Reading Johnny Tremain
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Reading Johnny Tremain
Reading The Giver Reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Reading Johnny Tremain Reading The Diary of Anne Frank Reading Sounder Reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Reading Johnny Tremain
CHELSEA HOUSE PUBLISHERS
VP, NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT Sally Cheney DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION Kim Shinners CREATIVE MANAGER Takeshi Takahashi MANUFACTURING MANAGER Diann Grasse Staff for READING JOHNNY TREMAIN
EDITOR Matt Uhler PHOTO EDITOR Sarah Bloom PRODUCTION EDITOR Bonnie Cohen EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Sarah Sharpless SERIES DESIGNER Takeshi Takahashi COVER DESIGNER Takeshi Takahashi LAYOUT EJB Publishing Services ©2006 by Chelsea House Publishers, a subsidiary of Haights Cross Communications. All rights reserved. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
www.chelseahouse.com First Printing 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Heims, Neil. Reading Johnny Tremain / Neil Heims. p. cm. — (The engaged reader) ISBN 0-7910-8831-6 1. Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain—Juvenile literature. 2. Boston (Mass.)—History—Revolution, 1775-1783—Literature and the revolution— Juvenile literature. 3. United States—History—Revolution, 1775-1783—Literature and the revolution—Juvenile literature. 4. Historical fiction, American—History and criticism—Juvenile literature. 5. Children’s stories, American—History and criticism—Juvenile literature. I. Title. II. Series. PS3511.O3495J6534 2005 813’.52—dc22 2005009468
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Table of Contents
Themes and Symbols
Works by Esther Forbes
76 77 78 79
Bibliography Further Reading Index
THE AUTHOR’S STORY ESTHER FORBES WAS BORN in 1891 in Westboro, Massachusetts, the fifth of six children, to William Trowbridge Forbes, a graduate in mathematics from Amherst College and a lawyer, and Harriette Merrifield Forbes, a historian, antiquarian, and collector of artifacts and stories relating to New England. Forbes grew up with a deep connection to her New England past, a love of history, and a talent for telling stories. The past was a part of her everyday life, not just because of her mother’s vocation but because of the family legend that a
Reading Johnny Tremain colonial ancestor had been accused of being a witch and jailed. Forbes suffered her first rejection and humiliation as a writer in high school when she wrote a story for a class assignment at the Bancroft school in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was accused in front of the entire class of plagiarism. This painful event suggests the sort of experience Johnny Tremain has to endure as an apprentice, when his skill as a craftsman and his love of his work are seen as partial faults by his master, the silversmith Mr. Lapham, who regards Johnny’s enthusiasm for being a silversmith as being almost sinful. Forbes studied history at the University of Wisconsin, but since it was during World War I, she left college and, like Johnny Tremain in his time, devoted herself to the war effort. She went to work on a farm, harvesting food to supply to the American troops fighting in Europe. Like Johnny, too, Forbes loved horses. As a girl, she galloped on her horse through the countryside near Worcester, Massachusetts. On the farm during the war “[o]ne of the proudest moments of my life,” she said, “was when the farmer appointed me as a teamster to work only with
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #1
In high school, Esther Forbes was accused of plagiarism—presenting someone else’s work as her own— because her teacher did not believe she could write a story as good as the one she handed in. Describe a situation in which you were not appreciated for your ability.
Contexts horses, instead of merely shucking corn and picking apples like the other girls.”1 After the war, Forbes worked at the Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, first as a typist and then as a reader of unsolicited manuscripts. In 1926, she married Albert Hoskins, a lawyer, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1933. In 1926, too, her first novel, O Genteel Lady!, was published. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and was warmly reviewed, as were her ten other books, mostly historical fictions set in colonial New England, as well as a biography of Paul Revere. She died in 1967. Johnny Tremain is undoubtedly her most popular work. It has never gone out of print since its publication and was made into a film by the Walt Disney Company in 1957. The film was finally released on DVD in 2005. HISTORICAL CONTEXTS AND MYTHIC DIMENSIONS Esther Forbes began writing Johnny Tremain just after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States was entering World War II. Although Johnny Tremain is a story about the Revolutionary War— the book begins in Boston in 1773 with the preparations for the Boston Tea Party and ends in 1775 on the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill—it nevertheless is filled with the passion and ideals that animated Americans in the war against the Axis powers in the 1940s. A principal part of the story of Johnny Tremain is the struggle for justice: the fight for liberty, autonomy, and freedom from domination and constraint. The words that Forbes attributes to James Otis, the founder of the revolutionary Sons of Liberty, in order to stir his companions to fight against British domination in the 1770s, are just as
Reading Johnny Tremain powerful and resonant when applied to the tyrannical practices of Germany, Japan, and Italy in 1943, when Johnny Tremain was published. In Chapter 8 of Johnny Tremain, at a meeting of the Sons of Liberty, James Otis declares that the fight they are beginning is for men and women and children all over the world.... There shall be no more tyranny. A handful of men cannot seize power over thousands. A man shall choose who it is shall rule over him.... The peasants of France, the serfs of Russia. Hardly more than animals now. But because we fight, they shall see freedom.... The battle we win over the worst in England shall benefit the best in England.... Will French peasants go on forever pulling off their caps and saying “Oui, Monsieur,” when the gold coaches run down their children? They will not.... And all those German states. Are they nothing but soldiers? Will no one show them the rights of good citizens? So we hold up our torch....2
A little later, Paul Revere says in words that clearly must have had deep resonance in the 1940s, in a world torn by a barbaric racial and religious ideology, “I’m fighting ... that no frightened lost child ever is sent out a refugee from his own country because of race or religion.” And Doctor Joseph Warren, another revolutionary patriot and the first officer to be killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, brings the matter even closer to the time of the book’s actual publication: “A great many are going to die,” he says, “so other men can stand up on their feet like men.... They have in the past. They will a hundred years from now—two hundred. God grant there will always be men good enough.”3 The narrator in her own voice reaffirms these sentiments, declaring that “Hundreds would die, but not the thing they died for.”4 This was something that people strongly needed
Contexts to believe in 1943. Clearly, although only implied, World War II is invested with the emotional reference points of the Revolutionary War and the Revolutionary War is charged with the emotional immediacy of World War II. But Forbes did not need national involvement in a current war to make her story come alive. Her writing is quickened by her familiarity with history, which allowed Forbes to write about late eighteenth-century Boston as if she were describing a city she walked through every day and people she knew from direct contact. Johnny Tremain’s Boston is a port city bustling with the activity of commerce. It is home to merchants who import goods from Europe, their clerks, and the rough sea captains who command their fleets; market tradesmen and vendors, grocers, butchers, and dairy women involved in the everyday business of supplying the population’s needs; craftsmen and small manufacturers, such as silversmiths, clockmakers, sailmakers, printers, cobblers, and their apprentices; innkeepers; servants; black slaves; and an occupying force of English soldiers. It is a city of small shops and great houses, of rich and poor, set in a time of transition. Forbes writes of a time when literacy was becoming common, although learning was usually seen to through an apprenticeship rather than schooling. The age was one in which faith and submission struggled with reason, self-assertion, and challenge. And there was still open land in Boston and the surrounding towns where families could set up farmsteads and live independently on the products of their own hard work. Forbes is so surefooted in narrating the story of Johnny Tremain because, besides her gift as a storyteller, she was a historian. Johnny Tremain grew in her imagination and was written as she was researching and writing a biography of the Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, Paul Revere and
Reading Johnny Tremain the World He Lived In. That book was published in 1942 and Forbes won the Pulitzer Prize for her historical biography; the next year, Johnny Tremain was published, and it won the 1943 John Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Just as significant for making Johnny Tremain a compelling story is the fact that the Revolutionary War, for most Americans, is not just a historic event, nor is colonial Boston just a historic setting. For most Americans, and, indeed, even for people who were not raised in the United States, the Revolutionary War is also a mythic event, and colonial Boston is a mythic place as well as being an actual city. Mythic things exist outside history, even if they are historically real—they live and vibrate in people’s imagination. Like the Revolutionary era, many of the characters in Johnny Tremain, such as Paul Revere, are also both historical and mythic. They are larger than life and have been entered into American folklore, legend, and poetry. It was James Otis, for example, who devised the famous revolutionary rallying cry, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” In Johnny Tremain, the reader sees these historical giants living the daily lives of ordinary men as well as participating in the founding events of America, which have entered into American mythology. The reader sees Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and his brother John Adams, who will become the second president of the United States, as they plan and take part in the legendary Boston Tea Party. Johnny Tremain, a fictional character, is present when Paul Revere sets out on his fabled midnight ride to sound the alarm that the British are advancing. (The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow enshrined this ride in “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,”
Contexts the poem with the well-known opening lines, “Listen my children and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”) Other historical figures also appear: Josiah Quincy serves as Johnny’s lawyer, while Joseph Warren is his surgeon. And it is Johnny Tremain who gives the famous instructions to the sexton of Christ’s Church to hang the signal lanterns in the church tower—“one if by land and two if by sea”—to notify the gathering Minutemen (the volunteer fighters for the American colonies) how the British troops are approaching. Forbes takes men and events of mythic stature and, while not diminishing them, restores to them their everyday humanity. We do not lose the sense of the heroic dimensions of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the rest, but we do see them also as ordinary men, and thus Forbes encourages us to realize that ordinary men, by their actions, can achieve extraordinary things. John Hancock’s credibility as a Revolutionary War hero, a patriot, and a virtuous man is enhanced by his scene with Johnny Tremain, when he denies Johnny work as a clerk because his crippled hand prevents Johnny from writing well, but also sends him a purse of silver. Similarly, Paul Revere is first revealed to the reader as a silversmith, and we see him and admire him not as an organizer in the movement against British domination, or as a daring night rider, but as the master silversmith who shows Johnny how to solve a difficult problem in designing appropriate handles for an intricate sugar bowl. When Forbes presents James Otis, she shows both the brilliant man and inspiring speaker who dedicated himself to liberty and the man who suffered the consequences of his devotion. Otis suffers from periodic bouts of madness resulting from the severe beating he received in 1769 at the hands of a tax officer, who had objected to an article Otis
Reading Johnny Tremain had written in the Boston Gazette opposing British practices of search and seizure.5 By introducing these fictional and historical details, Forbes conveys a sense of John Hancock’s integrity and good-heartedness; Paul Revere’s skill, reliability, and trustworthiness; and James Otis’s oratorical brilliance and deep and tragic humanity. A VARIETY OF CONFLICTS It is not surprising that, at a time of revolutionary conflict and great historical change, a society should be brimming over with conflicts—political conflicts, religious conflicts, class conflicts, conflicts of values, and conflicts of personalities. Much of the drama in Johnny Tremain depends on these conflicts and the contrasts that exist in society because of them. Often in the story conflicts are between social or spiritual values. Johnny must determine his identity by choosing between his past and his future and between selfinvolvement and dedicating himself to the American revolutionary cause. Cilla Lapham’s sister, Isannah, must determine her identity by choosing between her loving and industrious sister with her down-to-earth values of the New World, and the haughty “great lady” Lavinia Lyte and her London high society. The colonists as a whole and as individutals must choose between freedom and English domination, between compromise and confrontation. The end of the eighteenth century, the period in which Johnny Tremain is set, is characterized by the tension between an era that is ending and one that is just beginning. Society was organized and people were defined by religious and political authority led by churchmen and monarchs. Unquestioning faith in religious doctrines and unquestioned obedience to all-powerful monarchs and aristocrats—who claimed to derive their power by divine right,
Contexts from God—were beginning to be challenged. Men and women, proclaiming their God-given rights as human beings, were protesting that they had a right to rebel against domination by other people, regardless of their class or office. Liberty of conscience, many came to believe, must supplant obedience to authority. Traditional notions of domination and submission, which had been justified by a belief in absolute and unquestionable authority, were being undermined by concepts of justice, personal liberty, and the independence of the individual conscience. Doctrines and dogmas were being forced to give way to observation and experimentation, whether in the sciences or in the interactions of humankind. The clash of values, beliefs, and ways of defining the nature of the world and of human relations made the age both vital and dangerous. Conflicts about how to live often were resolved in deadly battles. In Johnny Tremain, Forbes captured the excitement of that contradictory time. For readers who can observe that time through Forbes’s eyes and through the eyes of her characters, there may be elements in the book to value or to reject on each side of the conflicts she brings to life. The political conflict at the heart of Johnny Tremain is the conflict between the American colonists and the rule of England, between the political factions known as Whigs and Tories. Whigs supported colonial independence from England and the establishment of a self-governing nation. Tories supported continuing British rule over the American colonies, which were, after all, peopled by British subjects. Tories could cite the great contributions—beginning with the Magna Carta, which lessened the power of the king of England in 1215—that England had made to the progress of a just, constitutional government and individual liberty.
