The Importance of Decisions in Franklin’s Autobiography
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography presents the life of its author from his early years until he worked as an Agent of Pennsylvania in London. The biography starts as he writes to his son about his success, his mistakes, and most of the important events that occurred in his life. However, he constructs the narration of his life not by the situations that he happens to be in, but by the decisions that he makes, showing himself as an example of the “arquitecto de [su] propio destino” that “En paz,” by Amado Nervo, presents.
The importance of decisions can be clearly perceived from the beginning of the text. The word “choice” appears very early in the autobiography (in the second paragraph): “were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors to have a second edition to correct some faults of the first” (Franklin 1912, 1). The second paragraph deals with the determination to choose his life again asking only for some changes, or even if no changes were allowed: “though this were denied, I should still accept the offer”(Franklin 1912, 1). Franklin perceives life as something that could offer possibilities for one to take, to ask for a different one, or to accept as they are. He perceives life not by the idea of destiny, but by making decisions, taking chances.
Most of the important events in his life can be traced to his own decisions. He decided to start writing even if he could not use his own name and had to remain anonymous: “writing an anonymous paper […] They read it, commented on it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite pleasure of finding it met with their approbation” (Franklin 1912, 20). He chose to move when he did not agree with his brother even though he was young: “in three days I found myself in New York, near 300 miles from home, a boy of but 17” ( Franklin 1912, 23). He perceived opportunities and made decisions, but even when situations occur out of his control, he immediately mentions what he could have done, the choices that he should have made: “I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation” (Franklin 1912, 109). It is not that he controls everything that happens to him, but that he accepts, and he recognizes the weight of every decision that he makes.
A common topic of discussion is Franklin’s humility. He presents the good deeds that he has done for his country and for its people, but he also states that he did many of these in anonymity and that he did not take as much profit from them as he could have taken; he even states what he did not do but was attributed to him. These revelations, that he was behind the anonymity, and showing what he did not do, appear to argue against his humility. The importance he gives to his choices seems also to be an argument against his humility, but the way in which he presents all these appears fair instead of boasting. However, it is difficult to conceive a biography being far from vanity, as he states: “perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity” (Franklin 1912, 2). If by making decisions and taking chances, if by being “el arquitecto de [su] propio destino” (Nervo, 5) is just how he perceives life, then the biography can be perceived as a humble presentation of this vanity.
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography presents its author not as someone who believes in destiny or considers that everything happens for a reason, but, instead, as an example of “el arquitecto de mi propio destino” (Nervo, 5) that the poetic voice of “En Paz,” by Amado Nervo, presents. There is even the clear idea of “vida nada me debes, vida estamos en paz” (Nervo, 15) since he states that he would choose his life again even if he could not make changes in it. Benjamin Franklin not only constructs his life by the decisions and the mistakes he made, but recognizes the importance of these decisions.
Franklin, Benjamin. 1912. Autobiography. New York: Henry Holt and Company
Nervo, Amado. “Vida, Estamos En Paz”: Antología: Los Más Bellos Poemas Del Autor. Rosario, Argentina: Ameghino, 1999.
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Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography presents the life of its author from his early years until he worked as an Agent of Pennsylvania in London. The biography starts as he writes to […]