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Edgar Lee Masters’ "Franklin Jones"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Edgar Lee Masters - 1923

Edgar Lee Masters - 1923

Introduction and Text of "Franklin Jones"

Speaking from Edgar Lee Master' American classic, Spoon River Anthology, Franklin Jones offers only a very small slice of his life, just as a number of the Spoon River inmates have done. Franklin, however, does demonstrate a penchant for thought above the waist. He is somewhat more mature in his rhetorical flourish than many of his Spoon River fellows. Franklin, however, does remain a rather light-weight character with equally shallow views. He fails to offer enough details of his life to rescue his goal from mere bluster.

Franklin Jones

If I could have lived another year
I could have finished my flying machine,
And become rich and famous.
Hence it is fitting the workman
Who tried to chisel a dove for me
Made it look more like a chicken.
For what is it all but being hatched,
And running about the yard,
To the day of the block?
Save that a man has an angel’s brain,
And sees the ax from the first!

Reading of "Franklin Jones"

Commentary on "Franklin Jones"

While Franklin Jones does demonstrate a penchant for thought above the waist, he fails to offer much of substance of his life.

First Movement: Could Have, If Only

If I could have lived another year
I could have finished my flying machine,
And become rich and famous.

Franklin Jones makes the odd claim that he could have completed his work on his "flying machine," if only he had been able to live one more year. Then he projects that he could have become "rich and famous."

Famous last words, indeed: if only something had happened or not happened, I could have done such and such, been such and such. But what happened happened, and here I am, not doing such and such, not being such and such. This very scenario from the beginning does not bode well for a result that will feature a well-rounded, pleasant character.

Thus, Franklin joins the motley crowd of likely never-do-wells who inhabit this cemetery above Spoon River. Many of the characters remain bland personalities as they attempt to embellish their actual accomplishments. Franklin uses the old "if only" approach to satisfy his desired belief that he could have been much more successful in life than he was.

Second Movement: The Dove-Chicken

Hence it is fitting the workman
Who tried to chisel a dove for me
Made it look more like a chicken.
For what is it all but being hatched,
And running about the yard,
To the day of the block?
Save that a man has an angel’s brain,
And sees the ax from the first!

Franklin then reveals that the workers who tried to engrave a dove on his tombstone were less than accomplished artists because the dove ends up looking "more like a chicken." Franklin, however, does find an amused melancholy in the situation. He philosophizes that man is just like a chicken: after being "hatched," he just runs around the barnyard until the day he is hauled off to be chopped up on "the block."

He humorously compares himself to a chicken but adds a twist to his rhetorical complaint—the difference between the man and the chicken is that the man knows ahead of time that he is destined to die. Despite the lofty sounding final sentiment, Franklin remains a rather shallow character and somewhat naïve, thinking that his untimely death prevented his true greatness. The beauty of Franklin's position is that people hearing his claim can never prove him wrong, even though they will likely assume exactly that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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