Reading Johnny Tremain The conflicts of the age play themselves out in Johnny Tremain not only in the great military conflict the story leads up to, but also in the lives and fates of individual characters. One of Forbes’s great strengths as a writer is how firmly and easily she embeds her characters in the age and how vibrantly she can make the age appear to her readers through her characters. She accomplishes this by the strong outlines with which she draws her characters and by vivid descriptions of the places they inhabit, whether the action takes place in workshops, counting houses, kitchens, drawing rooms, attics, hillsides, streets, graveyards, village greens, or taverns. Forbes embodies the characteristics and conflicts of the age in her characters. Merchant Jonathan Lyte, a Tory, is selfish, devious, and unscrupulous. He acts tyrannically, concerned only for his own advantage. Rab Silsbee, a Whig, is not only dedicated to liberty, equality, and the rights of people in principle, but his generosity, open-heartedness, liveliness, devotion to fairness, and curiosity about people and things are shown in his daily behavior. He takes people as they are and has a democratic respect for them. Johnny’s master, Mr. Ephraim Lapham, the silversmith, represents traditional Puritanism: scornful of the rewards of
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #2
Conflicts of all sorts, not only violent conflicts like the American Revolutionary War, define every era. They may be conflicts about values, ideas, cultural attitudes, beliefs, etc. Write a few paragraphs defining, describing, and discussing a present-day conflict, its significance and its implications.
Contexts the world, he is stiff-backed in his submission to what he understands to be God’s will. Mrs. Lapham, his daughterin-law—a widowed mother of four daughters and his housekeeper—on the other hand, is a practical woman who struggles to make sure that the everyday demands necessary for living are met. Mr. Lorne and Rab Silsbee, who publish the Whig newspaper, the Boston Observer, believe, unlike Mr. Lapham, that people can and must shape the world and should assert themselves in the struggle against tyranny. Forbes is not rigid in her presentation of conflicts, whether she is showing the political conflict between Whigs and Tories or conflicts between individual characters. Johnny is disturbed by the violence of a Whig mob that he learns has beaten a person with Tory convictions. In a dream, he imagines Sam Adams and John Hancock boiling lobsters. (Lobsters, because their shells become red when cooked, represent British soldiers, called “redcoats” or “lobster backs” because of their scarlet uniforms.) The lobsters are suffering in the dream, and Sam Adams is taking pleasure in that suffering, while John Hancock turns his head away from it in pity. Johnny’s nemesis, a young man called Dove, though unsympathetic as a character, admires Johnny even as he envies him. British soldiers, when they are portrayed as individuals, are just as often portrayed as being sympathetic, good, and decent men as not. Sometimes, as with the British soldier Pumpkin, they are shown to be at odds with their duty: a soldier for the king, Pumpkin wishes to live as a free farmer in the colonies. Similarly, the English lieutenant Stranger is not shown as a bad fellow, even though he is a part of an occupying army, but rather as good-spirited and generous. This is especially evident when he does not take Johnny’s
Reading Johnny Tremain horse, although he would like to have it. Instead, he teaches Johnny some of the finer points of horsemanship, like jumping hurdles. Seeing Lieutenant Stranger at a distance, after the lieutenant has been wounded, Johnny momentarily mistakes him for his friend Rab. Despite their differences, even enemies are not always so different from each other. The overriding conflict of the age—the conflict that Johnny Tremain chronicles—was a conflict between submission and self-assertion, between obedience and rebellion, between adhering to tradition and risking belief in new visions. The story that Forbes tells in Johnny Tremain does not resolve that conflict, for it is a vital, necessary, and irresolvable conflict, with virtues and faults on both sides of it. Rather, Forbes defines and describes the conflict, how it shaped the people and the world of her story, and she shows how people living in that world came to terms with and faced that conflict.
2 Narrative Technique
THE NARRATOR’S ROLE THE MAIN NARRATIVE PROBLEM Esther Forbes faced in writing Johnny Tremain was the problem that every author confronts—how to tell the story. She had to decide from whose point of view she was going to tell the story and on which parts of the story she was going to focus. She also had to select what she was going to show, what she was going to mention, and what she was going to exclude. If she told the story from the point of view of one of the characters inside the story, then the tale would be shaped by that character’s personality and by the
Reading Johnny Tremain extent of his or her knowledge, because the person telling the story cannot narrate what he or she does not know. Such a narrative is called a first person narrative. The narrator of Johnny Tremain is not a character inside the book but the author herself. Forbes stands outside the story being told; she is a third person narrator. She guides the story along without seeming to be a part of it. She knows everything about the story, what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Forbes also knows everything about each of the characters: what they feel and think, as well as what they do, what they did, and what they will do. She has command of all points of view. Such a narrator is called omniscient or all-knowing, and Forbes does, in fact, within the confines of the story she is telling, have a godlike intelligence. For a reader, the presence of this sort of narrator can be very reassuring. The narrator is in control of the story and, essentially, she tells us how to read the story and how to respond to it. She is like a teacher or a moral presence instructing us. Forbes chooses to tell the story from a domestic rather than from an epic or heroic point of view. She shows the daily lives of her characters as they are lived around the
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #3
Johnny Tremain is a story told by an all-knowing narrator. Instead of writing in the third person—Johnny thought, Rab said, Cilla looked, Dove sat—rewrite one of the sections from the point of view of one of the characters in the novel in the first person using the pronoun “I.”
Narrative Technique great historical events in which most of the characters participate. She shows soldiers going off to battle and returning from battle, for example, rather than presenting the battle itself. She shows what Johnny Tremain does on the night of Paul Revere’s famous ride rather than what happened on the ride. While Forbes does not show events exclusively from Johnny Tremain’s point of view, she does put him at the center of events and shows how they affect him. She is also a sympathetic narrator, understanding each of the characters, whatever role they play in the story. In Johnny Tremain, everything that happens is carefully prepared for by the narrator and is the result of things she has already shown. She knows where she is going, and she knows how to take us there. The narrative technique in Johnny Tremain relies on a continuous unfolding of causes and events. As we read, we have the sense that what we are reading is preparing us for something else about to happen. This awareness creates the sense of anticipation that makes reading exciting and keeps us turning the pages. In Johnny Tremain, the narrative technique involving a continuous chain of causes and effects reflects Forbes’s view of history: a story of the unrelenting flow of cause and effect, of an unending chain of actions and reactions. For example, British imperial interest leads to colonial oppression and to colonial rebellion. Johnny’s superiority offends Dove’s pride and leads to Dove’s animosity, which is the cause of his giving Johnny a cracked crucible (a vessel used for melting metals); the use of that crucible causes Johnny’s injury, which leads to his new lifestyle. The connection between cause and effect also suggests that people, by their choice of actions, shape their lives and the lives of others. Merchant Lyte, for example, although he chooses not to, might have responded with
Reading Johnny Tremain honor or generosity to Johnny’s claim of kinship rather than with dishonesty and malice, a result of his own selfishness. His decision helps to shape the course of the plot, of future events for himself, his family, and Johnny. The British parliament might have removed the tea tax and changed the course of history; colonial grievances against England might have diminished, and the Bostonians would not have been moved to dump tea overboard into the harbor. But the parliament did not eliminate the tax and their inaction had a reaction. If Dove had thought of the possible consequences of his vindictive act with the crucible, he might have restrained himself. But Dove’s sense of injustice overwhelmed his powers of reflection, and he sets the action of the book in motion by giving Johnny a problem to overcome. From the way Forbes organizes the narrative, it is clear that these actions and reactions were not inevitable. They were all matters of human choice. In Johnny Tremain, Forbes examines, through the events of the story and the actions and values of her characters, the various grounds upon which people make choices. The belief of her heroes, moreover, is that society must be governed so that all people have the power to make choices and contribute to the determination of events, not just a privileged few. The book provides the opportunity to examine other people’s ways of behaving and to follow their experiences imaginatively, which may help the reader modify his or her own attitudes, values, and behavior. The American Revolution, the event at the heart of Johnny Tremain, is the consequence of a series of conditions, events, ideas, and choices. The book refers to some of the causes of discontent among the colonists, and it dramatizes the effects by describing the colonial responses to
Narrative Technique the British actions. Significant Revolutionary War events, such as the Boston Tea Party, the meetings of the Sons of Liberty, Paul Revere’s ride, and the Battle of Lexington, are woven into the fabric of Johnny’s daily life. These historical happenings coexist with fictional events such as Johnny’s trial, Pumpkin’s execution, Merchant Lyte’s flight from Boston, and Rab’s death. And just like the great historical events, these fictional events demonstrate the importance of cause and effect in the development of the narrative. FORESHADOWING As readers, we need the story to be coherent and probable, for one thing to lead to another, for the characters to be recognizable, and for the action to make sense. As the author, Forbes must determine how to tell the story, to make sure that the way the events of her story occur and how the characters act are consistent and probable. She must also convey the meaning of the story and influence the way we understand what happens in the story and direct our sympathies and animosities. These are problems of narration and are solved by narrative techniques. One of the techniques Forbes uses to guide us in our reading is to get us to sense that a present event will have future significance. She accomplishes this by the use of suggestive foreshadowing. Noticing this kind of foreshadowing can be among the pleasures of reading since it enhances seemingly routine scenes with depth and significance beyond what at first they might seem to possess. Foreshadowing helps the reader participate in forming the narrative by allowing us to anticipate and, therefore, accept as probable, or even inevitable, what happens later in the story. When something happens in a story just as we predicted it would, it is not
Reading Johnny Tremain always the sign of weakness in the narrative, although it might be in a whodunit (a detective or mystery story). It is an indication that the author has created a strong sense of familiarity with characters and with their actions for the reader. Johnny Tremain begins like a movie. Forbes offers a bird’s eye view of Boston as the gulls “float in on the town.” Then she pans down to earth, cutting from the gulls diving for “dead fish” and “bits of garbage” to “the cocks in Boston’s back yards.” In a few short paragraphs she sweeps through the town, through granaries and barns, until she takes us inside “a crooked little house at the head of Hancock’s Wharf on crowded Fish Street,” where we see Mrs. Lapham standing “at the foot of a ladder leading up to the attic where her father-in-law’s apprentices slept.” “Too stout” to climb up the ladder and shake them, she is calling up to the attic to get the boys out of bed. First she calls Dove, then Dusty. When she finally calls to Johnny, she is not trying to rouse him, she is asking for his help. “Johnny,” she cries, “you get them two lazy lug-a-beds up. Get them down here. You pull that worthless Dove right out’er bed. You give Dusty a kick for me.”6 There is no need in the narration that follows for Forbes to tell us that Johnny is the prize apprentice, that he exercises a considerable amount of authority in the household and the workshop, and that the other two boys are more
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #4
The story of Johnny Tremain is told as a series of causes and effects. Make a chart of the major events in Johnny Tremain showing what led up to each event and what resulted from each of those events.
Narrative Technique burdensome than helpful. It is evident from Mrs. Lapham’s words. Furthermore, when Forbes later describes the physical characteristics of the boys, she is only reinforcing what we expected because of what we have just overheard. By first presenting the boys dramatically, as they are being called by Mrs. Lapham, Forbes gives us a sense of familiarity with the boys at the outset. When the narrator herself calls Dove “swinish,” we do not have to take it on faith— she is saying what we sensed in Mrs. Lapham’s anger. Forbes is also indirectly telling us that Mrs. Lapham’s judgment of things, at least as far as appearances are concerned, is practical and to be trusted. (Respect for Mrs. Lapham’s judgment will prove to be important to how we understand one of the major conflicts in the novel, the conflict between obedience and rebellion: it is because Mrs. Lapham tells him to that Johnny will disobey Mr. Lapham’s order against working on Sunday, not because of Johnny’s sinful disposition.) By the implicit comparison of the two boys, Johnny and Dove, furthermore, Forbes directs our sympathies toward Johnny. This is important because Johnny’s character is soon going be challenged, and for the story to work, we must think well of Johnny, even if others are doubtful about his merit and even if there may seem to be some truth in the indictment. Waiting for the other boys, Johnny is already dressed while Dove is still lazing in bed. Johnny looks out the attic window at the morning scene on Hancock’s Wharf, at the “counting houses, shops, stores, sail lofts, and one great ship after another.” He sees “the gulls ... screaming among the ships,” and “beyond the wharf ... the sea and the rocky islands where the gulls nested.” A bond is thus formed between Johnny and the reader because he is looking at what we have just seen in the first sentences of the book.
