Misinterpreted Genius And Benjamin Franklin English Literature Essay

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Benjamin Franklin, founding father, inventor, printer, diplomat, and son, has many identities. Benjamin Franklin's working-class values have been over looked in modern times. Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1706. He was the fifteenth of seventeen brothers and sisters. His father, Josiah worked in a soap/ candle shop. Josiah always wanted his son, Benjamin, to be a minister in the church. Benjamin Franklin learned at a young age that he enjoyed reading and writing and wished to pursue other career paths and opportunities. At this point in Franklin's life it is obvious that he is different from most adolescents and he wants to pursue his own path and create his own future. Benjamin Franklin is portrayed in modern times as a wealthy diplomat and inventor; what is largely forgotten is Franklin's working class identity and the hard working values instilled in the mind of this genius. Franklin is truly a working class citizen at heart but he produced and brought about many important ideas that made him famous. If it were not for Franklin's working class values taught at a young age, he would not have had the drive or determination to have accomplished all that he had. Benjamin Franklin is portrayed and interpreted incorrectly by many people today. (Newman)

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Modern representations portray Franklin in the wealthy scene but deep down Franklin should be portrayed as someone who gave hope to working class citizens. "…his enduring working-class identity has been largely forgotten" (Newman 162). By no means was Franklin's life an easy one. He worked for everything that he received. People are quick to overlook what made Benjamin Franklin who he is perceived today. Franklin was able to accomplish these great things in life through different values that he was taught at a young age. He used simple values that everyone learns at a young age and kept them at heart and used them as small building blocks to achieve his success. His working class values such as, hard work, determination, and frugality along with the values and lessons his mother and father taught him through the Puritan religion, helped to create a solid foundation to which Franklin sprung into success.

At a young age Franklin learned hard work. His family was of the middle class and nothing was handed to them easily. Benjamin Franklin's father, Josiah, was a tradesman who worked in a soap/candle shop. This little income that his father earned was spread throughout seventeen children. (Crystalink 1). Money must have been tight in the Franklin household. Franklin states in his autobiography that he emerged, "…from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence…" (Franklin 10). Franklin dug his way out of poverty and worked his way to the top. He went from "rags to riches" through hard work and determination. Benjamin Franklin once said, "A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. There will be sleeping enough in the grave." (Sparks 1).

Hard work is a trait that was instilled in young Benjamin early in his life it got him where he is today. Gordon S. Wood, a professor of history claims, "But as long as America continues to be pictured as the land of enterprise and opportunity, where striving and hard work can lead to success, then that image of Franklin is the one that is likely to endure." (Wood 4).

Franklin's day to day schedule posted in his autobiography illustrates his work ethic. The schedule is laid out in a grid format with twenty four hours in a day. From five a.m. to seven a.m. he states, " Rise, wash, and address powerful goodness; contrive days business and take the resolution of the day, prosecute the present study; and breakfast." From eight a.m. to eleven a.m. he allots time for "work". From twelve to one he states, "Read or overlook my accounts and dine." From two p.m. to six p.m. he allots time for more "work". From six p.m. to nine p.m. he claims, "put things in their places, supper, music, or diversion, or conversation; examination of the day." He then sleeps until five a.m. He writes at the bottom of his daily schedule that at the end of the day he wants to ask himself the question, "What good have I done today?". This shows that each and every day Franklin was trying to make some "good" out of the day. (Franklin 222). Based on this daily schedule it proves that Franklin was a hard worker. He dedicated eight hours every day to work and when he wasn't "working" he was reflecting or thinking about the work he wanted to accomplish the next day. This man had an intense drive, determination, and an unheard of inspiration for hard work. (Franklin 222).

