The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin


Welcome to the enchanting world of “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” πŸ“œβœ¨! Crafted by the ingenious mind of Benjamin Franklin himself, this book isn’t just a mere recounting of life events; it’s a journey through the tapestry of 18th-century America, seen through the eyes of one of its most pivotal figures. Born in 1706, Franklin was not only a leading author and printer but also a political theorist, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. Phew, talk about wearing multiple hats!

This autobiography falls under the genre of, well, autobiography, but it’s so much more. It’s a firsthand account of American history, a self-help book before self-help was a thing, and a compilation of witty, wise anecdotes that offer a window into the life of a man who helped shape the very fabric of the United States. Franklin began writing it in 1771 but never completed it to cover his entire life, leaving us with a rich, though unfinished, tapestry of the American Enlightenment period.

So, grab your tricorn hat and let’s dive into the life and times of Benjamin Franklin, a man whose contributions went far beyond helping to draft the Declaration of Independence and charming the French into supporting the American cause. This book is not just a historical artifact; it’s a guide to personal improvement, social mobility, and intellectual curiosity. Ready to be inspired? Let’s go! πŸŒŸπŸ“–

Plot Summary

“The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” chronicles the life of one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, detailing his adventures, achievements, and lessons learned from youth to adulthood. The narrative is split into several parts, each highlighting different phases of his life and career. Here’s a breakdown of the main events:

Youth and Education β€” Franklin’s autobiography begins with his childhood in Boston, where he was born the fifteenth of seventeen children. Despite only having formal education until the age of 10, Franklin was an avid reader, which laid the foundation for his vast knowledge and successful career.

Apprenticeship and Early Career β€” At 12, Franklin was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer, which sparked his interest in writing and publishing. This section delves into Franklin’s early forays into the printing business and his eventual establishment of a successful printing house in Philadelphia.

Philosophical and Scientific Pursuits β€” Franklin discusses his experiments with electricity, leading to his famous kite experiment and the invention of the lightning rod. His interest in public welfare also led to the establishment of various civic organizations, including the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Political Career and Diplomacy β€” Franklin’s autobiography outlines his involvement in politics, including his roles in drafting the Declaration of Independence and serving as a diplomat in France during the American Revolution.

Personal Improvement and Virtues β€” A significant portion of the autobiography is dedicated to Franklin’s philosophy of self-improvement, embodied in his list of thirteen virtues. This section illustrates his lifelong quest for moral perfection and how he applied these principles to his daily life.

Legacy and Unfinished Work β€” The autobiography remains unfinished, as Franklin did not cover the last few years of his life, including his role in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The manuscript ends abruptly in 1757, leaving readers to ponder the full scope of Franklin’s contributions to America and the world.

The structure of Franklin’s autobiography, with its blend of personal narrative, philosophical musings, and practical advice, makes it not only a compelling story of one man’s life but also a timeless guide to personal development and civic responsibility.

Character Analysis

“The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” is unique in that its primary focus is on Franklin himself, offering insights into his thoughts, motivations, and the development of his character over time. However, Franklin’s interactions with other figures also provide depth to his character and help illustrate the societal and personal influences that shaped his life. Here’s a look at the main “character” and some key figures mentioned:

Benjamin Franklin β€” Franklin is a self-made man who embodies the Enlightenment ideals of self-improvement, intellectual curiosity, and public service. Beginning his journey in modest circumstances, Franklin’s industrious nature, wit, and wisdom propel him to significant achievements in various fields, including science, politics, and publishing. His motivations are rooted in a desire for personal growth and a commitment to contributing to society’s welfare. Throughout the autobiography, Franklin’s character development is evident as he reflects on his failings and triumphs, continually striving to better himself and his community.

James Franklin β€” Benjamin’s older brother and first employer, James plays a crucial role in Benjamin’s early life. The relationship between the two is complex; James is both a mentor and a source of adversity for Benjamin, particularly during Benjamin’s apprenticeship. This relationship motivates Franklin to seek independence and ultimately shapes his approach to leadership and mentorship.

Deborah Read β€” Franklin’s wife, Deborah, is mentioned in the text, though not extensively. She represents Franklin’s personal life and the sacrifices and decisions made in the pursuit of his public and professional ambitions. Their relationship underscores the personal costs of Franklin’s commitments to his work and public service.

William Franklin β€” Benjamin’s son, William, represents both familial pride and personal disappointment. As a loyalist during the American Revolution, William’s political stance causes a rift between him and his father, illustrating the personal conflicts that can arise from broader political disputes.

Character Analysis Summary

Benjamin FranklinIndustrious, witty, reflectiveSelf-improvement, public serviceFrom ambitious youth to wise statesman
James FranklinAuthoritative, challengingMaster craftsman, mentorCatalyst for Benjamin’s independence
Deborah ReadSupportive, pragmaticFamily stability, support for BenjaminRepresents personal side of Franklin’s life
William FranklinLoyalist, conflictedPolitical loyalty, personal ambitionStrained relationship with Benjamin

Through these characters and his self-portrayal, Franklin illustrates the complexities of human nature, the importance of personal and moral development, and the impact of individual actions on the broader social and political fabric.

Themes and Symbols

“The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” is rich with themes and symbols that reflect Franklin’s life philosophies, the era he lived in, and his contributions to American society. Here’s an exploration of the major themes and symbols:

Self-Improvement and Education β€” A central theme of the autobiography is the idea that individuals are capable of improving themselves through education, hard work, and adherence to a moral code. Franklin’s list of thirteen virtues and his attempts to perfect them symbolize the Enlightenment belief in rationality and self-discipline as paths to personal and social betterment.

Public Service and Civic Responsibility β€” Franklin’s numerous contributions to public projects, such as the establishment of the first public library, the university, and the fire department, underscore the theme of civic responsibility. His life serves as an example of how individual initiative can contribute to the public good, reinforcing the idea that civic engagement is crucial for a healthy society.

The American Dream β€” Franklin’s journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most influential figures in American history embodies the American Dream. His autobiography serves as a testament to the possibilities that await those who are willing to work hard and seize opportunities, making it a symbol of hope and aspiration for future generations.

Practicality and Pragmatism β€” Throughout his life, Franklin emphasized the importance of practical knowledge and pragmatic solutions to problems. His inventions and contributions to science symbolize the practical application of knowledge for the betterment of society.

Frugality and Industry β€” Franklin’s emphasis on frugality and industry not only reflects his personal values but also the Puritan ethos prevalent in early American society. These values are symbolized in his advice and anecdotes, teaching the importance of hard work, thrift, and financial prudence.

Moral Perfection β€” The quest for moral perfection, although never fully attained by Franklin, symbolizes the ongoing struggle for personal and ethical development. This theme reflects the complexity of human nature and the lifelong journey of self-improvement.

Autobiography as a Teaching Tool β€” The very act of writing his autobiography is symbolic of Franklin’s intention to leave behind a legacy that could educate and inspire others. The book itself becomes a symbol of enlightenment and a guide for living a virtuous and fulfilling life.

Through these themes and symbols, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” offers insights into the values and beliefs that shaped not only Franklin’s life but also the foundations of American society. It serves as a reflection on personal growth, the importance of community, and the pursuit of a greater good.

Writing Style and Tone

Benjamin Franklin’s “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” showcases a writing style and tone that are as distinctive and multifaceted as the man himself. Here’s a breakdown of key aspects of Franklin’s style and tone throughout the autobiography:

  • Clear and Direct β€” Franklin’s prose is noted for its clarity and directness, making complex ideas accessible to a broad audience. This approach reflects his belief in the importance of communication and education for all.
  • Witty and Humorous β€” Franklin frequently employs wit and humor in his writing, making the autobiography not only an informative but also an enjoyable read. His anecdotes and clever turns of phrase reveal a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously, despite his many achievements.
  • Reflective and Philosophical β€” The text is imbued with Franklin’s reflections on his life and the lessons he learned. This philosophical tone invites readers to ponder their own lives and encourages a mindset of continuous self-improvement.
  • Pragmatic and Practical β€” Franklin’s focus on pragmatism and practicality is evident in his writing. He often discusses the utility of his inventions, the societal benefits of his projects, and the practical aspects of his philosophy of self-improvement.
  • Inspirational and Motivational β€” The autobiography serves as a source of inspiration and motivation, with Franklin’s life story embodying the ideals of the American Dream. His tone often encourages self-reliance, industriousness, and the pursuit of knowledge.
  • Persuasive and Argumentative β€” In parts where Franklin discusses his views on religion, politics, and society, his tone can become persuasive and argumentative. He presents his arguments logically and respectfully, showcasing his skills as a debater and thinker.
  • Instructive and Educational β€” Above all, Franklin’s writing aims to educate. Whether he’s sharing how to avoid debt, the importance of physical exercise, or the way to negotiate peace treaties, his tone is always instructive, offering practical advice and wisdom.

Franklin’s writing style and tone in the autobiography make it not just a recounting of his life but also a manual for living wisely and well. His approachable and engaging prose has ensured that his insights remain relevant and revered centuries after they were first penned.