Reading Johnny Tremain We know from the contrast established by this scene that Dove is idle, short-sighted, and lacks curiosity and that Johnny has adventure in his heart and looks into the great distances. His journey through the story becomes our journey, too. When Dove spitefully trips Johnny as he is about to descend the ladder from the attic, we see Dove for the lout we have already been told he is. We are not surprised either by Johnny’s deftness when he stumbles, catches himself, and swings silently about. Dove “snicker[s]” and says, “Gosh, Johnny. I’m sorry.... I just didn’t notice.” Johnny heatedly responds to this false and cowardly apology by calling Dove a “pig-of-a-louse” and warning him that if he trips him again, he will be sorrier because Johnny will beat him up. Typical of her narrative technique throughout the novel, Forbes presents the nature of a character by showing a character in action. Occasionally, Forbes also adds her own direct commentary. In this instance, although Mr. Lapham, Johnny’s master, disapproves of swearing and rough talk, the narrator takes Johnny’s side and, by doing so, solicits the reader’s admiration for him. She is as much at odds with Mr. Lapham’s Puritanism, it seems, as Johnny is. Forbes lets the reader know that she thinks Johnny’s epithet is on the mark. “Whatever a ‘pig-of-a-louse’ was,” she adds, “it did describe the whitish, flaccid, parasitic Dove.”7 Forbes easily outdoes Johnny in swearing by her command of a more sophisticated range of disapproving adjectives. Although Forbes often allows direct authorial commentary in the narrative, she often uses other characters as instruments of narration. “Half of Dusty,” the other, younger apprentice, she writes, “sympathized with one boy, half of him with the other,” in the altercation at the top of
Narrative Technique the ladder we have just seen. “It seemed to him,” Forbes writes from Dusty’s point of view, “that everybody liked Johnny. Old Mr. Lapham because he was so clever at his work. Mrs. Lapham because he was reliable.... Most of the boys in the other shops ... liked Johnny....” As she continues, Dusty’s point of view fades back into the narrator’s. And the idea that Johnny is reliable, which might be something rightly to be proud of, is subtly reinforced. By this technique of indirect narration, Forbes avoids what might seem like a too heavy-handed way of conveying information or attitudes, but still manages to tell the reader what she needs to. Sometimes, Forbes contradicts a character’s perception or opinion not by her own narrative correction but by presenting a short piece of action or dialogue that is directly at odds with what the character thinks or says. Mr. Lapham, for example, after Johnny burns his hand, lectures the boy on the need to forgive Dove for causing the accident. Dove had deliberately sought to sabotage Johnny’s efforts to complete John Hancock’s order for a silver sugar bowl by giving him a crucible he knew had a crack in it. Dove understood that the crack was likely to break the crucible when the silver was molten. In spite of this, Mr. Lapham tells Johnny that Dove’s action was not malicious because, as Dove told Mr. Lapham, it was intended to teach Johnny not to work on a Sunday and humble his pride. Perhaps Mr. Lapham is right about forgiveness. After all, what he says seems to be in tune with basic Christian values. Nevertheless, the reader has already seen enough of the way Dove thinks and acts to suspect that Mr. Lapham is more deceived than wise, both in his faith in Dove and in his counsel of forgiveness. But Forbes does not rely on what we have already seen to challenge Mr. Lapham’s
Reading Johnny Tremain perspective. Through the juxtaposition of Mr. Lapham’s, Johnny’s, and Dove’s responses to the incident, Forbes defines each character and shapes the reader’s response, without apparent direct authorial intervention: “I want you to forgive Dove like a Christian.” [Mr. Lapham tells Johnny.] “Forgive him? Why?” [Johnny asks.] “Why, that when you asked for a crucible he handed you the old cracked one.” “You mean ... he did it on purpose?” “No, no, Johnny, he only meant to humiliate you. He tells me (Mrs. L. made me question him) that he was that offended by your Sabbath-breaking he thought it fitting that you should learn a lesson. I can’t help but admit I’m encouraged with that much piety in one of my boys.” Johnny’s voice sounded strangled. “Mr. Lapham, I’m going to get him for that ...” “Hush, hush, boy. I say, and Bible says, forgive. He was real repentant when he told me. Never meant to harm you. He was in tears.” “He’s going to be in a lot more of those tears ’fore I’m done with him. That scabby, white louse, that hypocritical ...” “Hold your tongue, boy. I thought misfortune had taught you patience.” “It has,” said Johnny. “If I have to, I’ll wait ten years to get that Dove.”8
Is Mr. Lapham the voice of piety or perversity here? Is he preaching Christian charity or pure foolishness? As distasteful as what Mr. Lapham is saying is—that Dove meant to humble Johnny for breaking the Sabbath, that he was motivated by piety, and that he was “real repentant,” and “meant” no “harm”—and as repellent as Dove’s action is
Narrative Technique no matter what the motives, Mr. Laphan’s words still might arguably have some harsh Puritanical merit, and we might see the justice in censuring Johnny’s anger and feel some sympathy for Dove. But this talk with Johnny is framed by two scenes that show Mr. Lapham is quite mistaken about Dove and his motives. The first happens shortly before the talk: Johnny stood and watched Dove’s clumsy work as long as he could in silence. At last he burst out. “Dove, don’t hold your crimping iron like that ...” Dove leaned back. His fat, white face grinned up at him with exaggerated innocence. “Thank you, Master Johnny. I know I’m not as good as you are. Won’t you please to show me just how I should hold my crimping iron?”9
The second scene comes immediately after it: But he [Johnny Tremain] quieted himself instantly and thanked his master for his kindness. As he walked past the shop, he saw Dove and Dusty hanging idly out of the shop window. They were looking for him. Dove said: “Will Mr. Johnny Tremain be so kind as to fetch us drinking water? Mrs. Lapham says we are too valuable to leave our benches. She told us we were to send you.”10
Surely, these do not sound like the words of a humble, pious, or penitent boy, but rather like the gloating taunts of a jealous and sneaky rival. Dove glories in the fact that although Johnny knows how to do something better than he does, Johnny is unable to work now because of his crippled hand. And these taunts validate Johnny’s wrath rather than show it to be a vain failing, which it might seem were Dove truly as pure as Mr. Lapham said he was. Indeed, the
Reading Johnny Tremain reader understands that Dove’s duplicity is extensive. He weeps before his master as though he is sorry, but mocks Johnny’s injury—which he caused—to his face. Clearly, Dove does not deserve the charitable view that Mr. Lapham has of him. Clearly, too, the philosophy behind the major action of the novel, the revolt of the oppressed colonies against the tyrannical power of England, is not the one Mr. Lapham favors. He expresses this directly a little earlier: “I don’t hold much with these fellows that are always trying to stir up trouble between us and England.... Not reading God’s Word—like their parents did—which tells us to be humble.”11 Forbes does not need to intrude to make the connection between the strands of the plot. It is made implicitly by Mr. Lapham’s words and this domestic situation. The attentive reader will remember Mr. Lapham when revolt is glorified in Johnny Tremain, repeatedly and resoundingly, especially in the yearnings of James Otis, the deeds of Rab Silsbee, and the words of Dr. Warren. And the reader can understand Johnny’s desire for justice to right a personal wrong to be the same sort of feeling that motivates the colonial rebellion. The American revolutionaries, depicted as the models of bravery and heroism in Johnny Tremain, did not forgive the English for what they judged to be tyranny and harm to their interests, nor would America have been forged had they done so. Thus, sections of Johnny Tremain resonate when read in relation to each other, allowing them to serve as commentaries on moral and political issues. This creates overtones that enrich the direct narration of the story with a secondary perspective. This secondary narration involves the reader emotionally in the events and characters of the novel. After Mr. Lapham tells Johnny to forgive Dove, and after Dove
Narrative Technique taunts Johnny and sends him to fetch water, Forbes ends the episode like this: Without a word he [Johnny] went to the back entry, put on the heavy yoke.... “Look sharp, Johnny.” [Dove] “Hey, boy, look sharp.” [Dusty] Giggles. A low whistle. Johnny said nothing.12
Notice that the narrator says nothing, but she has structured her narrative so that, inevitably, the reader cannot help but hear a private, internal voice noting the difference in the quality of the boys and the ineptitude of Mr. Lapham’s judgment. The reader’s indignation can carry over too, so that judging the larger action of the book—the colonial rebellion—his or her sympathy will drift from one situation to another, from Johnny’s abuse to the abuse of the colonists. The result of this carryover will be a growing feeling, not that one must endure oppression or that misfortune is somehow for our own good, but that the British are like Dove and for the colonists, like Johnny, revolt against injustice is more noble than forgiveness.
3 The Plot
TURNING POINTS THE PLOT OF JOHNNY TREMAIN is shaped by a series of turning points, that is, by a series of events—often catastrophes— that redirect and recharge the action of the story and move it to its climax. Each one of these turning points comes as a climax itself to a set of events that have led up to it. The first catastrophic climax is the crippling accident that ruins Johnny’s career as a silversmith. Terrible as the accident is, it is not a surprise. The reader has been made to anticipate something like it by the way Forbes develops the story. Johnny,
The Plot the best apprentice in Mr. Lapham’s shop, skillful and with a love of the craft, is the most diligent worker. Because of Mr. Lapham’s lack of real interest in the business, and because Mrs. Lapham, in her practical way, assigns him the responsibilities that Mr. Lapham neglects, Johnny is given authority over the other boys and over the business, even though he is only an apprentice. Consequently, Dove, who is self-indulgent and slothful, resents Johnny. We are not surprised, even if we are disturbed, that when the opportunity presents itself, Dove undermines Johnny’s authority, sabotaging his work, and causing him a serious injury. Additionally, Mr. Lapham’s repeated warnings about the dangers of pride fill the reader with foreboding. This first turn in the plot—Johnny’s injury and fall from being a favorite, the apprentice whom even the master silversmith Paul Revere appreciates—leads to his being an outcast fit only for unskilled labor. In Mrs. Lapham’s words, he has become as worthless as “a horse with sprung knees.” Johnny becomes bitter and sullen and gives off an air of depravity, which even makes people like Mrs. Lapham, who had previously respected him, suspect his honesty. Merchants in the marketplace, Forbes notes, check their merchandise when he passes by. He is replaced in Mr. Lapham’s silversmith shop by a new man, a silversmith, Mr. Tweedie. Johnny’s resentment is shown by the way he gratuitously insults Mr. Tweedie. Mrs. Lapham, however, now places the hope for her future on Mr. Tweedie. Once she had promised Cilla to Johnny, but now she tries to arrange a marriage between Mr. Tweedie and one of her older daughters in order to keep the business in the family after Mr. Lapham’s death. This section reaches its climax when Johnny decides to go to see Merchant Lyte as his mother told him to do on her
Reading Johnny Tremain deathbed should he ever find himself in a situation where it seemed that even God had forsaken him. Johnny hopes that showing Lyte an antique silver cup his mother gave him will be enough to prove that Johnny is a member of Lyte’s family and that Lyte will help him. Johnny’s encounter with Mr. Lyte marks the second catastrophe of the plot. Rather than acknowledging kinship, Lyte has Johnny arrested on charges that Johnny had stolen the silver cup from him and is now attempting extortion by using it to claim family relationship. What Johnny thought might be his last hope backfires, and he finds himself in a jail cell, awaiting trial and perhaps even hanging. This turn of events opens the way to further development of the story as Forbes begins to weave its several strands together. In order to move the story forward after Johnny’s unlucky encounter with Lyte, Forbes introduces a parallel plot strand in the section of the novel leading up to their meeting. Johnny’s encounter with Rab Silsbee, a printer , who is two years older than Johnny, will prove as lucky as the encounter with Lyte is disastrous. Through Johnny’s encounter with Rab, Forbes will arrange his further connection, after the trial, with the Lyte family. The connection with Rab will also introduce the political aspects of
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #5
The plot of Johnny Tremain is made up of a series of episodes which lead out of and grow into each other. The climax of one episode becomes the event which incites the next episode. Make a map of the plot of Johnny Tremain indicating the catastrophes, the climaxes, and the turning points in the story.
The Plot the plot and provide Johnny with the resources to free himself from his obsession with the Lytes and to establish a new life despite his injury. As Johnny is walking around Boston searching dejectedly for a new apprenticeship (before he resolved in desperation beside his mother’s grave to see Merchant Lyte), he chances upon the office of the Boston Observer, a revolutionary Whig newspaper. There he meets Rab Silsbee, who almost single-handedly puts out the paper. Generous, steady, mature, temperate buts passionate, good-natured, vital, and firm in his devotion to liberty and the revolutionary cause, Rab is friendly with Johnny and shares his lunch with the hungry boy. The way he talks to Johnny conveys that Rab immediately senses that Johnny is a boy he can trust. He has a better sense of Johnny than Johnny has of himself, and Johnny admires Rab immediately too and begins to adopt him as a role model. They form a lasting bond of friendship. This encounter with Rab, in conjunction with the encounter with Mr. Lyte, provides the energy that will define the next turn of the plot . From his jail cell, after Jonathan Lyte has him arrested, Johnny sends word to Rab of his arrest and the reason for it. Rab immediately goes to work. He secures Mrs. Lapham’s two younger daughters, Cilla and Isannah, to testify that Johnny showed them the silver cup more than a month before the date on which Mr. Lyte claimed his was stolen. Rab also obtains the services of a lawyer for Johnny, Josiah Quincy. (An actual Revolutionary War figure, one of the Founding Fathers, Josiah Quincy engaged in unsuccessful diplomacy with the British government on behalf of the Continental Congress in London in 1775.) Through Rab’s efforts, Johnny is acquitted on the charges that Lyte had brought against him.
