The Self-Made Son: Social Competition and the Vanishing Mother in Franklin's Autobiography

Benjamin Franklin says little about his mother, Abiah, in the Autobiography, and critics have ignored her presence, presumably with the view that his reticence should be the model for our own. This essay situates Franklin's reticence in relation to the ideology of mothering and the egalitarian family to emphasize the contrast between competition and equal distribution. Whereas recent recuperations of Franklin's infrastructure-building and civil-society projects have emphasized only the brightest facet of a social order we still inhabit, Franklin's mother reminds us of the chasm between Franklinian success and the social cost of the competition on which it is based.