Benjamin Franklin's Illustration of Self-Improvement

Human beings get to learn from their experiences and also observe the main factors of it in the lives of others. However, learning from others is the best way of gaining knowledge. Experiences of others, whether good or bad, are important tools to help people to improve their own lives. Few people have explicitly offered their experiences to serve as examples to others through writing or any other medium. Among them is Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography addressed to his son. In the autobiography, Franklin offers numerous examples owing to which he was able to overcome challenges. In this way, he elucidates his hopes that his son will be able to get a better life than he did. This paper discusses key ways in which Franklin presents his story as an illustration of self-improvement. The paper evaluates the extent to which Franklin succeeds in presenting the theme of self-improvement to his son.

Key Ways that Franklin Uses to Present His Illustrative Story of Self-Improvement

Franklin intends to illustrate the importance of self-improvement through his confession that he would love to have a repeat of his life. He writes, “… when I reflected on it, it has induced me sometimes to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, …” (Franklin,1). Arguably, Franklin had risen to a social status that was admired both in his country and abroad, and many people probably admired to be at his level. Nevertheless, he believes that what he actually achieved is not enough, and notes that if he were given another chance he would live a better life. He is, thus, strongly assured that there is a room for self-improvement no matter what level one may have attained in life. This illustration serves as warning against being satisfied and becoming complacent with own achievements. What stands out in this illustration is Franklin’s desire to correct the small mistakes that he did along the way. Therefore, he does not consider himself as a person who did everything right and believes that he can correct the mistakes.  

Benjamin Franklin uses his life experiences at home and at work places to demonstrate self-improvement. Firstly, he narrates his family story in which he says that he was born in a large humble family and used to help his father with candle business. Although in those times he is attracted to the sea, his father does not oblige to his desires, thus, he writes, “I disliked the trade, and had a strong inclination for the sea, but my father declared against it” (Franklin, 5).  He was the tenth born son, and his father intended to give him to the church as an offertory for the blessings. Nevertheless, when he realizes that his interests were in writing, he refuses to follow his father’s desires. However, he does this with respect as he accepts to work for his elder brother in a printing business. Giving this example, Franklin hopes that his son will be convinced to improve his life by following his own dreams, and not necessarily pay attention to what other people want for him. An important feature is the humility that Franklin exhibits while giving this illustration. He does not disrespect or show arrogance to his father or his brothers even though he manages to become the best in the school. Franklin also ventures into different businesses before he chooses writing. This is something that he learns from other people, including a newspaper from London. He recognizes his weakness in writing and, therefore, starts to improve his style by learning from others over a long period.

Franklin also uses his past failures to illustrate how he was able to overcome them and even rise above those particular moments in which he previously fell apart (Gold, 9). For instance, when he frequently fights with his brother in the printing industry, he decides to leave the business. After that, his brother instructs all the printers in Philadelphia not to give him a job. He goes to New York to seek for a job but ends up travelling abroad to England where he gains skills in printing. He later comes back to establish a more successful business in printing than his brother’s. Franklin also emphasizes the theme of self-improvement due to his success in disciplining himself to become a vegetarian even though many prominent people like Keimer fails in their attempt. Keimer is Franklin’s boss, but he fails in everything that Franklin is able to succeed. As such, Franklin indicates that everyone, no matter the position occupied in society, has an opportunity to improve their lives through persistence and humility.  Franklin is successful in his attempt to explain the theme of self-improvement because he uses his real life’s experiences. He narrates his story from a first person’s point of view as the one who has full knowledge of what it means to have self-improvement from within. Burt (5) observes that Franklin is motivated by the desire to help his son to have a better life than he had. Furthermore, Franklin is guided by the fact that he does not have another chance to go through life again; therefore, everything he can offer is to give his life experiences as stable examples to those who are still living.


In conclusion, it is evident that Franklin appears to be a genuinely benevolent man who desires to help others in self-improvement. Firstly, his autobiography is addressed to his own son from whom he never expected to gain, but tended to provide him with the basis of true-to-life wisdom. Secondly, Franklin admits that he would have loved to go back into his life and correct his life’s fallacies. However, he perfectly knows that he does not have that opportunity. As an aged man, he does not stand to gain anything from the involvement in self-promotion activities. Consequently, Franklin is simply a compassionate person who thinks that his life story is worth telling. This is a remarkable way to help others consider the notion of self-improvement from a critical point of view.

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