Literary Analysis of Benjamin Franklins’
The Way to Wealth
Benjamin Franklin is known to most as a scientist and inventor, possibly even as a politician. What most people probably are not aware of, however, are Franklin’s contributions to the literary world. His unique views and intellect provided his generation and ours with a different perspective on society and political events. In his writing “The Way to Wealth” Franklin showed how he was able to step outside the expected “norm” to share his unique perspective on wealth and spending.
In “The Way to Wealth” Franklin explores the topic of wealth and how to achieve it. In his era it was common amongst the upper classes to flaunt their wealth through their purchases, and most of them lived very extravagant lifestyles. The wealthy spent considerable sums of money on their clothing and homes. They wanted all of their friends to be able to see how much money they had, and it was a competition to have the most extravagant lifestyle. It was not considered appropriate for someone with wealth to live modestly while saving money. Many went into great debt to maintain their lifestyle. Franklin went against this tradition and extolled the virtue of saving and investing wisely.
Franklin created a fictional character that he called Poor Richard, who wrote helpful advice in Poor Richard’s Almanac. The Way to Wealth was written as the preface for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the Almanac. In it Franklin emphasized the need for society to control their spending and maintain their wealth. The Way to Wealth is written from the perspective of the humorous Poor Richard who was quoting a so-called reader of his work named Father Abraham. By using a secondary source that was extolling the wisdom of Poor Richard, Franklin was lending an element of validity and importance to his work.
Through the voice of Father Abraham, Poor Richard disparages laziness and sloth. He tells his audience that laziness will lead to poverty: “Laziness travels so slowly, that Poverty soon overtakes him” (809). It is evident that Franklin believed strongly in hard work and thought that all men should work hard to succeed. Laziness and idleness were felt to be the downfall of men and women:
“Many Estates are spent in the Getting,
Since Women for Tea forsook Spinning and Knitting,
And Men for punch forsook Hewing and Splitting”(810)
Franklin is indirectly attacking the upper class society that spent more time socializing and flaunting their wealth than doing actual work. The humorous way in which Franklin makes his points, like using rhyming words and a style reminiscent to a nursery rhyme, takes away much of the negative connotation that could have been associated with them.
Franklin also felt that too many people were focused on accumulating items that were not necessary. Father Abraham tells his audience that going into debt is like giving control of your life over to another: “think what you do when you run in Debt; You give to another Power over your Liberty” (812). This is a very similar problem in modern society. Many people today still have the problem of going into debt to live a certain lifestyle. We have mixed up our priorities and confused necessities with extravagances. Father Abraham makes a good point when he says:
“And after all, of what Use is this Pride of Appearance, for which so much is risked, so much is suffered? It cannot promote Health, or ease Pain; it makes no Increase of Merit in the Person, it creates Envy, it hastens Misfortune.” (812)
This quote says so much about what is important in life and what is not. Poor Richard writes about how the audience heard what Father Abraham said, and even agreed with what he was saying. However, they ignored it and continued to spend money they didn’t have.
Franklins’ ideas were revolutionary in his time and showed how Franklin was an independent freethinker that was open to new ideas. His thoughts have withstood the test of time and still speak to us on topics that are relevant to our lives. In our society today many people, especially young people, are going into debt to live above their means. It would be wise for us to read Benjamin Franklins The Way to Wealth, and learn from his advice.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Way to Wealth. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol. A. Ed. Paul Lauter. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 808-813.