The Franklin Stereotype: The Spiritual-Secular Gospels of Four Nineteenth-Century American Authors

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Fall 2015


The purpose of this study was to examine the spiritual-secular influences of Benjamin Franklin and his Autobiography found in the selected novels of four nineteenth-century American authors: Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall, A Domestic Tale of the Present Time; Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Work, A Story of Experience; Horatio Alger, Jr.’s Ragged Dick or, Street Life in New York with Boot Blacks; and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Specifically, I examined three areas of influence: navigation of a print market demanding both secular and spiritual plotlines; creation of “secular saints” who borrow spiritual iconography for secular journeys and goals; and the dissemination of “secular gospels” or social change messages couched in religious language. These areas of influence form what I call the Franklin Stereotype. I argue that these nineteenth-century authors take up Franklin’s stereotype in order to take advantage of a seemingly divided market. Like Franklin, these authors do not see a divide between the spiritual and the secular; they do not see a difference between the religious or the capitalist versions of the American Dream. They write to justify and reify this perspective.


Karen Roggenkamp

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature