Study Guide

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Literature and Writing

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Literature and Writing

Franklin's a printer by profession, and reading and writing the printed word is what shapes his life. He treats his life like a book, using metaphors of printing and reading – like calling his mistakes "errata" (printing errors) – to shape his place in the world. Reading is what brings him his greatest pleasure and writing is how he defines himself. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin reminds us of the importance literature holds in any society. For Franklin, founding a library and a university – giving people access to books and to knowledge through those books – provides people with something he sees as just as necessary as other basic life needs, like health care or defense.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. Franklin says he teaches himself to be a better writer by taking some of the ideas he reads in prose and rewriting some of them in verse, then rewriting them again in his own prose. Do you think this is a good way of studying?
  2. Why did Franklin decide to write an autobiography?
  3. Of all the things Franklin did in his life, why do you think he chose to focus his autobiography on specific events and aspects of his life that he did?
  4. It seems pretty clear that Franklin likes to read in a lot of genres, and one of his favorites is fiction. He's an accomplished writer, too, but he works on mostly non-fiction. Why do you think that is?
  5. Why is reading so important to Franklin?

Chew on This

Franklin seizes the chance to write his Autobiography as a way of contributing to the field of literature he loves so much; his self-portrayal within its pages is a deliberate attempt to show that a self-educated writer can also join in an elite canon.

Franklin defines himself so much by his writing that, in a weird way, without the Autobiography he wouldn't exist.

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