America, a land with shimmering soil where golden dust flew and a days rain of money could last you through eternity. Come, You Will make it in America. That was the common theme of those who would remove to America. It is the common hymn, the classic American rags-to-riches myth, and writers such as Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass had successfully embraced it in their works.
Franklin and Douglass are two writers who have quite symmetrical styles and imitative chronology of events in their life narratives. They both approached their story with a “rags-to-riches” idea. In addition, we must realize that both Franklin and Douglass are powerful writers. In that sense, I mean that Franklin was a “well-educated” man in which he filled his life with bountiful knowledge through reading and productive dialogues with peers. On the other hand, Douglass mode of writing, like ones of William Lloyd Garrison’s is sentimental and contains compelling language.
In The Autobiography by Franklin and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Douglass, both narrations are generally composed of series of life events and encounters with hardship that eventually brought them success. I shall put forth some parallel ideas of both the authors have in common. In Franklin’s Autobiography, his chapters of life events and improvements are symbolized by his travels, especially on the boat. His first travel signifies his “new beginning” and it caused great hardship. He was “cut so a miserable figure” when he started out. (Franklin, 1771:196). However, Franklin was quick to gain ground. His move to another city or country signified his advancement and his prologue to his success to come are in his description of his boat travels. By this I mean that, Franklin intentionally gave the details of his boat travels to prepare the reader for the kind of successes or failure that he was going to face in the next chapter of his life. For example, he described his first travel as an unpleasant one, and nevertheless his first move to another city was a struggle. In Franklin’s later travels, he spoke of being around some prominent figures such as Governor Hamilton and nonetheless, he landed with a successful job at a famous Printing House in Bartholomew. With this characteristic in mind, Douglass’s narration is nevertheless filled with life achievements that were marked by changing of masters. It is to be aware that Douglass’s life improvements in changing of masters had nothing to do with his master’s treatment of him though in some, it was the case. By this I mean that he gained improvements in areas such as literacy when he was belonged to Mr. Auld, he gained new friends when he resided with the Hughs, and most important,, he gained consciousness and courage while he was lent to a slave breaker, Mr. Covey. Little by little as Douglass gained in these assets which eventually became his tool for his departure from slavery.
Another similarity between these two narrations is the assimilation of a created character by the authors themselves. The chronology and the events that happened in the lives of the authors in their narrations remained questionable. They picked the events that would only exemplify the characters that they want to portray. Thus, even though both works are autobiographical, their roles they claimed to be in their narration are exaggerated. Remember that they want to set themselves up as poor, down beaten characters at the beginning and slowly rise to power and success. For example, Franklin used descriptions such as “I was dirty from my journey; my pockets were stuff’d out with shirts and stockings… with a roll under each arm, and eating the other,” to really give reader a sense of “his” conditions when he ran away. Douglass used the same approach to stress his poor conditions. The use of comparison of his slave status with farm animals and great elaboration of his sufferings by Douglass are routines to the Franklinesque mode of creating his identity in his narration. Douglass’s narration mainly stressed on his “sufferings” (though he was rarely beaten compared to other slaves) and never did glorify his luckiness (in Douglass’s narration, he seemed to be somewhat favored other slaves by most of the masters he had).
The intentional exaggeration of characters by both authors is mainly to serve as a platform for them to embed the rags-to-riches myth in their story. This style was particularly effective because it IS the American myth that was subliminally embedded in the story which made American readers buy into the author’s idea.
This style is used widely by other writers as well, especially anti-slavery writers, because it is a convenient route sentimental approach composition since writers like Jacobs whose works are mainly inspire the readers to take a stance against slavery.
I have mentioned that earlier they (Franklin and Douglass) both started out poor and incapable of refusing oppression, then, at 17 they gained courage to break out and found their successful lives. The age similarity of the turning points in the life of both authors may sound somewhat important in its value to the story and the authors but it indicates that both these authors agreed that age17 is the point of maturity. In addition, both authors think that matured readers in general are harder to persuade compared to younger readers (those at the of 16 to 18). This is why both Franklin and Douglass intentionally set their “rebellion stage” at the age of 17. This is to encourage the “less stable” teenage readers to dare do something different and to not compromise with normality. This less-stableness would enable these teenage readers to be more receptive to radical ideas. With this thought in mind and armed with Americans vulnerability in believing the rags-to-riches myth, Franklin and Douglass are able generated effective and persuasive narrations.
With such effective writing prose, the authors created well-fabricate compositions which modeled upon the “rags-to-riches” chronology.
These are the myths, Americans live by them and the country survives with them. Thus, it is the American Dream.
Douglas, Frederick. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (The Harper Single Volume American Literature 3rd edition) 1845:p.1017-1081
Franklin, Benjamin. Autobiography. (The Harper Single Volume American Literature 3rd edition) 1776: p.282-284.