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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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4. Spirit of Nationalism   

4. Spirit of Nationalism

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Activities: Author Activities

Benjamin Franklin - Teaching Tips

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  • Using Franklin's model, have students devise and follow their own "bold and arduous Project for arriving at moral Perfection" (being sure to point out the tongue-in-cheek nature of Franklin's pretensions to eradicating all of his faults). Ask your students to make a list of at least five qualities that they value--they need not choose Franklin's thirteen virtues--and to use a notebook to keep track of their adherence to them over the course of one week. At the end of the week, ask them to report on their experiences. Did their record keeping change their behavior during the week? What was most difficult about keeping this kind of record? Do they agree with Franklin that they were "by the endeavor made a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been, if I had not attempted it"?

  • Franklin composed his Autobiography during three different periods and died before it could be completed. The first part of the memoir (composed in 1771) is explicitly addressed to his son, William, while the second part (composed in 1784) was written ostensibly in response to the solicitous letters from Abel James and Benjamin Vaughan which Franklin includes at the beginning of Part Two. Critics have speculated that Franklin's strained relationship with his son--William remained a Loyalist during the Revolution--led Franklin to reject him as the designated audience for his memoir. Ask students to think about the shift in Franklin's intended audience between the first and second sections of the Autobiography. How does his relationship with his son inform the first part? (You might point out that the tradition of addressing a memoir or guidebook to one's son was something of a rhetorical convention in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Puritan Thomas Sheperd also addressed his autobiography to his son a century earlier.) What kind of reader does Franklin seem to envision for the second part? Why does he include the letters from James and Vaughan? Franklin casually observes that the "Revolution occasioned the interruption" between his writing of the first and second part. How does the Revolution seem to have changed Franklin's narrative tone and/or purpose?

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