The American Dream. Or Nightmare? Essay
Benjamin Franklin and Nathaniel Hawthorne were both very important to Americas early literature. Franklins Autobiography and Hawthornes My Kinsman, Major Molineux represents the extremes of leaving home. Franklin makes accomplishing the American dream of the self-made man look easy. Hawthorne, however, revises and critiques that dream, showing the harsh realities of the real world. Franklin reveals his life story as a way to show the people of America that determination, hard work, and intelligence lead to success, while Hawthorne describes the harsh world waiting once youth and innocence are gone.
Benjamin Franklin and Robin, Hawthornes main character, leave home for different reasons. Franklin, in his autobiography, explains how he journeys to Philadelphia in search of a job and to start life on his own. Franklin wants independence and he knows he will find what he seeks. Franklin states, I took it upon me to assert my Freedom (194). Robin leaves his home with the idea of depending on his second cousin, dependence not independence.
Robin journeys from his familys country farm to the city in search of his kinsman, Major Molineux, with hopes that his kinsman will help him get started in life. Hawthorne writes, The Major had thrown out hints respecting the future establishment of one of them in life. It was therefore determined that Robin should profit by his kinsmans generous intentions (801). Franklin and Robins arrival to the new towns embody the two authors feelings toward the idea of the self made man.
Franklin and Robin arrival to their new destinations are drastically different. Franklin arrives in Philadelphia during the day, hungry, and dirty. Franklins determination keeps him going. He buys bread to eat, cleans himself up, and sets out straight away to find himself a job. He finds one within short time, I returnd to Bradfords who gave me a little job to do for the present, and there I lodged and dieted (198). Franklin represents his arrival in Philadelphia as brightly and easy as it could possibly be, the people are nice, it is beautiful day, and he finds exactly what he wants, when he wants it. Hawthorne sees Franklins story as an abomination of the real world. Hawthorne stages Robins arrival to town at night, symbolizing the darkness of the harsh world. Robin also encounters nothing but paltry inhabitants of the town as he searches for his kinsman. Robin feels no joy as he journeys through the town, and he even experiences fear at all of the strange things that he encounters. Robin is poor too, and unlike Franklin, he can not afford to feed himself; Hunger also pleaded loudly within him (796). Robins arrival to town is gloomy because Hawthorne wants the American people to know what they will encounter when they leave the comforts of home. Hawthorne wants to show that Franklins story is unique, and that the average persons journey into the world is not always a bed of roses.
Franklin shows that leaving home and journeying towards the American dream as a time of gain, and Hawthorne shows that leaving home is a time of loss. Franklin leaves Boston for Philadelphia and experiences all sorts of gains: a wife, job, wealth, and countless other things. Franklin sees the journey into independence and adulthood as a good thing. His autobiography shows that gaining independence from his family as a form of gaining freedom, freedom to follow his dreams, and freedom to work at obtaining those dreams. That freedom allows him to make it life, Having emergd from the Poverty and Obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a State of Affluence and some Degree of Reputation in the World (185). Hawthorne uses Robins leaving the country for the city as a sign of the loss of youth and innocence and the entrance into guilty adulthood. Robins initiation into adult life comes at the point where he joins the crowd and laughs at his kinsman. Hawthorne sees the loss of innocence as a bad thing and that a person should hang on to that innocence as long as possible. Leaving home and family is not freedom to Hawthorne. Hawthorne believes once a person enters adulthood that they are chained to the drudgery of the real world, a world where dreams are shattered. Robins dreams of a new life with his kinsman are shattered when he sees his kinsman tarred and feathered in the ghastly parade. Robin finally makes eye contact with his kinsman, They stared at each other in silence, and Robins knees shook, and his hair bristled, with a mixture of pity and terror (803). Robin then needed to make a decision.
Tough decisions are a part of the advent into adulthood. Franklin faces those tough decisions in life head on. He uses the problems that arise and turns them to his benefit, every time. He expresses to his readers that if a person works hard enough and is diligent all obstacles can be over come, and a person can always be happy. Franklin sums up his beliefs with, Having gone so far thro Life with a considerable Share of Felicity, the conducing Means I made use of, which, with the Blessing of God, so well succeeded (185). Unlike Franklin, Hawthorne indicates that life is not always happy. Robins tough decision comes when he must decide whether to stay and try to make it on his own in town or to go back home. The gentlemen Robin meets at the end of the story suggests to him, as you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux (804). Hawthorne elucidates that Robin has become an adult because of his actions and has left innocence and youth behind. With that loss of innocence and youth, neither Robin nor his home will ever be the same again. Getting ahead in life is hard to do and sometimes it leads to loss of the past.
Each author writes their story as a way of showing what they think it takes to get ahead in life. Franklin stresses throughout his autobiography that it is easy to achieve the American dream of being a self made man. He encounters hardly any set backs in his climb from, Poverty and Obscurity, to the great man of American history he is now known as (185). Franklin believes that hard work, diligence, appearances, and connections will get a person everything out of life they desire. Hawthorne tells his readers that even with well designed plans and hopes life is hard. Hawthorne shows that to get ahead in life one must leave the innocence of youth behind and harden ones self against the ugliness of the world. He also shows that a person must know when to conform to the masses or be left behind. Robin knew, once he saw his kinsman, that he could not be seen as a sympathizer to the man the town had lynched. Robin decides to conform, The contagion was spreading among the multitude, when all at once, it seized upon Robin, and he sent forth a shout of laughter that echoed through the street (803). Franklin and Hawthorne have very different ideas about the American dream and what it takes to get ahead in life.
Benjamin Franklins Autobiography and Nathaniel Hawthornes My Kinsman, Major Molineux represent opposite feelings of leaving home. Benjamin Franklin, through his intelligence and belief in himself and his dreams, is able to bring himself out of a poor family and into a position of prestige and wealth. He makes it seem that he achieves success very easily, and that any hard working American can do the same. Hawthorne does not agree with Franklin. Hawthorne wrote his short story to give the public a more realistic view of leaving home and trying to make it in the world. Franklins life represents the great American dream, but it is an unrealistic achievement. Hawthornes story shows the more realistic cruel world that people face as they enter adulthood. Everyone goes through the transformation from youth and innocence to guilty adulthood; some just experience the change easier than others do.