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EN 2230
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Introduction to American Literature EN2230 – Fall/Winter 2011/2012 – Geoff Hamilton Lecture 3 – Mythologies of Self-Making – Sept 21 Benjamin Franklin – 18 Century - He was a printer, a politician, a postmaster, a diplomat, etc. - Known for his role as a founding father. - Invented bifocals, flexible catheter, Franklin stove, odometer, machine for electrocuting turkeys. - He claimed that lightening was like electricity; he claimed that you could control it and use it artificially. - Wrote satires, political philosophies and his famous autobiography. o Does a good job in identifying and summarizing his ideals. - As an enlightenment figure, he is challenging the puritan ideals. o Puritans rely not on reason but on faith. o Franklin was interested in reason – interested in rationalizing his way through life. Instead of looking into the bible, he would look to the natural world; he would study it and not assume that it was already written but instead find answers on his own. o Franklin reverses the puritan trust on faith. - Mentions that Socrates was one of his early heroes. o Socrates is known for asking questions and pointing out information to people who thought they knew but didn’t know. - His lack of interest in human corruption – puritans are extremely serious about human depravity. o Franklin stresses the perfectibility of human – he cares about how to improve yourself, how to take what’s weak or broken in youself and fix it. - Franklin is a great representative of American optimism. o Always emphasize what can be done with human lives, how people can create and recreate themselves. - Initiated the mythology of the self-made man; the person who through only their own efforts and own resources can make their careers. Autobiography Part 1 - The Franklinean personality is there upfront, and if you don’t like him you won’t like the book. o Page 231 – last 6 lines – ‘most people dislike vanity in others…’  He’s talking about vanity.  He’s telling us the difference between him and the puritan views.  He’s saying that there’s nothing wrong with being vain and that there’s nothing wrong with liking yourself. o Page 235 – anecdote about when he was a kid and stealing stones to make a play area  Introduces these incidents to tell us about mistakes that he’s made in his youth.  You can’t miss that when he’s telling this story, he’s also complementing himself.  He’s pretending to be self-critical but he’s really not. He tells you that he’s deliberately flattering himself. o Page 239 – he’s telling us about his systematic project of self- construction.  He betters himself by reading a journal and then rewriting it better.  Showing us how he betters himself through his process. o Page 240 - talks about his cultivation of scepticism –  When he talks about Socrates and his questions.  He gets in a number of interesting self-compliments when he tells us what he did.  He tells us that he was a child protégé that was upstaging his older friends.  He’s always going to attack hard and fast social rules. He won’t accept things as they are as the truth. o Page 252 – talks about the fish, how he convinced himself that it’s okay to eat fish.  He talked himself out of being a vegetarian by rationalizing that since fish eat other fish, it’s okay for humans to eat them as well – food chain.  The old historical convention truth is not accepted by him – instead he questions it and thinks about it, uses his reason and comes to a conclusion that is quite different.  He can be extremely pragmatic – to the extent of egotism; because he is a smart guy, he is going to come up with answers that please him. • Gatsby does the same thing – he rationalizes the treatment that he gives people because he tells himself that Daisy is worth it. - The puritan idea was to accept the answers that were given to people previously. - Page 258 – running joke about his mistakes in like being errata (like an error) – o Franklin says that our lives are like that. Like text that are published and can be corrected some how. o Franklin believes that we are all works in progress and therefore we can eradicate our mistakes and our sins.  The puritans were steeped in sin and the mistakes that we made should haunt us. - Like the puritans, he was very focused on examining the self; o Puritans: always trying to find what’s wrong with people and how to fix it about themselves. o Fr
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