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Another important value that Franklin learned to help him earn success was frugality. Benjamin Franklin is noted for the saying, "a penny saved is a penny earned". (Benjamin Franklin Quotes 1). People attribute Franklin with the penny because of his frugality when it came to spending money. Franklin's thrift is also made apparent when it comes to matters of wasting time. His frugality is reflected in his work titled, "Benjamin Franklin's Thirteen Virtues". (Benjamin Franklin's Inventory Methodology 1). Franklin decided to list thirteen virtues he thought would model a good character. One of the virtues under the "personal" category includes, "Frugality- Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing." (Benjamin Franklin's Inventory Methodology 1). Being thrifty and careful about expenses whether it be money or time is an important virtue that Franklin lived by and it is made obvious in his life. In his autobiography he mentions that while entering into Philadelphia for the first time he stopped into a bakery and wished to purchase a "frugal" lunch because he was low on money. He knew that in his old town he could purchase just the right amount of bread for three cents to fulfill his appetite. A frugal person like Benjamin would know exactly how much money he needed to precisely fill his appetite. He shortly discovered that three cents could get him three whole loaves of bread in this new city. He buys the three loaves and walks home with two under his arms while eating one. Franklin ordered what he wanted at a reasonable level. (Success Ingredients: Frugality 1). Frugality is one of Benjamin Franklin's most well known traits. He once said, "Waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality, nothing will do, and with them everything." (Davidson 1). There wasn't an hour that went to waste during Franklin's days. He allotted little time during his day for activities other than "work". Franklin's daily schedule in his autobiography includes evaluations at the beginning of the day and end of each day along with goals that are set before each day. (Franklin 222). Justin Fox, a financial journalist claims that, "Franklin's Autobiography is often cited as an early landmark of the time-management literature." (Fox 1). Franklin once said, "You delay, but time will not." (Quotation Details 1).

Since Benjamin Franklin is known for his frugality, he is associated with the penny in many people's minds. The penny is only worth one cent and many people would overlook the idea of saving a penny. It is a local tradition in Philadelphia to throw pennies at Benjamin Franklin's grave to bring about good luck. (This tradition provides a subtle laugh because if he was so frugal, why would people be wasting pennies by throwing them at his grave?) Ironically so many people draw connections with Franklin and his "penny saving" ways, but instead he is printed on the one hundred dollar bill? The fact that he is printed on the one-hundred dollar bill questions how people portray Benjamin Franklin in modern times. (No evidence claims to why he is printed on the one hundred dollar bill. The only fact is that the decision was made in 1928 to officially print Benjamin Franklin on the bill.)

Benjamin Franklin's frugality is in his piece, Poor Richard's Almanac. He wrote this almanac under the pseudonym, Richard Saunders. Franklin included information along several categories such as, weather forecasts, puzzles, poems, stories, famous sayings of the time, calendars, etc. Franklin created this almanac yearly from 1732-1758. (ReadWriteThink 1). He created these almanacs, "as a service to the American people, hoping to educate them and entice their intellectual appetites." (Low 1). The almanacs contained many proverbs, or short sayings, that were good morals to live by. They included, "At the working man's house, hunger looks in but dares not enter, There are no gains without pains." (ReadWriteThink 1). Franklin was attempting to get his ideas out to the world through this almanac, and through many of the proverbs and pieces inside the almanac he reflects his own views of frugality.

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Determination was also a key virtue for Benjamin Franklin to become what he is today. His intense drive to finish or complete whatever he started shows his determination. Franklin had many inventions or theories that were incorrect or not made public. He messed up many times throughout his life when it came to inventing things or producing new ideas. Newman claims, "His opinions frequently were proven wrong, and he changed them as his understanding expanded" (Newman 103). Although Franklin was set back numerous times he didn't give up. He kept working at what was wrong so he could make it right. He learned through his mistakes and this made him even more of a genius. His determination led him to success. Newman also claims, "His greatest legacy lies not in the blessings of genius, nor in his stature as a natural philosopher or self-educated statesman, but rather in the demonstration of a simple, replicable method whereby hard work and disciplined, socially grounded inquiry, action, and engagement enable one to accomplish great things…" (Newman 103). These values were brought to Franklin's life early from his parents and the values stuck with him the rest of his life.

Franklin desired knowledge, hard work, and his determination and frugality led him to where he is perceived today in the world. In Franklin's autobiography he claims that he would spend hours reading magazines and picking out specific articles and critiquing them and writing his own version of them. He not only learned much from doing this but it also shows his hard work and determination. (Franklin 11).