Reading Johnny Tremain Just as the part of the plot concerning Rab is essential for shaping Johnny’s future, the encounter with the Lytes is essential for uncovering Johnny’s past. In order for Johnny to assume a mature identity and to discover who he is and what he wants his future to be, he must uncover his history, find out who his parents were and, therefore, who he might have been. He can then make the choice himself to decide who he wants to be. Without this resolution, he would always be plagued with vague dreams and resentful desires, imagining what might have been “if only.” The second climactic catastrophe of the plot—Johnny’s arrest and release—places Johnny in Rab’s world but also brings him into further contact with the Lyte household. The story keeps Johnny in touch with the Lytes after the trial by means of his connection to Cilla, Mrs. Lapham’s third daughter, a girl his own age. By means of the trial, too, Forbes brings Rab and Cilla together. Rab’s friendship, perhaps even romantic interest in Cilla, is important for Johnny’s growth. Before Johnny burned his hand, Mrs. Lapham had planned that when they were grown, Johnny and Cilla would marry and Johnny would take over Mr. Lapham’s silversmith business. Although Johnny liked Cilla, she did not really interest him nor did he have great regard for her. Once Johnny was maimed and became useless for Mrs. Lapham’s plans, the marriage plans with Cilla were annulled, and Mrs. Lapham forbade the two to see each other. Nevertheless, they sometimes met when Johnny delivered the Observer and passed by the well where Cilla went to draw water. After Johnny’s trial, Cilla—whose testimony, that Johnny had shown her the silver cup more than a month before Mr. Lyte claimed it was stolen, is the crux of Johnny’s defense—and her younger sister, Isannah, begin
The Plot to live in the Lyte mansion. Forbes accomplishes this connection by means of some pre-trial business Mr. Lyte undertakes. In order to influence the outcome of the trial by ensuring that none of the Laphams testify in Johnny’s favor, Mr. Lyte visits the Laphams before the trial and orders “a dozen silver spoons and a tea caddy” and gives the promise of more business, as “a bribe,” “if all [goes] well.” Appreciating the importance of his business, Mrs. Lapham promises to keep her family away from the courthouse, ensuring that there will be no testimony on Johnny’s behalf. (Rab succeeded, nevertheless, in getting Cilla to testify.) While accompanying Mr. Lyte during his visit to the Laphams, his daughter Lavinia Lyte—a haughty beauty and the fashion leader of Boston—notices Isannah, the youngest Lapham daughter. Isannah is a delicately beautiful child with ravishing blond hair and an awareness of her own magnetism, which she is hardly reluctant to exploit in order to win admiration and gifts, like candy, from passing strangers. Determined to have the girl as her pet, Lavinia offers to take Isannah to live with the Lyte’s and raise her in luxury. The offer appeals greatly to Isannah and to her mother as well. But Isannah insists that Cilla, who has always served and cared for her, go with her to the Lyte mansion. Lavinia agrees to give Cilla a place in the kitchen helping Mrs. Bessie, the housekeeper. By these two plot devices, Cilla’s testimony and her placement in the Lyte household, Forbes arranges that Johnny will continue to see Cilla and that he will stay in touch with the Lyte family and its fortunes. However, before his encounter with Lavinia Lyte, who reveals his mother’s story and, therefore, who he is, there is the story of Johnny’s life in revolutionary Boston to tell. This strand of the plot also contributes to Johnny’s sense of
Reading Johnny Tremain his own identity. Johnny’s participation in the Boston Tea Party provides the climax for this section of the story, a moment when a defining personal event and a defining historical event merge. After Johnny is acquitted, because he is unable to find work and has no place to sleep, Rab offers him a job delivering the Boston Observer and shares his living space in the loft above the print shop with him. But delivering the Boston Observer is merely a front for Johnny’s real work, which is delivering messages for the Sons of Liberty (a secret revolutionary organization, also known as the Boston Observers) and acting as a spy for the group, picking up whatever information he can from the British stationed at the inn near the newspaper office. Johnny is in a particularly good position to spy on the British because, as the courier for the Boston Observer, he has a horse and is free at the beginning of each week. The English often use him to run their errands and deliver messages for them. Living with Rab, delivering the Boston Observer, and hearing such men as James Otis, Paul Revere, and Doctor Joseph Warren speak, Johnny, who had never paid much attention to the conflict between the colonies and England, quickly becomes a Whig himself. He participates in the Boston Tea Party, helps a British soldier desert, secures a musket for Rab, and at the end of the novel is himself preparing to go into battle. At the same time, through his continuing friendship with Cilla, Johnny stays in touch with the Lytes, and on the night that the Revolutionary War begins and the Lytes flee their country house for what they mistakenly think will be the safety of British-occupied Boston, Johnny helps Cilla clear out the house. It is then that he finds reference to his mother and father in the Lyte family Bible. Oddly, and mistakenly, it reports that they both died shortly
The Plot before Johnny was born. In an encounter with Lavinia Lyte soon after, she reveals his history to him, confirming that his mother was indeed a Lyte and that only his father had died when the Bible entry reports the death of both his parents, and that he, Johnny, is entitled to a share of the Lyte family wealth and property. This revelation proves to be anti-climactic. The historical events in which Johnny has become involved offer a brighter, more attractive, democratic future than the aristocratic past, even if Johnny now has a claim to wealth, rank, and property. It is, after all, an uncertain claim at best given the tumultuous times. Rather than restoring Johnny to his past, his discovery releases him from it. His only concerns now are the success of the colonial rebellion and finding Rab, who has joined the Minutemen at the battle of Lexington and whom he fears may be injured. In that first battle of the war, Rab is fatally wounded. Thus Rab, not the Lytes, represents Johnny’s past and heritage, pointing the way to his future. At the climax of the story, Johnny pledges himself not to the Lyte family’s fortune but to the fortunes of the American future. Before Rab’s death, because he was nursing a prideful self-pity,
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #6
There are things that happen in any story which the author chooses not to narrate although we know they happen. There are many such events in Johnny Tremain: Dusty runs off to sea; the older Lapham daughters get married; Pumpkin gets caught as a deserter by the British; Mrs. Lapham marries Mr. Tweedie; Rab pays court to Cilla. Choose such an event and narrate it as if it were a scene in the novel.
Reading Johnny Tremain Johnny had stubbornly refused to let Doctor Warren see his injured hand. After Rab’s death, he allows Doctor Warren to see the hand, and the doctor tells him that the injury is not as bad as it had seemed. He says the midwife who had treated Johnny’s hand did not position it for proper healing, and the thumb is immobilized only because of scar tissue. By a simple surgical operation, Doctor Warren says that he can restore to Johnny the use of his hand, if not well enough to work as a silversmith then at least well enough to fire a musket. The musket Johnny will fire, in fact, is the one he had procured for Rab from the unfortunate English soldier Pumpkin. On his deathbed, Rab bequeaths it to Johnny. The climax of Johnny’s story is that he becomes whole. A sign of that wholeness is that he dedicates and, perhaps, sacrifices his whole self to the effort to liberate the colonies from England and make the American nation whole. The end of the novel brings together the climax of Johnny’s personal story to discover who he is and find a place for himself in the world and the climax of the American colonial story of rebellion against Britain and the establishment of a new national identity.
FOR A RELATIVELY SHORT BOOK, Johnny Tremain contains
a rich array of characters. That they are strong, recognizable, and well drawn does not mean that they are not also flat. Each one is, for the most part, defined by a particular characteristic. Mr. Lapham is defined by his conservative piety; Mrs. Lapham, by her practicality; Dove, by his swinishness; Rab, by his competence; Cilla, by her nurturing and devotion; Lavinia Lyte, by her haughtiness; Jonathan Lyte, by his sly, unscrupulous behavior; Mr. Tweedie, by his vanity; Bessie, the Lyte’s housekeeper, by her motherliness; Johnny, by his boldness. The characters
Reading Johnny Tremain serve to advance the action of the plot because of the particular characteristics they embody. Whether the characters in Johnny Tremain attract or repel us, they do not become complex human beings with the kind of psychological depth that defines real people. The degree to which the characters, both historical and fictional, are interesting is determined by how important they are in advancing the action of the plot, how colorful a role they play, and how significant they are for Johnny Tremain’s story. JOHNNY TREMAIN Johnny Tremain, 14 years old at the start of the novel and apprenticed to Mr. Lapham, a silversmith in colonial Boston, is industrious, talented, imaginative, and responsible. He is also, as is appropriate, the most richly-drawn and the most complex character in the book. Unlike the other characters, he has an unresolved past life, which affects his present condition, and he grows and changes during the course of the story because of what he undergoes. At the end of the story, he has become a young man with a firm purpose facing an unsure future with determination, courage, and the will to make a better world. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Johnny’s character for a reader is the matter of his pride. Mr. Lapham accuses him of being proud, and Cilla and Isannah tease him about it, but they seem to do it just for the fun of making him mad. That Johnny is proud of his work and of his role in the Lapham establishment is undoubtedly true. And that he harbors fantasies about being a secret member of the Lyte family is also true, but in the end he really is a member of the Lyte family. He cherishes that attachment, however, more as a connection to his dead mother than as ambition
Characters for himself. Whether, in fact, his pride is either censurable or arrogant, as Mr. Lapham asserts, is far from certain. Forbes gives a good indication of Johnny’s character and a rather clear way to determine the quality of his pride in the episode with Paul Revere, which follows soon after Mr. Lapham’s chastisement. Using a narrative strategy of contrasting scenes, she allows us implicitly to realize that Mr. Lapham sees things incorrectly when he chastises Johnny for pride by showing us how Johnny acts. Johnny goes to see Paul Revere about a problem he is having designing the handles for a sugar bowl. Johnny quickly understands what Revere has shown him. The master silversmith, seeing Johnny’s skill and intelligence, offers to take Johnny on as his apprentice. He offers to buy Johnny’s unexpired time as an apprentice from Mr. Lapham, even if he must “pay a bit more than is usual.” This certainly is a compliment, and it is something Johnny could be rightly proud of, but Johnny responds, “I couldn’t leave the Laphams, sir. If it wasn’t for me, nothing would ever get done. They’d just about starve.” Paul Revere responds, “I see. You’re right.”13 And Johnny is right. Readers have already seen for themselves that what he tells Paul Revere is exactly the case. He is not boasting, he is being accurate. Rather than being called proud, Johnny ought to be called responsible. He is also honorable as well, considerate of the Lapham family’s welfare and not opportunistic. After Johnny injures his hand and loses his ability to work as a silversmith, and thereby his ability to keep the Lapham shop going, he loses the esteem that he had once enjoyed. He wanders around Boston unsuccessfully looking for work, feeling resentful and being morose. His last hope is that the wealthiest man in Boston, Merchant
Reading Johnny Tremain Jonathan Lyte, will acknowledge him as kin when he sees the silver cup his mother gave Johnny at her death. He cherishes this hope with an innocent simplicity because his mother told him on her deathbed that Lyte is actually his grand-uncle. Nevertheless, Johnny is a shrewd judge of people. Despite his hope, he suspects Mr. Lyte of being the ogre he actually is. Approaching Lyte is partially Johnny’s way of approaching his mother when confronting her is impossible. JONATHAN LYTE When Johnny visits Merchant Jonathan Lyte’s office, it is clear why his mother advised him to be wary of Lyte and only approach him as a very last resort. Lyte turns out to be a selfish, sarcastic, devious, even unscrupulous man. Rather than acknowledging or investigating Johnny’s claim, he has Johnny arrested for the theft of the silver cup. Then he attempts to influence the course of Johnny’s trial by bribing witnesses. Needless to say, he is a Tory and opposed to the colonial struggle for liberty. He represents the love of raw, unchecked power. However, he shows no depth of personality, nor is he a study in the psychology of greed and selfishness. Lyte is a prop of the plot, and he is the same man the last time we see him as he was the first, although in poorer health, as if he represents power in its decline. His purpose in the novel is to threaten Johnny and to frustrate his early hopes and possible great expectations. He represents a dying class, cruel and self-indulgent. The only suggestion of complexity Forbes allows him is that his daughter is devoted to him. LAVINIA LYTE Lavinia Lyte’s devotion to her father seems to reflect her own similar willfulness, possessiveness, and vanity rather
Characters than to suggest some hard-to-see goodness buried inside to Lyte. Lavinia minimizes her father’s faults by saying he “implied” in court testimony against Johnny that there were only four silver cups like the one Johnny’s mother gave him, when, in fact, Lyte knew there were five. Johnny retorts, “He didn’t imply it. He swore it in court.”14 But Lavinia brushes him off, saying, “Oh, well—what of it? Let me talk.” Like her father, Lavinia is self-absorbed, vain, and haughty. She is beautiful, with dark hair and pale skin, but there is a flaw in her beauty, a vertical line above the bridge of her nose, which represents a flaw in her character, too. Like her father, she is a figure designed to decorate the colonial canvas that Forbes paints and is a prop for the resolution of the plot. Forbes uses her to reveal the secret of his past to Johnny. Lavinia also represents the unattainable, glamorous world of the very rich, and for much of the novel, Johnny is fascinated by her beauty and her position. She is the opposite of Cilla, who seems dull and ordinary to him, often just because she is earthbound and responsible, takes care of her sister, and does her chores without complaining. Johnny is never blind to Cilla’s virtues, but he is not fascinated by her. Part of the rite of passage to wholeness for Johnny is to lose his fascination with Lavinia and to begin to appreciate Cilla. After Lavinia tells Johnny his mother’s story, he asks her, “What relationship are you to me? What ought I call you?” She replies with a laugh, “Mercy, I don’t know. What am I? Why I suppose I’m a sort of cousin—but you’d better call me Aunt. Aunt Lavinia.” By her assuming the title of aunt rather than cousin, she shows, again, her haughtiness. And with the recognition of kinship, “the queer hold she had on [Johnny] for a year snapped.”15
Reading Johnny Tremain RAB SILSBEE Rab Silsbee’s role in the story is to help Johnny’s transition from a boy who could not see beyond his own interests to a young man who can interact with people without anger or resentment and who is guided by a vision of a better, more just world. Rab introduces Johnny to a way of life Johnny had not known before. Whether as a successful apprentice or as a desperate out-of-work lad, Johnny’s chief focus had been narrow and predominantly on himself. Either he was proud of his skill and eager to show his accomplishment or he was disconsolate at his bad luck and just as eager to broadcast his misery by the way he went around with his bad hand stuffed in his pocket, his hat set on his head in an arrogant slouch, and his sharp tongue. In Rab, Johnny met someone who was genuinely interested in other people and seemed to give little thought to himself. Rab was a willing teacher and, when it came to how to behave toward others, he had a practical wisdom. He was able to show Johnny his faults without recrimination, and Rab influenced Johnny’s behavior for the better. He made Johnny aware, for example, that his petty outbursts of anger at people who irritated him accomplished nothing and caused them to feel animosity for him. A model of composure and extraordinary competence, Rab is quiet but not withdrawn, self-contained but not introverted, confident but not arrogant, generous but not fawning, and helpful but not intrusive. Like the other characters in Johnny Tremain, Rab’s sole purpose in the novel is to affect Johnny’s life. He opens a world of opportunity for Johnny, gives him work to do and a place to live, and shows him something bigger than himself to live for—the cause of liberty.
