To this day, the figure of Benjamin Franklin is evocative of something quintessentially American, as though a true American could be identified by the degree to which they approximate that figure. Readers of Franklin’s autobiography may scan Franklin’s mannerisms and qualities for confirmation of existing identities or individualized schemata for betterment. Franklin everywhere encourages people toward health, wisdom, and success.
In pursuit of this betterment-by-role-model, readers of Franklin find themselves urged to acknowledge a difference between Benjamin Franklin’s life and their own lives. Franklin operates within the society of his audience, aspiring to a tenuous conception of perfection. So, oddly, the apparently warm and wise figure of Franklin is involved in the manipulative presentation of his self as separate from both his society and his audience.
The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.