The first novel written by Walt Whitman, Franklin Evans tells the story of the titular character as he moves through life, being influenced by unsavory individuals and learning from the mistakes he makes as a result. Evans is young and naïve, and he allows himself to be negatively influenced by one person in particular, Colby, who takes Evans to taverns and music halls when he arrives in Manhattan from Long Island. Evans struggles with alcohol abuse throughout the course of the novel, trying multiple times to give up the drink without success. It is only after the death of two wives that he is able to find success and truly learn from the actions of his past.
The novel provides the reader with a few critical lessons about life and maturation, the most important of which is the idea that it is never too late to make changes for the better. Despite all of Evans' mistakes, he reaches middle age with a small piece of property and comfortable life yet to live. While he has no wife or children, he is still able to live out the remainder of his days in a better way than he had lived those previous; he was able to make amends for his actions and emerge a better man. Evans ended the novel grateful for those who had helped him overcome his shortcomings. He recognized that his life could have followed an entirely different path had he made better choices, but that the path he was on was one he had borne himself. This sense of personal responsibility and acceptance of his actions showed that Evans had truly matured and had moved beyond the childish mistakes of his past.