Characters Rab is drawn with more depth than many of the other characters, which gives him a sense of mystery. Vitality is embedded inside him. Beneath his rock-steady stability, there is an impulsive energy, which Johnny sees emerge when Rab dances at a country celebration and becomes the center of attention for all the girls. There is a similar impulsiveness that Johnny discovers when he sees Rab fight a butcher and his apprentices after they have threatened to butcher a pet cat belonging to the boys at the Boston Observer. He leaves them bloody, although Rab himself hasn’t even a scratch. Rab, however, becomes entirely impulsive, even intemperate, regarding one overwhelming desire—to own a musket. He gets in trouble twice while trying to secure one. On one occasion, he touches one of the English muskets piled up in an encampment and is knocked down by the blow from the flat side of a British officer’s sword. Later he makes a deal with a farmer to acquire a musket, but the farmer betrays him and informs the British. The British do not hold Rab, however, insultingly referring to his youth when they release him, telling him that he has no business with a musket and only needs a pop gun. Johnny, however, finally succeeds in getting him a musket from a British deserter whom he helps. After Rab is fatally wounded at the Battle of Lexington, he is, once more, calm and even stoical on his deathbed. Rab serves as the first boy Johnny encounters who is superior to himself, someone he can admire and model himself upon. Rab’s fiery underpinning shows, too, that he is like Johnny and that his calm surface is not a matter of disposition but of discipline. He has mastered the same sort of impulsiveness that Johnny has not yet mastered, yet he is always generous in his superiority. Even when Johnny
Reading Johnny Tremain is at his lowest, Rab does not lord it over him or pity him— he treats him with honest regard. The power of Rab’s influence over Johnny even extends to how Johnny regards Cilla. Because Rab takes an interest in Cilla and seems to be courting her, Johnny begins to esteem her and see beyond the domestic familiarity that had rendered her somewhat dreary to him. DOVE Far from being worthy of admiration, Dove is, in every way, Rab’s opposite and Johnny’s inferior. Just as Rab is a positive ideal for Johnny and guides him out of his troubled period, Dove serves as a negative example and is the cause of Johnny’s fall from fortune. Dove represents exactly what Johnny does not want to be. He is lazy, cowardly, covetous, treacherous, sly, and incompetent. Forbes makes him contemptible, and Johnny has contempt for him. From the start, when he causes Johnny’s injury, Dove is shown to be envious, malicious, and self-serving. Forbes notes early in the story that Dove really admires Johnny as well as envies him, but that Johnny’s superior airs alienate him. And later she says that Dove was hostile because Johnny had treated him scornfully, but we do not actually see that occur. Throughout the novel, in every situation, Forbes shows Dove in the worst light possible. Johnny discovers him during the Boston Tea Party, for example, pocketing large amounts of tea instead of throwing it overboard. Stealing like that turns a visionary protest into a selfish crime. Dove has no dedication to the cause of liberty or loyalty to others. Even after Johnny is friendly to him, Dove repays Johnny’s kindness with meanness. Dove sides with the British and works for the British commander, Major Smith,
Characters as a stable boy. Nevertheless, Johnny protects him from the other boys working at the stables, who find him easy to torment and beat up because of his cowardliness. Even so, Dove shows himself disloyal and treacherous: he informs the British that Johnny is a spy, and they stop sending him on errands. Early in the story, Mr. Lapham tells Johnny that Dove is stupid, and Forbes, in presenting him, never gives the reader reason to challenge that description. In fact, time and again, she shows that the form his stupidity takes is malicious. MR. LAPHAM AND MRS. LAPHAM (HIS WIDOWED DAUGHTER-IN-LAW) Once a great silversmith, Mr. Lapham, Johnny’s master, having grown old, pays less attention to his workshop than to reading the Bible and contemplating the end of his days. He is a stern moralist and is more concerned that his apprentices adhere to his religious fundamentalism than that they learn to become excellent craftsmen and responsible tradesmen. Each morning, he makes the boys read passages from the Bible addressing what he sees as particular character flaws in each boy. But there is only one scene in which this is shown, and Johnny is the boy being chastised. Mr. Lapham seems to be more comfortable with, more accepting of, what he calls Dove’s stupidity than with what he sees as Johnny’s pride. And he is blind to the malice in Dove’s character, which he calls piety. Mr. Lapham gives Johnny verses to read concerning the sin of pride and the fall that must follow it. He requires Johnny to “swear from this day onward to walk more humbly and modestly before God and man.”16 But Mr. Lapham does nothing to chastise or correct Dove’s slothfulness. Despite his talk of humility, Mr. Lapham seems not
Reading Johnny Tremain to recognize that in his treatment of Johnny he is exhibiting a great deal of stiff-necked pride or that for Dove to endeavor to teach Johnny a lesson is proudly presumptuous. In the blindness of his piety, Mr. Lapham ignores the circumstances that have brought out what he sees as Johnny’s pride. Besides having a healthy pride in his own workmanship and an interest in doing the best work he can and not being satisfied with work that is less than excellent, Johnny has been given the responsibility of running the workshop. Mrs. Lapham, old Mr. Lapham’s widowed daughter-in-law, actually encourages Johnny to direct the other boys. When he does, he speaks to them in the same rough way that she does. Mrs. Lapham also directs Johnny to intervene when Mr. Lapham is indecisive about a commission because Mr. Lapham has grown lax and unconcerned with the essential business of supporting the family. Johnny takes command, encouraged by Mrs. Lapham, in a workshop with a disorganized and forgetful master and incompetent and lazy apprentices. Johnny is the way he is because Mr. Lapham is the way he is. And Mr. Lapham seems to be relieved when Johnny takes over his responsibilities in the shop. Forbes presents a complete picture of the way the Lapham household functions and the mixed message Johnny is given in a few short paragraphs when John Hancock comes to place an order: “But you have not as yet said whether or not you can make my sugar basin for me—and have it done by Monday next? Of course I thought first of you—because you made the original. But there are other silversmiths. Perhaps you would rather not undertake ...” Mr. Lapham was in a study. “I’ve got the time, the
Characters materials, and the boys to help. I can get right at it. But honestly, sir ... I don’t know. Perhaps I haven’t got the skill any more. I’ve not done anything so fine for thirty years. I’m not what I used to be, and ...” Although neither of the two men could see the door leading from the hall into the shop, Johnny could. There was Mrs. Lapham in her morning apron, her face purple with excitement, and all four girls crowded about her listening, gesturing at Johnny. “Say yes,” all five faces ... mouthed at him. “Yes ... yes ... yes.” So they had forgotten morning prayers, had they? Wanted him to take charge. [Johnny thought] “We can do it, Mr. Hancock.” [Johnny says] “Bless me,” exclaimed the gentleman, not accustomed to apprentices who settled matters while their masters pondered. “Yes, sir. And you shall have it delivered at your own house a week from today, seven o’clock Monday morning. And it’s going to be just exactly right.” Mr. Lapham looked at Johnny gratefully.... He was relieved that Johnny had stepped in and settled matters.17
THE HISTORICAL FIGURES When real historical figures like Paul Revere, James Otis, Doctor Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams, Josiah Quincy, and John Hancock appear, Forbes expects us to know most of them beforehand and what each is noted for. These men are historical images before they are characters, and they must be recognizable as recreations of their images. As an ensemble, they must represent the revolutionary spirit of the age, which they do by actions such as the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s ride and by the speeches of James Otis, Sam Adams, and Doctor Warren.
Reading Johnny Tremain In addition to their historical identities, they are imbued with a few personal traits. Paul Revere is friendly and companionable, a master silversmith and devoted family man with a good sense of humor. John Hancock is a wealthy merchant with a delicate, aristocratic sensibility but a proud democratic spirit. Sam Adams is a political leader, strategist, and cagey rabble-rousing speaker. He seeks out confrontation with the British over their grievances rather than trying to find compromises and solutions. James Otis is a tragic figure, an eloquent and spellbinding speaker with a burning sense of liberty but subject to fits of madness due to a beating by a British agent. Because of his madness, although he is esteemed, he is also shunned by his fellow revolutionaries. Doctor Warren is a brave and decent man who attends to the wounded at battles as a physician and also fights himself. His devotion to science and to liberty are shown as two aspects of the same impulse—a dedication to progress and to improving the condition of humankind. CILLA AND ISANNAH LAPHAM Cilla Lapham reflects the subordinate role of women in the 1770s as well as in the 1940s. She is necessary to the story, but as a girl, she is part of the background rather than a participant in the action. Despite her intelligence and talent (she draws very well), she is uneducated. She has not been taught to read and write. She is not, as girls were not allowed, an apprentice learning a craft like the boys. She is expected to grow up to do nothing more than the chores of a housewife. Unlike the other characters in the novel, her role in the story depends entirely on her place in Johnny’s story. The other characters we have examined, even when they are props of the plot or their actions and characteristics serve as part of Johnny’s story, nevertheless have lives
Characters of their own, independent of Johnny, and he enters into their worlds. This is so whether we are thinking of Mr. Lyte, Mr. Lapham, Rab, Dove, or any of the historical characters. But Cilla does not provide a world for Johnny; rather, she lives on the fringes of his world. Cilla’s part in the story is to be the girl who admires Johnny and waits for him. She is pretty, steady, devoted, patient, humble, and nurturing. She amuses herself at the beginning of the book by designing a beautiful, identifying trademark for Johnny to stamp on the silver crafts he will make when he is a master silversmith. Toward the end of the book, she imagines what her first name sounds like with his last name attached, and she likes the sound of “Cilla Tremain.” She is strong and spunky, particularly in her ability to subordinate her interests to other people’s interests. When she works for the Lytes, for example, she risks going back to their country house after they have fled in order to retrieve their silver. They have not told her to—it is just in her makeup to think first of others. Besides being the girl who admires Johnny and waits for
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #7
Pairs of characters in a novel are often used to show contrasting attitudes or values. Cilla, for example, embodies concern for others, whereas Isannah embodies concern only for herself. How many instances of pairings can you find in Johnny Tremain that establish contrasting values or attitudes? For each such paring you discover, write a paragraph describing what is contrasted and what significance it has for the story as a whole.
