Updated September 10, 2022

The Irony of Benjamin Franklin

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The irony is the use of words to portray something other than and especially the opposite meaning of it. Irony is more than just a way you talk, Irony “can be considered philosophically as a mode of life or a general relation to knowledge and understanding.” (Colebrook) In “The Speech of Polly Baker,” Benjamin Franklin writes from the perspective of a woman named Polly Baker.

“The Speech of Polly Baker” mocks early American laws and Gender inequality, using irony, by talking about how women get ridiculed for having children outside of marriage, while men get praised. In “The Speech of Polly Baker,” Benjamin Franklin mocks the court systems by the repetition of Miss Baker being placed on trial for the same crime five times. In “The Speech of Polly Baker,” Benjamin Franklin mocks three main points using irony Gender inequality, early American laws, and the court systems.

In “The Speech of Polly Baker,” Baker was tried five times for the same crime, having children outside of marriage. Benjamin Franklin mocks gender inequality in this story by giving examples of the gender difference in the 1700s. Polly Baker states clearly about child support and getting married after having children “ What must poor young women do, whom customs and nature forbid to solicit the men, and who cannot force themselves upon husbands, when the laws take no care to provide them any, and yet severely punish them if they do their duty without them.” (Franklin 324)

Benjamin Franklin is using irony in this quote by saying that there are no laws in place to make these fathers stay around and help the mother raise their children. The fathers that use these women to get them pregnant and make them think they are going to marry them just leave them anytime and there is no law at this time in a place to make the men come back and help pay for meals, or clothes for the children. In a sense, this is child support that fathers must pay to help the women out financially.

Miss Baker is also saying she is so poor because of the fines that she “Have no money to fee lawyers to plead for me, being hard put to it to get a living.” (Franklin 323) Another example of gender inequality in the 1700s would be that women did not have high paying jobs that the men have. One of Miss Bakers’ five children’s fathers played her and left and went on to be a magistrate of the court and did not receive any punishment for leaving Miss Baker helpless. If a woman would have done that to a man, she could have faced severe punishment and even death.

Franklin mocks early American laws in “The Speech of Polly Baker” on multiple occasions in the story. One occasion goes along with gender inequality when there is no law in place to make a father of the children pay any sort of restitution to the mother of his children and the mother must pay for everything herself. In Polly Baker’s case she has five children out of wedlock and does not have any help from the fathers of these children. Another law that is in place is that Miss Baker gets punished financially for having these children out of wedlock, in the way of court fines.

Benjamin Franklin says that Miss Baker “would have done better, if it had not been for the heavy charges and fines, I have paid” (324). Franklin mocks the early American laws here by saying that if the fines would not have been there then Polly Baker would have been financially stable. Franklin is also mocking these early laws by Miss baker even being charged with the same thing five times. Baker says the charges “may have been agreeable to the laws, and I don’t dispute that; but since laws are sometimes unreasonable in themselves, and therefore repealed” (323).

Baker says here that even though there is this law in place, it does not mean that she must be charged five times and be publicly humiliated. This law that Baker is referring to is like in Mobile, it is unlawful to have confetti. People have confetti but that does not mean they should be arrested for it. Benjamin Franklin mocks early American laws in “The Speech of Polly Baker” by using multiple laws that are ridiculous in stature, that are being used in the trial of Miss Baker.

Finally, Benjamin Franklin mocks the courts in “The Speech of Polly Baker” by saying how ridiculous it is that Miss Baker is being charged with the same crime not once, not twice, but five times. Franklin mocks the court’s laws that they have passed by saying the laws are “double standard of the bastardly laws to self-interested rationalization” (Larson).

Polly Baker has been to court five times for the same crime, and she has been the only one punished for it. Miss Baker’s children’s fathers have not been punished by fines or public humiliation, only her. The fact that she is the only one that has had to go to court and pay fines shows both gender inequality and how biased and double standard the courts have been towards her. The courts in “The Speech of Polly Baker” are showing that she is being punished for something that involves her and God and the courts have no place in.

Miss Baker says that she thinks that wedlock is not a sin and if it were then she would suffer “eternal fire” (324) in heaven and she should not have to be suffering this in court. Benjamin Franklin is saying in “The Speech of Polly Baker” that Miss Baker is being mistreated by the courts, and if her ‘sin’ was a sin then she would suffer eternal fire and her children wouldn’t have such “admirable workmanship in the formation of their bodies” (324).

In “The Speech of Polly Baker”, Benjamin Franklin mocks three main points using irony gender inequality, early American laws, and the court systems. Benjamin Franklin uses irony in this story by saying how Miss Baker was mistreated by the courts because if God were upset with her then she would suffer punishment after she dies, and she should not have to suffer fines and humiliation now. Gender inequality is mocked by Benjamin Franklin in this story because Polly Baker is only being punished, and not any of her children’s fathers. Lastly, Benjamin Franklin mocks early American laws by saying that the laws that are in place give Miss Baker no financial help with the raising of her children from the fathers, and the laws in place should not have been pursued, Miss Baker.

Works Cited

  1. Colebrook, C. ‘Irony.’ The Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms, edited by Roland Greene, and Cushman Stephen, Princeton University Press, 3rd edition, 2016. Credo Reference, http://lib.calhoun.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/princetonp/irony/0?institutionId=6068. Accessed 04 Apr. 2020.
  2. Franklin, Benjamin. “The Speech of Polly Baker.” The American Tradition in Literature. 12th ed. Eds. George Perkins and Barbara Perkins. Pg. 323-325.
  3. Larson, David M. ‘Franklin, Benjamin.’ Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature, edited by Steven Serafin, and Alfred Bendixen, Continuum, 1st edition, 2005. Credo Reference, http://lib.calhoun.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/amlit/franklin_benjamin/0?institutionId=6068. Accessed 05 Apr. 2020.

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