Literary Devices Used in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is not just a straightforward narrative; it’s enriched with various literary devices that enhance its readability, depth, and appeal. Here are the top 10 literary devices Franklin employed, each illustrating his masterful storytelling and reflective insights.

  1. Anecdote β€” Franklin uses personal anecdotes to illustrate broader themes and lessons, making abstract virtues tangible and relatable. These short, personal stories highlight his principles, such as frugality, industry, and humility, in a way that readers can easily understand and apply to their own lives.
  2. Irony β€” The use of irony adds a layer of wit and humor to Franklin’s narrative, often highlighting discrepancies between societal norms and personal beliefs. His ability to point out the ironies in his own experiences and in society at large encourages readers to think critically about their actions and the world around them.
  3. Symbolism β€” Objects and actions in Franklin’s life often symbolize larger ideas or values. For example, his kite experiment with electricity is not just a scientific achievement but also symbolizes innovation, curiosity, and the pursuit of knowledge.
  4. Metaphor β€” Franklin employs metaphors to draw comparisons between his life experiences and broader concepts. This device helps readers grasp complex ideas through familiar terms, enhancing the autobiography’s accessibility and impact.
  5. Allusion β€” References to historical, biblical, and classical texts are prevalent in Franklin’s writing, showcasing his extensive education and inviting readers with similar knowledge to draw deeper connections.
  6. Satire β€” Franklin occasionally uses satire to criticize societal faults and vices subtly. His satirical observations, especially regarding politics and social norms, reveal his insights into human nature and his hopes for societal improvement.
  7. Parallelism β€” The use of parallel structure in Franklin’s prose emphasizes his points and adds rhythm to his writing. This device is particularly evident in his lists, such as the thirteen virtues, where parallelism underscores the importance of each virtue.
  8. Aphorism β€” Franklin is renowned for his aphorisms, or concise statements expressing general truths. These memorable phrases, many of which are found in “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” distill wisdom into easily digestible and quotable lines.
  9. Personification β€” By attributing human qualities to abstract concepts, Franklin makes his philosophical and moral discussions more engaging. For example, he personifies virtues and vices, making them characters in the narrative of self-improvement.
  10. Alliteration β€” The use of alliteration adds a musical quality to Franklin’s writing, making it more pleasurable to read. This device is often used to emphasize key points or to make certain passages more memorable.

These literary devices contribute to the richness of Franklin’s autobiography, transforming it from a simple historical document into a work of enduring literary and philosophical significance. Through his masterful use of language, Franklin engages readers, invites reflection, and continues to inspire generations with his wisdom and wit.

Literary Device Examples

In “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” various literary devices are employed to enhance the narrative, making Franklin’s life lessons, experiences, and wisdom more engaging and memorable. Below are examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in the book.


Franklin’s account of his vegetarian diet and the reasoning behind itThis anecdote not only illustrates Franklin’s early commitment to personal principles but also his practical approach to resolving moral dilemmas, showcasing his capacity for independent thought and action.
His experiment with the kite and key during a thunderstormDemonstrates his scientific curiosity and inventive spirit, making the abstract concept of electricity tangible and exciting.
His efforts to establish the first public libraryReflects his belief in self-education and community improvement, showing how individual initiatives can have a broad societal impact.


Franklin’s observations on the inefficiency of the colonial governmentHighlights the irony of his later involvement in creating a new government, underscoring the contrast between observation and action in political reform.
His youthful ambition to achieve moral perfection, despite recognizing human fallibilityThis irony emphasizes the ongoing struggle between idealism and reality, encouraging readers to pursue virtue while acknowledging their imperfections.


The lightning rodSymbolizes not only Franklin’s scientific achievements but also the idea of protectionβ€”shielding homes and communities from the forces of nature, akin to his efforts to safeguard society through civic contributions.


Franklin’s comparison of his life to a book, where he can “erase” mistakes and rewriteServes as a powerful metaphor for self-improvement and the possibility of change, suggesting that one’s character and destiny are not fixed but can be shaped by conscious effort.


References to classical philosophers and biblical proverbsIllustrate Franklin’s argument for virtue and morality, grounding his beliefs in a broader historical and cultural context that enriches the text’s meaning.


Critiques of overly pompous officials and impractical legislationThrough satire, Franklin exposes the absurdities of certain social and political practices, advocating for reason and efficiency in public affairs.


The structured listing of his thirteen virtuesEmphasizes their equal importance and interconnection in achieving moral and personal improvement, reinforcing the holistic nature of his philosophy.


“A penny saved is a penny earned”This aphorism distills Franklin’s practical advice on frugality and financial wisdom into a memorable and concise statement, embodying his practical approach to life.