Reading Johnny Tremain him, her only other role in Johnny Tremain is to take care of her younger sister, Isannah, who is beautiful, vain, and capricious. Isannah becomes Lavinia Lyte’s protégée and decided to go to London with Lavinia as the war begins. There, Isannah will be raised amidst wealth and finery and with the dream of becoming a glamorous actress. Unlike her sister, there is no glamour attached to Cilla; she is just an upright Yankee spirit with solid reliability. MINOR CHARACTERS There are a host of minor characters in Johnny Tremain. Each of them stands out because of Forbe’s skill at drawing recognizable types. Lydia, the black maid at the Afric Queen, the inn where the British are stationed, helps Johnny. She schemes with him, while hanging the laundry, to make a sheet flap and frighten his skittish horse, Goblin, so that Lieutenant Stranger will not want to take it for his commander to ride. She also gives him a torn-up letter from a wastebasket, which may reveal strategic British war plans. But as a character, she is purely a caricature. Lydia, John Hancock’s servant, and Sam Adam’s maid, all slaves, are the only black characters in the novel. Whether or not it was Forbes direct intention, they remind the reader
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #8
Choose three of the historical figures who play a significant role in Johnny Tremain. After research of your own, write a character sketch for each of them including their major accomplishments and how they have come to be perceived by future generations.
Characters that the idea of liberty cherished by the American colonists during the founding of the American Republic did not include Africans. The English Lieutenant Stranger is presented as an honest, intelligent, good fellow, friendly to Johnny. He treats Johnny as an equal when they are on horseback and he is teaching Johnny to jump hurdles, but he is aware of class distinction and their opposing loyalties at other times. He is bluff and hardy, and a fair-minded man. Pumpkin, another British soldier, is of a lower class than Stranger. Rather than being loyal to the idea of England’s rule or proud of himself as a soldier, he longs for the freedom and autonomy that being a farmer in the New World can offer. He is simple, good-hearted, and a victim of the war. Pumpkin is shot as a deserter. Mrs. Bessie is Mr. Lyte’s housekeeper. Although she is a Whig and helps the revolutionary cause, she also remains loyal to her employer and warns him of an impending mob attack in time for him to escape to safety. Nevertheless, she is not presented as an example of a person torn by divided loyalties but rather as an upright person whose devotion to a cause does not blind her to the humanity of the opponents. Like Lydia, she is a stereotype: the independent but loyal family servant.
5 The Setting
THE PHYSICAL SETTING ONE OF THE GREATEST strengths of Johnny Tremain, what has made it such an enduring book, is that its several elements—plot, character, and narrative style—are all tightly woven together. They are unified and interdependent. None of these elements is more important to the reader’s sense of immediacy, however, than the setting, which gives a strong sensory quality to the book, contributing to the experience of historical immediacy that the reader must feel if the book is to succeed. Foremost in conveying this immediacy is the visual intensity of
The Setting the book. Forbes presents a picture of colonial Boston that allows the reader to see its wharves and waterfronts, counting houses, markets, and shops, the cramped attics and grand mansions, the open fields and high steeples. Here is a picture of Boston early in the morning: [Johnny] walked down Fish Street to Ann [Street], crossed Dock Square with Faneuil Hall on his left. It was market day. He picked his way about the farm carts, the piles of whitish green cabbages, baskets of yellow corn, rows of plump, pale, plucked turkeys; orange pumpkins, country cheeses.... Without heeding anyone, he crossed Dock Square and in a moment’s time stood beside the brick Town House at the head of King Street. The lower floor of the Town House was an open promenade and here every day the merchants gathered.... From where he sat on the steps of the Town House, he could look the brief length of King Street which quickly and imperceptibly turned into Long Wharf, running for half a mile into the sea. It was the only wharf in Boston larger than Hancock’s. There was not another wharf in all America so large, so famous, so rich. ... one side was built up solidly with counting houses, warehouses, sail lofts, stores. The other side was left open for the ships. Already sailors, porters, riggers, and such were at work.... then the clerks began to arrive, counting-house doors were unlocked, warehouses were unchained. At last the merchants came, some striding down King Street, rosy-faced, double-chinned, known and greeted by everyone, apparently knowing and greeting everyone in return. Some came in chaises, gigs. Some had sour, gimleteyed faces; some had not yet lost the rolling gait of sea captains.18
Forbes places the reader inside the action, as she does
Reading Johnny Tremain throughout the book, by creating the sense of movement through a real and bustling city with its own rhythms rather than presenting the city as so much artificial scenery. The setting, as it is integrated into the description of the Boston Tea Party, for example, is part of the action. Images of back alleys, backyard fences, wharves, and waterfronts do not only provide a visual world, but add to the excitement of the action: [Johnny] flew up Salt Lane in the opposite direction from the waterfront. Now they were flinging themselves down back alleys (faster and faster). Once they had a glimpse of a blacksmith shop and other “Indians” clamoring for soot for their faces. Now slipping over a back-yard fence, now at last on the waterfront, Sea Street, Flounder Alley. They were running so fast it seemed more like a dream of flying than reality. The day had started with rain and then there had been clouds, but as they reached Griffin’s Wharf the moon, full and white, broke free of the clouds. The three ships, the silent hundreds gathering upon the wharf, all were dipped in the pure white light. The crowds were becoming thousands, and there was not one there but guessed what was to be done, and all approved.19
We have already seen in the opening passage of the novel how Forbes creates a sense of an entire landscape by fluidly shifting from one scene to the next, creating a visual intensity that makes reading feel like watching a movie and involves the landscape itself in the action. The same cinematic movement is evident here. Johnny Tremain is also full of odors and textures. In Mr. Lapham’s workshop,
The Setting Johnny could smell hemp and spices, tar and salt water, the sun drying fish. He liked his wharf. He sat at his own bench, before him the innumerable tools of his trade. The tools fitted into his strong, thin hands: his hands fitted the tools.20
Forbes puts us inside the world of the story by surrounding us with the smells that Johnny experiences at his work bench. Then she switches from the sense of smell to the sense of touch: she focuses on his hands, strong and thin, and gives the reader the feel of the tools in those hands. The description of a tactile sensation also suggests to the reader the immediacy of Johnny’s connection to his trade. Similarly, when Dove enters the workshop, back from fetching water, his carelessness is given physical reality by the description of him: “The water had slopped over his breeches, down his legs.”21 Sounds help bring the reader into the action as well. The British forces are presented by the sounds they make and the colonial resistance is rendered by sound, too. Here is how the British are portrayed going off to battle: The drums throbbed. The heavy dragon marched on its thousands of feet, and now above the drums came the shrilling of the fifes.22
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #9
Johnny Tremain derives much of its excitement from being set in colonial Boston and because it describes events immediately leading up to the American Revolutionary War. Write a synopsis of the story told in Johnny Tremain but set in another time period and in another place. Use as many words as you need.
Reading Johnny Tremain And this is how the resistance of the colonists is conveyed: ... [O]ne man began to whistle and the next took it up and the next and the next. The whistling was shrill as a fife.... “Yankee Doodle” filled the darkness as the eerie shrilling of the hylas [a species of frogs] fill black swamps in spring.23
THE HISTORICAL SETTING Johnny Tremain does not rely only on a geographical location for its setting. It is set inside the historical context of a series of transforming events and its action occurs amidst the conflict of clashing beliefs. Johnny Tremain is set at a critical time in history, not just in the history of the New World, but in the history of Europe and in the history of ideas, especially ideas about the place of “Man” in the world and the nature, purpose, and power of governments. The late eighteenth century was a time of social, political, and intellectual upheaval. The ideas that had shaped human institutions were being challenged and reformulated, and the institutions themselves, as a consequence, were seldom without great strife and violence. The religious factions that evolved after the Reformation of the late sixteenth century had fragmented the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, but none of them attained the universal power of the Catholic Church. With the weakening of the Church, the authority of the State, of absolute Monarchy, was also giving way to new challenges. Reason, science, and dissenting and populist faiths all contributed to a developing belief in human dignity and natural rights. So did the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke (who were reconceiving the nature
The Setting and the role of government), the scientific discoveries of Isaac Newton, and the teachings of religious mystics such as Jacob Boehme (who believed that God and nature are one) and Emanuel Swedenborg (who experienced visions which made him believe that the mind and body are one). These beliefs became crucial in changing the way people thought about government, human beings, and the arrangement of society. The new ways of perceiving the rights that people ought to have, which these currents of thought introduced, are clearly represented in Johnny Tremain. When James Otis speaks of the plight of French peasants and German soldiers, he is reflecting the spirit of the times. In the conversation between Doctor Warren and Johnny, when Doctor Warren first notices Johnny’s bad hand, Forbes presents the conflict between the scientific impulse to improve things and the superstitious religious attitude of resignation. Doctor Warren asks Johnny about the cause of his crippled hand by asking: “Was it God’s will it should be so?” He means, Were you born that way? Johnny answers “Yes.”24 But Johnny means it was God’s punishment, inflicted upon him for working on the Sabbath day. As long as Johnny believes that, he remains, even as he joins
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #10
Write about an incident that happened to you at school, at home, at your job, on a playground, at a party, etc., and describe the setting as completely and as vividly as possible in order to show how the setting itself played a part in what happened.
Reading Johnny Tremain the Whigs, partially in the world of religious resignation that Mr. Lapham accepts. Doctor Warren does not accept things as they are—had Johnny’s injury been a birth defect rather than the result of an accident, he still would want to operate. He points out that such a circumstance would require a more difficult operation, but he does not accept the handicap. When Johnny allows Doctor Warren to perform the surgery, he completes his journey from the old world view to the new. And it is at that moment, too, that he gives himself to the revolutionary vision of America.
6 Themes and Symbols
ISSUES WHAT MAKES A STORY INTERESTING? The plot, the characters, the way the story is told, the setting? All these elements certainly contribute, yet something else is necessary. For a story to affect us, it must be about something important universally, something besides the immediate events of the story itself. Think, for example, of simple, classic children’s stories, such as A.A. Milne’s stories about Winnie the Pooh. They are “about” things fundamentally important to children (and, in many cases, to grown-ups, too): getting stuck, getting
Reading Johnny Tremain lost, breaking something, having an accident, making a mistake, searching for something exciting, and being hungry. As specific and detailed as a story is, it also expresses an idea or several ideas. Sometimes the ideas may even conflict with each other, presenting fundamental conflicts in values that people always must confront. In its simplest form, as in Aesop’s fables, the idea embedded in a story is called a “moral,” which tells us how we ought to be or act. Not all stories, however, have morals, but they do have themes. A theme is an issue, the statement of a problem. Even if stories do not come to conclusions about a theme, they examine the various aspects of an issue. Because issues and ideas are implicit in stories, they present readers with both surface content and underlying content. Johnny Tremain is not only about two years in the life of Johnny in the period leading up to the American Revolutionary War. That is its surface content. The story is also a way to present situations to suggest universal and timeless issues, such as liberty, oppression, obedience, rebellion, and social relationships, and to examine those themes. These issues constitute an underlying content. They give a story its depth and make it relevant to our lives, even if on the surface the story seems remote from us. Johnny Tremain, after all, is a story about growing up and the problems and challenges everybody must face growing up. The human nature it explores and the challenges it presents—although they are presented in the context of the 1770s in colonial New England—do not differ in their essence from those of any other era. The accidents or particulars—the time, culture, circumstances,
Themes and Symbols and technologies—differ, but the issues do not. Problems of freedom, pride, self-regard, obedience and defiance, war, and conflicting values always exist. Although we do not live in colonial Boston and are not apprentice silversmiths, we all encounter personal misfortunes and must cope with them. Whether at home, in school, or at work, like Johnny Tremain, we all must deal with experiences of pride and humiliation, with conflicts between obeying and defying. Like the citizens of colonial Boston, often in our own lives, we must choose between conflicting loyalties, between conflicting interests, and between fighting and compromising. And if we choose to fight, we must, like the people in Johnny Tremain, choose which side we will fight on and how we will carry on our fights. Like Johnny, we all confront problems of identity. Who are we? Whom do we wish to be? What do we gain by our choices? What do we lose? We do not live in the world Johnny lived in, with its historical and political challenges, but all times impose historical and political challenges that force us to decide how we are going to involve ourselves in the great questions of our time: war and peace, liberty and tyranny, government control, justice, and the role of religion.
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #11
One of the themes of Johnny Tremain is growing up by undergoing and overcoming various forms of adversity. Reflecting on your own life, describe a situation that might have been crippling in some way but that, through your own exertion and the assistance of others, you turned to your advantage and overcame.
