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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a tale of success that portrays a remarkable man. No other autobiography has been more widely read than Benjamin Franklin's. His book is more than just a picture of his life; it is an attempt to present his concept of the ideal citizen of the new nation of America. The autobiography is an important American literary work, for it deals with the essential values of life. Franklin discusses his life-story as an example to illustrate the most important American qualities, like self- sufficiency and self-reliance. He narrates how he shaped himself as an exemplary citizen and a representative type through immense hardship and constant diligence.
Franklin composes his Autobiography over a period of eighteen years. In his letters written to his relatives and friends, he states clearly that the purpose of writing his Autobiography is to set an example to the younger generations by showing his own success in emerging from poverty and acquiring wealth, power, and reputation.
Although written in four parts, the Autobiography attempts to have a unified structure and become a whole. Franklin's manuscripts clearly show that the book was planned in entirety before he actually begins writing his work. As the Autobiography traces Franklin's personal development, whatever "changes" or "discontinuities" are found in the composition can be explained as a way of corresponding to the verisimilitude of life's reality.
The central organizing Themes, stated at the outset, determine the structure and mode of Franklin's narrative. The Autobiography focuses on the ways of acquiring wealth, the pursuit of communication skills, and the ways to moral perfection. The book traces Franklin's rise in society from obscurity to significance. His success is the result of his strong belief in working hard to reach any goal.
Part I is composed at Twyford in August of 1771, while Franklin is visiting Jonathan Shipley. The first draft of Part I was probably composed in less than two weeks. Part I describes the details about his ancestors, parents, and other personal information encompassing the period between 1706 (the year of his birth) to the time of setting up to the first American circulation library in 1730.
Part II is composed thirteen years after Part I, while Franklin is at Passey, near Paris, in 1784. While Part I maintains the chronological story line of Franklin's life, Part II disregards chronology and emphasizes certain aspects of Franklin's character and experiences. He is encouraged to write this section by two friends, Vaughan and James. Further, his own fatherly duty of guiding his son, which began in Part I, prompts him to continue with his memoirs. In this part, Franklin highlights the moral instructions that he advocates. His List of Thirteen Virtues aims at an ideal standard or moral behavior.
In Part III, Franklin becomes outward looking and practical. He begins writing Part III in August of 1788, while at home in Philadelphia. By then, he is 82! His writing is interrupted by ill health, but he completes Part III before May, 1789.
Part IV of Franklin's Autobiography is composed between November, 1789, and his death on April 17, 1790. The final section of the book deals with the solidification of his political career and image.