One of the most important parts to Franklin's hardworking values derived from his parent's Puritan values. The Puritan values Benjamin Franklin learned helped to tie in all the values he learned because the Puritan values were the overlying layer above all his other values. Benjamin Franklin was born into a religious family. His parents were not the typical strict Puritan parents but they were very religious. Key Puritan values include thrift, hard work, education, helping community, and self governing one's self. (Crystalink 1). Each one of these values reflects the values of Benjamin Franklin in his time. One of Franklin's father's core Puritan values was that "personal worth is earned through hard work which makes the industrious man the equal of kings." (Crystalink 1). Josiah taught his family that hard work would lead to success and with success made each and every person equal to one another. Benjamin took this virtue and displayed it throughout everything he did in his life. The Puritans believed that this hard work and determination should be done to produce more "good" for God. Franklin believed in the values but he acted on these values more to produce success for himself in the world, not so much for God. (Crystalink 1). Franklin respected his father's advice on Puritan values so much that he wrote on his father's grave a famous quote from the bible that Josiah taught him when he was young, "Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before Kings." (Franklin 37).

Along with a working class family in the 1700's came the usual denial of formal education. Benjamin Franklin possessed the knowledge of a genius. Franklin is remembered as a successful inventor or diplomat, who was likely born into wealth and acquired knowledge through a professional education that instilled the tools needed to be successful. This is untrue. Franklin's family could not sustain enough money to keep him in school. His autobiography gives insight into how difficult it was to pursue a formal education. For "having, so large a family, he could not well afford, and the mean living many so educated were afterwards able to obtain." (Franklin 3). Franklin's father mustered up enough money to send Franklin to school for two years. Upon failing out his second year Franklin was quickly put to work in his father's shop. Franklin basically received no education and taught himself the things he wanted to know through reading and day to day experiences. Reading and "dynamic learning" were Franklin's bridge to education. (Marcum).

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Self education is the only education." (Franklin 199). Most wealthy individuals received formal classes, but Franklin had to learn the way most working class citizens did at the time, through interactions with other people. James W. Marcum claims that Franklin indeed educated himself. He learned through a process called "dynamic learning". He was socially educated by the people he came in contact with throughout his life. (Marcum). Marcum claims, "Franklin could not possibly accomplish all that he did alone. He usually worked in collaboration with others, he can be viewed as America's first networker." (Marcum 102). Franklin received guidance and assistance from other people. His social networking started as a child when he and his friend, "Collins", would read anything they could get their "hands on". (Franklin 6). Franklin makes it known in his autobiography, "There was another bookish lad in the town, John Collins by name, with whom I was intimately acquainted. We sometimes disputed, and very fond we were of argument." (Franklin 6). Franklin and his friend read many books and became very educated on various topics. This education in many aspects of life helped the two create their own views on certain topics. As Franklin claims, they must have debated more than a few times about various things. (Franklin 6-7). This debating back and forth allowed Franklin to advance his knowledge and become more familiar on certain topics.

The most important part about Franklin reading so much as a child is not the fact that he gained much knowledge at a young age but how he used the knowledge to converse with others. While working with his father or his brother James, Franklin could contribute to conversations and most importantly he made friends this way. Benjamin Franklin could effortlessly talk about any issues and he made many friends/contacts. Benjamin Franklin was known to be this same way until he died. He was very well rounded and could strike up a conversation with any individuals. Learning through a process called "dynamic learning" is how Franklin received his formal education. (Marcum). Since his working class family could not afford the formal education, he took what was given to him and acted in the best way possible. Franklin's dynamic learning opposed to formal education shows that his working class identity was starting to shape at an early point in his life. (Marcum).

Benjamin Franklin is most known for his successful inventions and theories; under all of these inventions and fame is someone who should be remembered more as a young poor boy who educated himself, made the best at what he was given to better the world, he helped to inspire everyday Americans and he helped them strive to be excellent with whatever they are given. (Crystalink 1). Franklin made this possible through the key values he learned as a child. He gave working class Americans something to hope for in the future if they kept working hard. (Newman). Professor Simon P. Newman claims that, "…he was the story of success that America appeared to promise, in which hard work could secure independence" (Newman 163). Franklin taught Americans that hard work, determination, and thrift could help them achieve their dreams and strive to be the best they can be. He took the values learned at a young age; hard work, determination, and frugality to better himself and the others around him. Franklin showed people that this could be done starting from the bottom up, or from the working class. Benjamin Franklin once said, "Energy and persistence conquer all things". (Quotation Details 1).