Reading Johnny Tremain PRIDE AND LIBERTY One of the themes, or issues, Johnny Tremain deals with is pride. The novel does not preach to the reader like Mr. Lapham, who tells Johnny that “pride goes before a fall.” Rather, Johnny Tremain examines kinds of pride and evaluates them. It presents various attitudes toward pride and the possible consequences of pride. Starting with Mr. Lapham’s opinion that Johnny is full of pride, Forbes presents pride in many of its aspects as she develops the plot and the characters of the novel. Johnny is proud of his craftsmanship, but, as we have seen, it is a reasonable and responsible pride. He is an excellent craftsman, and he is loyal to his master and his master’s family. To understand the nature of Johnny’s pride, we may examine the comparison Forbes makes between him and Dove regarding pride. Although Dove is never accused of being proud, he is shown to be full of himself from the very beginning of the book. What are laziness, indolence, swaggering behavior, selfishness, and unreflecting selfsatisfaction—all traits Dove exhibits throughout the novel—but manifestations of pride? In him, pride is an ingrained personality trait, not a response to some ability or virtue of his. Mrs. Lapham and Cilla are both proud of Isannah’s beauty, and Isannah is defined entirely by pride in herself as an object for others to value. Her pride is matched by Lavinia Lyte’s haughty pride, which is full of disdain for others. When Lavinia does show admiration, as she does for Isannah, it is only an expression of her desire to possess the child’s beauty and sparkle for herself. For Lavinia, Isannah is a living trinket with which she can adorn herself, a proud possession to show off to others. Dove’s overbearing, selfish pride, Isannah’s pride in her
Themes and Symbols own power to manipulate others, Lavinia Lyte’s icy haughtiness, and Jonathan Lyte’s pride, which shows itself as contempt for any will but his own, are all examples of pride as a base human characteristic. But Forbes also shows us another kind of pride. Johnny’s responsible pride in his real accomplishments is but one example. It is a worthy kind of pride, and even necessary for free, self-governing, selfreliant citizens in a budding democracy. That is evident from the historical champions of liberty who are characters in the novel—they are proud men who are fighting for their pride. Rab’s quiet pride is evident in the skill and grace with which he accomplishes everything he sets out to do. He is self-contained in the way only someone who is sure of himself can be. For just that reason, too, he is able to take an interest in other people. James Otis refers to a fundamental sense of pride each individual must feel and to the sense of being entitled to the “Rights of Man,” when he describes the Revolutionary War as being fought so “that a man can stand up.”25 Doctor Warren repeats his words and invokes a feeling of pride at the end of the novel when he speaks of the fight for liberty: “You remember that night,” [Doctor Warren] said, “that last meeting of the Observers. James Otis came.... I remember how his words made the gooseskin on my arms.” “I’ll never forget it.” [Johnny said.] “He said ... so a man can stand up.” “Yes. And some of us would die—so other men can stand up on their feet like men. A great many are going to die for that. They have in the past. They will a hundred years from now—two hundred. God grant there will always be men good enough. Men like Rab.”26
Reading Johnny Tremain Indeed, when Johnny hears the sounds of “Yankee Doodle” signaling the Minutemen returning from battle, it is his pride that Forbes wants the reader to share, the pride that he feels for the revolutionary cause and for the nation coming into being. Another of the principal themes of Johnny Tremain is liberty. As Forbes presents it, liberty is inextricably bound up with each individual asserting a sense of pride, for it requires a sense of pride, of self-regard, to demand liberty. It requires a sense of pride for someone to believe he or she has the right to be an autonomous, necessary, and functioning member of an independent nation. But the nature of the individual’s pride, Johnny Tremain shows, will determine the quality and the value of the freedom that the individual then exercises. The differences between the two merchants, Jonathan Lyte and John Hancock, for example, are that Lyte’s pride is vanity and he is not honest. Lyte gives no loyalty to anything other than himself and his possessions, as is evident from his pledging support to both the colonists and the British in order to advance his own business interests. John Hancock is the opposite sort of man. At a meeting of the Sons of Liberty, James Otis tests his comrades, saying, “We are lucky men, for we have a cause worth dying for. This honor is not given to every generation.”27 He then speaks to each of the men present, as if testing them by pointing out to them the things they may have to sacrifice by rebelling. He is summoning up in them not the pride of possession, which guides Jonathan Lyte’s spirit, but the pride of contributing to a great common enterprise through sacrifice. Describing what each may have to lose because of his beliefs, Otis says to John Hancock:
Themes and Symbols “Some of us [will give] all our property. Heh, John Hancock, did you hear that? Property—that hurts, eh? To give one’s silver wine-coolers, one’s coach and four, and the gold buttons of one’s sprigged satin waist-coats?” Hancock looked him straight in the face and Johnny had never before liked him so well. “I am ready,” he said. “I can get along without all that.”28
Hancock is not proud of his wealth but of his dedication to a better future. That future, it is made clear repeatedly in Johnny Tremain, is one in which liberty and justice must triumph over tyranny. Tyranny and selfishness are the traits that make up Lyte’s pride just as, for the colonists, they constitute England’s pride, and the revolutionary hope is to vanquish them. In Johnny Tremain, the strongest voice against liberty of either sort, whether the democratic liberty of which John Hancock speaks or the liberty enjoyed through privilege, the kind Mr. Lyte enjoys, is Mr. Lapham’s. And his opposition to liberty is inextricably connected to his condemnation of pride: I don’t hold much with these fellows that are always trying to stir up trouble between us and England. Maybe English rule ain’t always perfect, but it’s good enough for me. Fellows like Mr. Hancock and Sam Adams, calling themselves patriots and talking too much. Not reading God’s Word—like their parents did—which tells us to be humble.29
Liberty is achieved through rebellion against authority, but Mr. Lapham believes in authority above everything else. Despite his condemnation of pride, he forcefully imposes his own will upon his household, a practice he justifies as a form of humility because he is acting according
Reading Johnny Tremain to the dictates of scripture, which is for him the overruling authority. Set against Mr. Lapham’s authoritarian vision of order is Johnny’s rebellion and, indeed, the American colonial rebellion. Whereas Mr. Lapham condemns rebellion as sinful and the outgrowth of pride, it is evident from the first act of rebellion in the novel, casting Mr. Hancock’s silver sugar bowl on a Sunday, that rebellion is not always evil or motivated by pride. Mrs. Lapham, who acts contrary to her father-in-law’s orders by instructing Johnny to work on Sunday, is concerned about the welfare of her family. Her belief is that people must not wait passively for divine intervention to take care of them but should take care of themselves. Johnny is eager to do the work because of a sense of obligation, as the sugar bowl has been promised to Hancock for Monday morning. The attitude that guides Mrs. Lapham’s behavior is the same attitude, on a political scale, that guides the thought and actions of the Sons of Liberty. Johnny is motivated by Mrs. Lapham’s concerns as well as by his own sense of obligation to Mr. Hancock as a customer and by love for his craft, not by pride in himself. His pride is in his work. Dove is the one who shows evil pride by putting his resentment at Johnny’s favored place before the interest of the Lapham family and their customers. The question that faces those who speak for freedom is, What is the value of their cause? Is it a virtuous freedom or a malevolent, malicious freedom? Both kinds exist. As Forbes develops the defense of liberty in Johnny Tremain, she argues that the value of the cause justifies action, including rebellion, and this applies to both domestic and political situations.
Themes and Symbols CONFLICT Because of the tension between authority and liberty, between obedience and rebellion, at the heart of the story, inevitably the role of conflict and choice in shaping our lives is a major theme in Johnny Tremain. This theme is introduced unobtrusively at the beginning of the story when a dramatization of their attitudes about getting out of bed in the morning is used to introduce Johnny and his opposite, Dove, to the reader. In one simple scene, the defining difference in their characters is shown: Johnny is alert, bold, and eager, while Dove is lazy, cowardly, and slothful. This personality discord quickly gives way to a conflict in character attitudes on a larger scale, introducing a conflict in values regarding the issue of pride. Johnny’s industry in Mr. Lapham’s workshop is contrasted with Dove’s careless lack of concern about the work. By means of this concrete situation, Forbes introduces a larger theme—the conflict between unquestioning obedience to authority or reasoned self-assertion, between submission and rebellion. This theme is developed on the personal level with Dove and Johnny representing the contrasting poles. Dove represents obedience and submission, although most hypocritically on his part. Johnny is the bold representative of self-assertion and necessary rebellion, and he acts with integrity. On the political and social level, Mr. Lapham represents the way of submission, using scripture to justify withdrawal from human affairs and acceptance of things as they are, even if they are unjust, as a condition for achieving salvation in a hereafter. The colonists who belong to the Sons of Liberty represent the opposite position: life here and now is valuable, how it is experienced is meaningful, and men must have liberty.
Reading Johnny Tremain SYMBOLS AND SYMBOLISM Symbol is a word that comes from the Greek word symbolon, meaning a token or a sign. A symbol is something that represents or points to something else. Usually a symbol is something tangible that represents something intangible, a way of making an idea real by representing it concretely. In literature, symbolism is a technique for giving a story broader and deeper meanings. Symbolism, however, must come naturally from the events of the story and fit unobtrusively if it is to be effective. The context of the story, therefore, must determine the meaning of a symbol. Johnny’s crippled hand is a natural consequence of the action of the story. It is, however, not only a physical handicap but symbolizes his state as an outcast. It represents his incompleteness and the imperfection of his character—the way he impulsively insults people like Mr. Tweedie, for example, and the misfortune in his birth. Tea is a regular commodity imported by the colonies, a beverage the colonists drank, but it also symbolizes British oppression. The silver cup Johnny’s mother gave him is not out of place in a story about a silversmith and a rich merchant, but
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #12
Johnny Tremain’s silver cup symbolizes his connection to the Lyte family and a secret hope. His crippled hand symbolizes his weakened position in society. His horse symbolizes his fine but flawed character. Write a short story in which everyday objects and events or in which common human attributes and characteristics serve as symbols and represent things other than themselves.
Themes and Symbols it also symbolizes both Johnny’s hope for help and his membership in the Lyte family. Johnny’s horse, Goblin, is not only a horse but also represents Johnny’s spirit, nearly thoroughbred but with a fault that makes it less than perfect. Yet, when Goblin is treated properly, he performs superbly, just like Johnny. Rab is a real character, but he also symbolizes maturity to Johnny. Lavinia Lyte symbolizes a world that Johnny cannot enter and glamor he cannot have. Even so, Johnny’s fascination with Lavinia represents his yearning for such world. These are realities of the story, but they also resonate with symbolic meanings.
AS A HISTORICAL NOVEL, Johnny Tremain is obviously both
historical and fictional. Therefore, a reader in search of historical accuracy cannot approach it with the same confidence with which he or she might read a history text. A historical novel is based on actual facts and situations. It chronicles some of them and, therefore, may provide a real sense of the time in which it is set by bringing events and persons of that time to life through fiction. But it is unlikely to be an uncompromisingly accurate record, just because the art of the historical novelist depends on blending the factual and the fictional.
Afterword Forbes uses real events to add depth to imaginary material and, conversely, she mixes imaginary material with historical events in order to give them, paradoxically, greater reality. In a historical novel, detailing history accurately is less important than using historical events, settings, and persons for the sake of the tale being told and making the era live in the reader’s imagination. But a historical novel may also set a reader on a quest for greater knowledge and understanding of the historical events depicted in the book. In Johnny Tremain, Forbes uses historical events and historical characters in order to give shape, meaning, texture, and dimension to her imaginary story. That story is the classic one of a boy growing up and learning who he is, what he wants to be, and what is worth valuing in life. In the course of the story, he confronts his own expectations and ambitions, is challenged by the events of his life, adjusts to how things are, and finds his place. Although Forbes incorporates historical events and historical speeches, like the Boston Tea Party or the words spoken by the Sons of Liberty, those events and speeches are presented because they are important for the growth and education of her hero. Moreover, she invented the particular actions she presents during the Boston Tea Party, and she made up the speeches of the patriots, imagining the words those men were likely to speak and the reactions of those who heard them. She imagined, too, how they spoke to each other in private and how they behaved. She extrapolated from biographical research how Paul Revere might behave with his family or in an imaginary encounter with a fictional apprentice boy. The historical characters are actually part historical recreations and part fictional characters who interact with entirely fictional characters like Johnny and Rab.
Reading Johnny Tremain Events such as political meetings, the Boston Tea Party, or the Battle of Lexington are not included in Johnny Tremain for the purpose of describing what they were really like, analyzing their historical significance, or giving the reader a deeper understanding of them. They are included in order to serve the dramatic needs of the plot. They are events in Johnny’s life that affect how he thinks, acts, and grows. Forbes uses the historical Boston Tea Party as a background event to give Johnny a reason to overcome his handicap and learn to use an axe with a crippled hand. She places Johnny and Dove on the deck of one of the ships during the raid for the purpose of demonstrating once again Dove’s baseness. The Battle of Lexington, besides its historical significance, is an event in Johnny’s life that makes him confront a deep personal grief, Rab’s death, and helps him understand the ideal of self-sacrifice. Because of that battle, Johnny learns that dedicating his life to a cause that encompasses more than individual self-interest is an essential part of being alive. Forbes also uses fictional events to give vibrancy and immediacy to historical events. Consequently, since Johnny
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #13
Choose one of the historical events which significantly contributed to the political situation in which the action of Johnny Tremain is set and after researching that event, prepare a short lesson on it as if you were going to teach it to a class of elementary school children. (The website www. ushistory.org/declaration/ related/index.htm is a good place to start your research.)
