Benjamin Franklin: The Man who Beats Even Fictional Characters Hands Down, Courtesy Self-reliance

In every human mind, an oak sleeps in the acorn, and only few notice that and eventually the rest takes rest under the shadow of such oaks. That is what the development of human civilization is all about – where a few humans grew larger than life by manifesting the potential all humans possess within. It’s a strange process – this drive to grow on and on never craves for material possession, neither it aims to bask in the pride of superiority. Thus people of such caliber only bask in their private sunshine, in the glory and joy of discovering the unknown dwelling in them.They set the path for the rest, they light the torch of the civilization, and alongside, prove an old adage time and again – that what humans think, they become! And it is truly a privilege, a scope to rekindle the soul for the rest if one gets the chance to know about them, as is the case of the writer of this essay, who deals with the nuances of one such great life named Dr. Benjamin Franklin, within the philosophical framework of “Self-reliance”, created by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the finest philosophical voices of the 19th century in America. Alongside, this essay takes character Luke Larkin, which is a fictional character crafted by Horatio Alger Jr., to show how real-life character of Franklin can outperform a fictional character carefully crafted to highlight the universal virtues, before reaching the conclusion that both Franklin and Luke Larkin advocate “conformity” but each is different and it was Franklin who made it to the top by virtue of self-reliance.BackgroundThe Essence of Self-relianceUnderstandably, the concept of self-reliance deals with supreme independence of self, which reflects itself through human behavior. However, From Emerson’s perspective, humans first need to reliant on God, who has injected all the qualities in them and thus endowed them with several options of choosing their courses of life. Thus Emerson premised before anything, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events” (Emerson, 1841). Thereafter he went on to ramify his concept, which in essence, brought forth the significance of temporal capacity of humans and its possible translation into actions – in other words, he tried to convince the world that if humans try to be what they can be at best, they become so.  This essence of self-reliance brings this discussion close to two characters where both contain instances of subscribing to conformity.Benjamin Franklin’s Life in BriefA Bostonian by birth and the tenth son of a poor soap maker, Benjamin Franklin was born on January 1706. His father sent him in the printing workshop at the age of 12, which was run by his elder son James. Poor little Benjamin had to start and finish his days with work and only work, as he had to sell their family products even after the grueling hours of typesetting.However, that did not deter him to speak his mind right from 15, when he secretly started writing letters under the pseudo name Silence Dogood in the newspaper published from their stable, The New England Courant, the first newspaper in Boston. Those letters were a runaway hit and soon he was caught by his brother and that opened a chapter of further oppression, visibly a backlash of envy in his brother James.  Thus in 1723, one day he fled from home.He landed on Philadelphia via New York and New Jersey; all drained and spent, he met his would-be wife Deborah by chance and got an asylum in their house, before managing a job as an apprentice printer. It took little time for him to make his mark and that fetched him the chance to go to London and to learn more before he returned to Philadelphia again. Now he borrowed some money and started his own printing business.After some time he regrouped with Deborah, and his qualities started ramifying thereafter, starting with Pennsylvania Gazette, and between 1720s and 1730s his devotion to public welfare caught everyone’s eye, where he kept on organizing groups to start movements on civic improvement. Come 1733, he would start Poor Richard’s Almanac, which gave birth of many of his time-winning suggestions like “A penny saved is a penny earned”.  Franklin was literally in the thick of social movements – at one time busy with forming Library Company or American Philosophical Society (1743), another time engaged establishing Pennsylvania Hospital or fire insurance system (1751-52).Inventions too went hand in hand, like Franklin stove, a novel heating system to keep houses warm, swim fins, the glass harmonica or bifocals. By then he was already globally known for his famous kite experiment on electricity. Always a front runner, he joined politics and soon rose to the height of a statesmen and his endeavor finally boiled down to the foundation job of the new America, where he drafted the Declaration of Independence together with Thomas Jefferson and finally signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The last phase of his life too was embedded with work – as he completed writing the “anti-slavery treatise”, before passing away in 1790 with 20,000 people joined his last journey on earth.Between all these, he cared to write his autobiography too, which is still valued unique on many accounts – the hardship, the fight, the spark of creativity, craving for discipline and restrained life – altogether Franklin still remains as an epitome of human manifestation, a magnificent statement of how much larger a human can be with sheer determination and application, coupled with discipline and perseverance.Luke LarkinA poor village boy, Luke Larkin emerges out of a coming of age novel written by Horatio Alger Jr., where his character has proportionate share of hardship and social obstacles, where he “struggled upward from a boyhood of privation and self-denial into a youth and manhood of prosperity and honor” (Alger, 2004). And all along, the adage like “fortune favors the brave” was layered in between, especially whenever he was on the brink of disaster. Put against his reverse-imaged opponent, Randoph Duncan, the son of an influential socialite, Larkin’s virtues stand out off and on, besides his resolve to better, to remain within himself, and to maintain the virtues like honesty, reverence, quest