Treating virtues and vices as characters in the story of lifeMakes abstract moral concepts more relatable and engaging, encouraging readers to see their personal development as a narrative they can shape.


“Frugality and Industry free us from Fear, and make us more Free to act as we please”Enhances the rhetorical impact of his advice, making the principles of frugality and industry more memorable and persuasive.

These examples showcase Franklin’s adept use of literary devices to communicate his experiences, insights, and advice, enriching the text with layers of meaning and making “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” a compelling read beyond its historical significance.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – FAQs

What is the main purpose of “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”?

The main purpose is to share Benjamin Franklin’s journey from modest beginnings to becoming one of the most influential figures in American history, highlighting his values, achievements, and contributions to society. It serves as a guide for personal and moral improvement, civic responsibility, and practical wisdom.

Who should read “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”?

Anyone interested in American history, self-improvement, the Enlightenment period, or the life of one of America’s founding fathers will find Franklin’s autobiography insightful. It’s particularly beneficial for students, historians, and individuals seeking inspiration for personal development.

How does Franklin’s autobiography reflect his character?

The autobiography reflects Franklin’s character as industrious, curious, pragmatic, and committed to self-improvement and public service. Through his writing, readers see a man who values education, hard work, and civic engagement, embodying the Enlightenment ideals.

What are the key themes in “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”?

Key themes include self-improvement and education, public service and civic responsibility, the American Dream, practicality and pragmatism, frugality and industry, and the quest for moral perfection.

What literary devices does Franklin use in his autobiography?

Franklin employs anecdotes, irony, symbolism, metaphor, allusion, satire, parallelism, aphorism, personification, and alliteration to enhance his storytelling, making his life lessons more engaging and relatable.

How does Franklin’s autobiography contribute to American literature and history?

Franklin’s autobiography is a foundational work in American literature and history, offering insights into the early American ethos, the Enlightenment period, and the life of a key figure in the founding of the United States. It remains a vital source of wisdom on personal and civic virtue.

What can modern readers learn from Franklin’s autobiography?

Modern readers can learn the importance of self-discipline, continuous learning, and civic engagement. Franklin’s life story encourages readers to pursue their goals with diligence and to contribute positively to society, emphasizing that personal improvement and public service are both achievable and rewarding.


What was Benjamin Franklin’s primary occupation?PrinterLawyerDoctorSailor
Which city is most associated with Franklin’s rise to prominence?New YorkPhiladelphiaBostonCharleston
What invention is Franklin credited with that relates to electricity?BatteryLight bulbLightning rodElectric motor
Franklin’s efforts led to the establishment of which educational institution?Harvard UniversityUniversity of PennsylvaniaYale UniversityPrinceton University
Which of the following was NOT one of Franklin’s thirteen virtues?FrugalityHumilityExtravaganceModeration
In which European country did Franklin serve as a diplomat?EnglandFranceGermanyItaly
What type of writing is Franklin known for contributing to with aphorisms and witty sayings?NovelsPoemsNewspapersAlmanacs
Franklin’s autobiography is particularly notable for its emphasis on:Adventure storiesSelf-improvementMilitary strategyFictional tales
Which virtue did Franklin find the most challenging to master?OrderSincerityJusticeChastity
What role did Franklin NOT hold?Postmaster GeneralPresident of the United StatesFounding FatherInventor
  • Answers:
    • 1: A Printer
    • 2: B Philadelphia
    • 3: C Lightning rod
    • 4: B University of Pennsylvania
    • 5: C Extravagance
    • 6: B France
    • 7: D Almanacs
    • 8: B Self-improvement
    • 9: A Order
    • 10: B President of the United States

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension and retention of “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” focusing on Franklin’s life, his contributions, and the values he espoused.


Identify the Literary Devices in the Following Paragraph from “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”

“I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.”


  1. Anecdote β€” Franklin introduces a personal project or quest, providing a narrative of his ambition for moral perfection.
  2. Hyperbole β€” Describing the project as “bold and arduous” exaggerates the challenge he set for himself, emphasizing the difficulty and grandeur of the task.
  3. Alliteration β€” The use of “conquer all” adds a rhythmic quality to the narrative, emphasizing his determination.
  4. Parallelism β€” The phrase “I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into” uses parallel structure to list the sources of temptation he aims to overcome, highlighting the comprehensive nature of his endeavor.
  5. First-person narrative β€” The use of “I” throughout the paragraph gives readers direct insight into Franklin’s thoughts and motivations, making the account personal and engaging.

This exercise is designed to enhance your ability to spot and understand the use of literary devices in prose, demonstrating how they contribute to the depth, clarity, and impact of the author’s expressions.