Study Guide

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Memory and the Past

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Memory and the Past

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is concerned with memory. The whole idea of writing your life story is sharing that memory with readers. Franklin's autobiography is a work of memory, a "recollection." He shows us how his past made him into the author writing in his present. For the most part, Franklin is pleased with how things went, and he only rarely wishes he could do something over. He reminds us of the importance of holding on to what's happened in the past. Franklin's also transparent about the process of memory in his writing, telling readers he'll come back to something later, or interrupting himself to include a digression before getting back to his main idea.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Why doesn't Franklin start his autobiography by talking about the Revolutionary War?
  2. What does the Autobiography reveal about Franklin's relationship with his wife? Actually, how do you think he feels about women in general?
  3. Franklin says he doesn't want to change anything about his past, he just wants to "recollect" it. Do you think this is a fair statement? Also, do you think that in "recollecting" it, it's possible to keep from changing even the smallest part of it?

Chew on This

Franklin's autobiography is an act of shared memory: through writing, he transfers his thoughts about the past into a permanent document, or a space where his memories can live forever, outside of his body.

The Autobiography is a deliberate attempt by Franklin to reshape his past into a new narrative, one he may not have fully lived, but one readers – including his son and American society – will understand.

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