Jonathan Edwards And Benjamin Franklin Essay

From their critical assessments on how to improve themselves and to the American
public that they influenced by their writings, Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin
Franklin illustrate American themes in their personal narratives that
quintessentially make part of American Literature. Although they lived in
different times during the early development of the United States of America and
wrote for different purposes, they share common themes. Their influence by their
environment, individualism, proposals for a better society, and events that
affected their society generate from their writings. By analyzing Jonathan
Edwards’ “Personal Narrative,” “Resolutions,” “Sinners
in the Hands of an Angry God,” and selections from Benjamin Franklin’s The
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin found in The Heath Anthology of American
Literature: Third Edition Volume One edited by Paul Lauter, the fundamental
themes in American literature are evident and their individual ideas are
distinctive. These personal narratives reveal the influences of their
environment that gave them epiphanies to their closer perfection of themselves.

Jonathan Edwards’ “Personal Narrative” shows his journey towards a
closer relationship to God. His family was followers of the Congregationalist
Church, and from early childhood, he followed a Christian life (Lauter 569). In
the beginning of his autobiography, “Personal Narrative,” he says
“I had a variety of concerns and exercise about my soul from my childhood;
but had two more remarkable seasons of Mckenize 2 awakening, before I met with
that change, by which I was brought to those new dispositions, and that new
sense of things, that I have had” (Lauter 581). Edwards endures a
“rite of passage,” which brings him closer to God. These epiphanies
assisted on his assessment of becoming a better man in the eyes of God and
minister to his community. Benjamin Franklin did not hold his family beliefs of
Christianity, but from his early environment, he drew his relationship to God as
a Deist. Franklin believed there is a Supreme Being and it is our job to
discover our own reality by reasoning. In his autobiography, he notes several
epiphanies that changed his lifestyle. For example, he regretted his leaving
Miss Read for England without pursuing their relationship further. He calls
these regrets or wrongdoings “Erratum” (Lauter 788). The spirituality
of Franklin and Edwards is distinctive, and their writings reflect their
experiences and growth of improvement. Franklin as a Deist felt that he created
his destiny by the decisions he made. His autobiography illustrates his faults
and accomplishments. This openness aims to the audience, the American, in order
for them to reevaluate themselves and improve from their weaknesses. Franklin
wanted Americans to become better Americans. With Edwards’ beliefs, he felt that
god predestined every man, and only the “elect” entered in the
afterlife to heaven. He focuses his writing to the Christian audience. His goal
is to prepare them to become candidates to be “elect” and show how the
“elect” can set an example for the rest of the congregation. These men
felt the responsibility to live a better life and set the example for every man
in their community. As individuals, they constantly contemplate and
self-evaluate there position in life and Mckenzie 3 community. In Early American
Literature: A Collection of Critical Essays, the editor Michael T. Gilmore
writes in the introduction, “[the Puritans] in their minds the Bible was
the book of history, and typology revealed the developmental pattern of events
by finding correspondences between the Old and New Testaments” (2). Edwards
constantly places his life according to the bible. He believed like Winthrop,
that his community needs to prepare and become “a city upon a hill”
(Gilmore 2). Through his contemplation and goals seen in
“Resolutions,” he constantly seeks to improve himself, so he can
fulfill God’s plan for a new Holy Land, which is his congregation in New
England. His sole concentration was interpreting the Bible and living by its
words. He recorded his goals to improve himself and set an example to his
community. Benjamin Franklin seeks the same goals as an individual, but he
desires to improve the “American man.” In Soundings: Some Early
American Writers, Lewis Leary writes “Franklin was the true American…[he]
constantly redefines himself…none better represented the simple, noble
men…who lived close to nature faithful to her laws uncontaminated by
artificialities of court or town” (9, 11). Franklin lists virtues that he
intended his audience to try to follow when they chose to improve themselves. By
explaining that no one can change overnight and work on one vice until
successively conquered, such as chastity, every man can find self-improvement
and further contribute to their community (Lauter 810-11). With a diary and
documenting each vice, Edward sought to overcome his sins, be closer to God, and
teach from his experience the necessity to set the best example as one of the
“elect.” With Franklin’s table of conquering vices, he wanted to be
closer to being virtuous. These men documented their progress of their
self-defined resolutions in hopes of their community to follow Mckenzie 4 by
their example. They desire to be influential by their own sacrifices and catch
attention and esteem by their community. Edwards’ and Franklin’s writings
reflect the political and social separations in their society. While Franklin
teaches through writing the events to all Americans for the need for a closer
society after the Revolutionary War, Edward preaches to his congregation the
need to bind together and seek salvation during the time when America redefined
religion. In, “Sinners of an Angry God,” Edwards reacts with anger and
fierceness to his congregation in the reaction to the “Great
Awakening.” In his sermon to his church, Edwards’ theme is to plea the many
not saved and doomed to damnation. He preaches, “now you have an
extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy
wide open” (Lauter 602). He pleas to divert the influence of uncertified
preachers and stay close to the community and save themselves. His idea of
holding a community is by threat of damnation. As Ursula Brumm explains in her
essay “Jonathan Edwards and Typology,” in Early American Literature: A
Collection of Critical Essays, “Edwards took part heart and soul in the
events of the Great Awakening. He regarded this movement with overwhelming
expectations in the belief that it marked the beginning of the millennium”
(71). Edwards felt that the temptations of Satan was the cause of this event,
and by force in this sermon, he attempted to hold his congregation during this
test by God who wanted to see who was faithful. Franklin was not as forceful in
his attempt to influence man to become more patriotic. He simply wanted some to
follow the path that he paved. He discusses that the application of his list of
virtues and how they make man a good citizen. He says “it’s every one’s
interest to be virtuous, who wish’d to be happy even in this world” (Lauter
818). His aim is to show men, that Mckenzie 5 literature, like his
autobiography, helps men analyze their own errors and correct (Leary 15). The
theme of “rags to riches” dominates Franklin autobiography and it is a
common theme used by many American writers. At the time after America won its
independence, the nation struggled for the identification of a model citizen.

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Franklin’s true account of his success from moving from the lower class to the
upper class influenced many of his fellow American in a needful time. Franklin
and Edwards were innovators to their communities when people needed a model to
live their lives. By their constant self-evaluation, self-improvement,
publication of their personal narratives, and their acknowledgement of a need to
bind society together, they represent American Literature.

Brumm, Ursula. “Jonathan Edwards and Typology.” Early American
Literature: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Michael T. Gilmore. New Jersey:
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1980. Lauter, Paul., ed. The Heath Anthology of American
Literature. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. Leary,
Lewis. Soundings: Some Early American Writers. Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 1975.


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