin felt towards self-improvement. He was constantly trying to improve the relationship between himself and his son.
Benjamin Franklin sets out not only to give a detailed explanation of his life, but also to help those who cared to read it. Franklin was a righteous and successful man, but he was legitimately trying to help his readers. Franklin did not enter his endeavors purely for self benefit, as is seen with his refusal for a patent of the Franklin Stove. Self-improvement played a tremendous role throughout Franklin’s life, from his childhood, through his career, his role as a father, as well as his role as a founding father for the United States. Franklin attempts to guide the reader to a better life through self-improvement. Franklin outlines thirteen virtues of which to practice and master. And even he himself acknowledges that perfection is impossible. However he outlines these virtues in Part 2 so that the reader may be able to improve their own life. Franklin successfully give the reader an outline to his life, an outline to American history in the 18th century, and an outline to live a fuller more successful and happier life through self-improvement.
Benjamin Franklin is one of the most accomplished people of the last 2,000 years, and perhaps in the history of the human race. He was a hard worker, benevolent philosopher, a statesman, inventor, scientist, diplomat, and all-around genius. He was at times prideful but that pride was indeed in proportion to all of his great accomplishments and civic duties. Franklin’s greatest ambitions were to spread freedom, peace, and the pursuit of happiness. Franklin suffered many hardships in his life that he was able to overcome. And through his experiences he was able to provide generations of people a model of self-improvement in which they could follow. Benjamin Franklin’s memoirs are a gift for generations to come, to help guide, educate, the people of today into a more righteous world for tomorrow.
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