for learning and truthfulness.The barrage of obstacles finally fails to stop the spirit of Larkin, who successfully sees off his summer of suffering and positions himself in the society in his early youth. Analysis of the Two Characters within the Framework of Self-reliance “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” (Emerson).While Benjamin Franklin fled home to bring his peace by himself, Larkin too did the same by abstaining from grudging over the foul play of Randolph Duncan in the skating competition. Both did not look back.”There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide” (Emerson).Both Franklin and Larkin showed the trait of shunning envy, where Larkin’s interactions with Randolph, or with the boy who replaced him as janitor, showed that, Franklin’s writings reflected – “God helps them that help themselves” (Tips, 2008).”None but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried” (Emerson).A person should at least try before giving up, and this trait exists in both the characters – while Franklin’s try fetched him the job at Philadelphia and later scope to gather higher knowledge in printing from England, Larkin showed this trait in his chase to find out the retired clerk of Mr. Armstrong, the banker.”A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best” (Emerson).Both the characters tried their best to rise in life, as it is evident from their approach to work – Larkin’s long working hours and Franklin’s total devotion to work.”To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius” (Emerson).Both of them showed ample evidence of believing in themselves, Franklin’s multifarious activities prove that, and Larkin’s undaunted chase for the clerk proves that.’To be great is to be misunderstood” (Emerson).Both Franklin and Larkin are great in their own way, and both were misunderstood – Franklin was misunderstood by Deborah when he did not want to leave his apprenticeship in England for the marriage (she married someone then, for the first time), Larkin was misunderstood for his honesty.”And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort and advancing on Chaos and the Dark” (Emerson).That speaks of coming of age, and both of them proved that after their date with struggle.”I must be myself” (Emerson).Both have equally proved this adage.The DifferencesWhile they have so much in common, yet there are differences, which distinguishes Franklin as more self-reliant than Larkin.Larking was not as organized as Franklin, which was evident from the instance of not caring his skate well ahead of the competition. There is a thin line of division between genius and the extra-ordinary, and Franklin proves that by proving his mettle at the first chance in Philadelphia, where he won the heart of the governor by virtue of his performance, a situation similar to which is nearly similar to the situation Larkin faced.Fictional life can be proportioned with all elements, with which real life instances seldom match, and from that perspective, Benjamin Franklin’s life-example is fairly apart from this fictional character. No doubt Franklin too had his share of hardship and was on the verge of breaking down after buying two rolls with the last of his pennies, before luckily getting shelter in the home of his would-be wife Deborah, That was the only stroke of luck he could avail, and it was from there he went on to build his life. There was no Armstrong or Reed to extend his luck further, like in the case of Larkin.Another valuable point that stands between these two real life and fictional character, is that Franklin’s genius, which by no means shows a true example of how human potential can take any course to manifest itself – thus again the truth triumphs over fiction, as Larkin shows only example of sharp merit when he decides to have a duplicate copy of the numbers of the Bank note.Creativity ruled Franklin’s life, that ranged from Mrs DooGood’s letter to cartoons, to organizing ability to statesmanship to discovery of electricity – yet, to name a few, and yet, keeping aside his marvelous contribution to the mankind in the form of vignettes that are loaded with time-winning advices to lead a fuller, meaningful and joyous life.However, Luke’s character shows another factor, that adherence to conformity can be motivating for the people who need to create their own world, and so does Franklin’s – while Franklin created his own world of conformity and maintained that in every possible manner, Larkin’s conformity was depicted through his act, like sticking to truth, not turning gullible to provocation or getting swayed by the success coming his way.In the both the cases the characters showed remarkable calm after one or the other triumph, and that quality can be attributed to their adherence to conformity. Thus it can be said that an amount of conformity in life can help people to maintain the balance in their life.  However, Franklin’s life clear shows that he was more self-reliant than Larkin, as Larkin had to rely on Linton for dance and moral support, Mother for care and concern, Reed for timely intervention and financial support, and Mr. Armstrong to raise his level of experience and maturity. Franklin had Deborah by his side for a short period before he went to London, but that was that, as Franklin established himself before Deborah reentered his life. Thus, from all angles, it is clear that Franklin was self-reliant and Larkin was not, who got through by a slice of luck.ReferenceFranklin, B. (2008). “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.” 21 November 2008.              http://www.gutenberg.org/files/148/148.txtEmerson, R.W. (1841). “Self-Reliance.” 21 November 2008.         http://www.scribd.com/doc/12298/Self-Reliance-Ralph-Waldo-EmersonAlger, H. Jr. “Luke Larkin’s Luck.” 21 November 2008.     http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext04/strgp10.txtThe Electric Ben Franklin. 21 November 2008.       http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/info/index.htmFranklin, B. (1996). “The Way to Wealth.” 21 November 2008.            http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/franklin.htmTips from Benjamin Franklin.  21 November 2008.             http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/78-timeless-wealth-building-tips-from-     benjamin-franklin/