Afterword Tremain is a moving work of fiction that engages a reader’s imagination, it can also whet a reader’s appetite to know more about colonial life and the political events of the time. In Johnny Tremain, the reasons for rebellion are seen as great ideals and great actions, presented in the context of daily activities and human emotions familiar to everyone. After reading Johnny Tremain, a reader can begin to examine some of the events of the time outside the context of the book and find the study more interesting because of the book. When we encounter the Sons of Liberty in Johnny Tremain, for example, it is a rather congenial group of men sitting in an attic, smoking pipes, drinking punch, and speaking ringing words about liberty. And that is what we need for the picturesque excitement of Johnny Tremain. But it does not tell us very much about this secret, dangerous group of revolutionaries or the events that led them to the desperate and risky measures they took. The Sons of Liberty, the secret revolutionary organization dedicated to disrupting British rule of the colonies and finally to casting the English out of the New World, was founded in New York City and Boston in 1765 in response to a growing list of grievances against the English crown. These grievances were embodied in a number of laws, called Acts and Proclamations, which were passed by the English parliament as far back as 1733. In 1733, the parliament passed the Molasses Act, a bill taxing the importation and sale of molasses in the American colonies. The purpose of the act was to give an advantage to the manufacturers and sellers of English molasses over the French producers and merchants. Widespread corruption and laxness in enforcing the law allowed merchants
Reading Johnny Tremain to get around paying the tax, and the British market in molasses, sugar, and rum (which is made from molasses and sugar) suffered. To strengthen the Molasses Act, the British parliament passed the American Revenue Act of 1764, also known as the Sugar Act. Aware of the ineffectiveness of the Molasses Act in the past because of its poor enforcement, Lord Grenville, the First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, ordered an increased British naval presence in Boston harbor to insure compliance with the new law. Neither the tax nor the presence of the British navy was appreciated by the colonists. Taxes symbolized foreign domination to the colonists. They had no representatives in the English parliament and, consequently, no role in determining the laws that governed them or a say about taxes levied. The British navy likewise represented tyranny to the colonists. It was obvious by gun boats in the harbor and soldiers on land that the colonists were not being governed with their own consent or by their own representatives but through the threat of force. One of the justifications for taxing the colonists was the
ON YOUR OWN ACTIVITY #14
One aspect of Johnny Tremain that makes it a particularly stirring story is the idealism expressed in it. Great words are spoken about liberty and valiant acts of sacrifice are performed in its service. Examine some aspect of the history that followed the American War for Independence which begins as Johnny Tremain ends and discuss how the ideals and actions celebrated in the novel were either furthered or frustrated.
Afterword expense the English incurred waging the French and Indian War, the part of the greater European conflict, the Seven Years War (1756–1763), fought on American soil. This conflict involved the historical adversaries France and England in a contest for control of the New World. The indigenous American population, the “Indians,” sided with the French against the British because British colonists, not the French, were occupying their land. The French and Indian War was costly to the British, who defeated the French, and its expense was used as the reason for colonial taxation. In addition, the war worsened the animosity between the indigenous tribes and the colonists. The increase of “Indian” attacks on colonial settlements, the result of the war, was used to justify a stronger British military occupation force in the colonies. But the colonists, as noted, did not welcome British soldiers or see them as protectors. Rather, they were seen as an army of occupation under which the colonists were forced to live. The Quartering Act of 1765 only confirmed that perception. By this act, the colonists were required to house British troops in public buildings such as courthouses, inns and taverns, and even in their own homes. Had the act been introduced by double-agents working for the colonists with the purpose of propelling the colonies toward revolt, it could not have been more effectively designed. The Proclamation of 1763 was another piece of legislation that inflamed anti-English sentiment among the colonists. It severely restricted the colonists’ freedom to migrate westward and establish new homesteads. It proclaimed, moreover, that the “Indians” were under the jurisdiction of the crown and were being protected from the colonial settlers. The colonists saw the British parliament
Reading Johnny Tremain as alienating itself from the interests of the colonists, and they also saw the Proclamation as a way of keeping them corralled on the coast and more easily controlled. Added to these injuries, the series of taxes, like the Stamp Act Tax and the Tea Tax, following the Sugar Tax, appeared to the colonists as forms of tyrannical oppression rather than the price that had to be paid to their own government for protection. All these pieces of legislation form part of the basis for the events of Johnny Tremain, but as a novelist concerned about the vitality of the story, Forbes wisely does not overload the reader by writing about them. After finishing Johnny Tremain, however, a reader may study them with an interest he or she might not have had before reading the book because of a recognition of their human consequences derived from Johnny Tremain. Johnny Tremain can also be a lens for the reader to look through at the future that followed the events it depicts. In Johnny Tremain, Forbes offers the values that shaped the American nation and the vision by which its founders hoped it would be guided. Thus, Johnny Tremain may lead an interested reader not only to a greater knowledge of American history but also help her or him think about the whole of American history and even contemporary events, comparing the ideas and ideals presented in the book with the reality that followed.
WORKS BY ESTHER FORBES O Genteel Lady!, 1926. A Mirror for Witches, 1928. Miss Marvel, 1935. Paradise, 1937. The General’s Lady, 1938. Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, 1942. Johnny Tremain, 1943. America’s Paul Revere, 1946. The Boston Book, 1947. The Running of the Tide, 1948. Rainbow on the Road, 1954. Paul Revere’s Ride, 1963.
NOTES Glencoe Literature Library. Study Guide for Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Website: www.glencoe.com/sec/ literature/litlibrary/pdf/johnny_ tremain.pdf.
13. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 27.
Esther Forbes. Johnny Tremain. New York: Yearling, 1943, pp. 178–179.
16. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 10.
Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 253.
Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 256.
“James Otis.” From James Grant Wilson, John Fiske, and Stanley L. Klos, editors. Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton, 1887–1889, 1999. Website: www.famousamericans.net/ jamesotis/.
Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 2.
Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 3.
Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 41.
Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 37.
10. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 41. 11. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 16. 12. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, pp. 41–42.
14. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 232. 15. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, pp. 234–235.
17. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 15. 18. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 53. 19. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 125. 20. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 7. 21. Ibid. 22. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 224. 23. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 240. 24. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 114. 25. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 180. 26. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 253. 27. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 179. 28. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, pp. 179–180. 29. Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain, p. 16.
Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain. New York: Yearling, 1943. Glencoe Literature Library. Study Guide for Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Website: www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/ johnny_tremain.pdf. “James Otis.” From James Grant Wilson, John Fiske, and Stanley L. Klos, editors. Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton, 1887–1889, 1999. Website: www.famousamericans.net /jamesotis/.
Bales, Jack. A Bio-Bibliography of the Author of Johnny Tremain. London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1998. Collier, James Lincoln and Christopher Collier. War Comes to Willy Freeman. New York, NY: Dell Yearling, 1983. Ellis, Edward S. Storm Mountain (Wyoming Series). Philadelphia, PA: Porter & Coates, 1989. Emery, Anne. Spy in Old West Point. New York, NY: Checkerboard Press, 1974. Fast, Howard. April Morning. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1961. Forman, James. The Cow Neck Rebels. New York, NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1969. Hays, Wilma Pitchford. The French are Coming. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1965. Meader, Stephen W. Guns for the Saratoga. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1955. USHistory.org. www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/index.htm. Wibberley, Leonard. John Treegate’s Musket. New York, NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1959.
INDEX activities, 2, 10, 14, 18, 28, 33, 47, 48, 53, 55, 59, 66, 70, 72 Battle of Lexington, 70 Boston Observer, 11, 29, 32 Boston Observers, 32 Boston Tea Party, 32, 69, 70 cause and effect in historical and fictional events, 17 and human choice, 16 and Revolutionary War, 16–17 as view of history, 15 characterization direct commentary by author, 20 indirect narration, 19–21 by showing a character in action, 7, 10–11, 18–20 characters in historical fiction, 69 historical figures as, 45–46 as instruments of narration, 20–25 characters, analysis of, 35–49 Dove, 42–43 Lapham, Cilla, 46–48 Lapham, Isannah, 48 Lapham, Mr., 43–44 Lapham, Mrs., 44–45 Lyte, Lavinia, 38–39 Lyte, Merchant Jonathan, 38 minor characters, 48–49 Silsbee, Rab, 40–42 Tremain, Johnny, 36–38 choice See conflict climax, 26, 33, 34 conflict, 8–12, 24–25, 63–65 between obedience and rebellion, 9, 12, 63–65 personal and political, comparison of, 24–25 of personalities, 10–11 political, 8–9 religious, 8–9 of values, 8–9, 11–12 conflict and choice, as theme, 65 contrasting scenes, 37
direct commentary, 20 fiction, historical See historical fiction Forbes, Esther early influences, 1–2 as historian, 5, 6 publishing and writing career, 3, 6 war effort, work for, 2–3 foreshadowing, 17–20 French and Indian War, 73 historical context, 3–5 importance of, 5 Revolutionary War and World War II, comparison of, 3–5 historical fiction, 68–71, 74 characters in, 69 definition of, 68 historical events in, 70 as motivation to increase knowledge, 69, 71, 74 historical figures Adams, John, 6, 46 Adams, Samuel, 6, 46 Hancock, John, 6, 7, 8, 46, 62–63 Otis, James, 3–4, 6, 7–8, 46, 55, 61, 62–63 Quincy, Josiah, 7, 29 Revere, Paul, 4, 6, 7, 8, 46 Warren, Doctor Joseph, 4, 7, 46, 55–56, 61 historical figures in Johnny Tremain as characters, 45–46 mythic status of, 6–7 as ordinary men, 7–8 indirect narration, 19–21 legislation Acts and Proclamations, 71 American Revenue Act (Sugar Act), 72 Molasses Act, 71 Proclamation of 1763, 73 Quartering Act, 73 Stamp Act Tax, 74
80 Sugar Act (American Revenue Act), 72 Sugar Tax, 74 Tea Tax, 74 liberty and rebellion, 63 sacrifice for, 63 as theme, 62–64 mythic context, 6–8 mythology, national historical figures in, 6–7 Revolutionary War, 6 narration, problems of, 17 narrative technique, 13–25, 37 cause and effect, 15–17 characters as instruments of narration, 20–25 contrasting scenes, 37 direct commentary, 20 foreshadowing, 17–20 indirect narration, 21 point of view, 13–15 secondary narration, 24–25 parallel plot strand, 28–30 plot, 26–34 See also turning points climax, 26, 33, 34 parallel plot strand, 28–30 point of view domestic, 14–15 first person, 13–14 third person, 14 political conflict colonists and England, 8 and personal conflict, 24–25 Whigs and Tories, 8 pride, as theme, 60–62 religious conflict divine right, 8–9 doctrines and dogma, 8–9 Revolutionary War events leading up to, 16–17 as mythic event, 6
INDEX rights, personal, 4, 55, 62 secondary narration, 24–25 setting, 8–10, 50–56 See also setting, historical See also setting, physical Boston, description of, 5 importance of, 10, 50 setting, historical people’s rights, 4, 55 political philosophy, changes in, 54–55 weakening of authority, 8–9, 54 setting, physical movement, sense of, 52 odors and textures, 52–53 sounds, 53–54 visual aspects, 50–51 Sons of Liberty, 32, 71 symbolism, 66–67 crippled hand, 66 Goblin, 67 Lavinia Lyte, 67 Rab, 67 silver cup, 66 tea, 66 themes, 57–65 conflict and choice, 65 definition of, 58 liberty, 62–64 pride, 60–62 universal nature of, 58–59 Tories, 9 turning points, 26–34 arrest and release, 30–31 Boston Tea Party, 32 the crippling accident, 26–27 definition of, 26 visit to Merchant Lyte, 27–28 Whigs, 9
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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR NEIL HEIMS is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher. He has a Ph.D. in English from the City University of New York. He has written on a number of authors including Albert Camus, Arthur Miller, John Milton, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Forbes was born in 1891 in Westboro, Massachusetts. She grew up with a deep connection to her New England past, a love of history, and a talent for telling stories. She wrote Johnny Tremain during World War II and it was published in 1943.
of the characters in Johnny Tremain are both historical and mythic. The reader sees Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams as they plan and take part in the legendary Boston Tea Party. Joseph Warren (portrait above), the first officer killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, was a real person as well as a character in Johnny Tremain.
the beginning of the book, Johnny Tremain is one of three apprentices (and the best of them) to Mr. Lapham, the silversmith. Mr. Lapham is a stern moralist, more concerned that his apprentices adhere to his religious fundamentalism than that they learn to become excellent craftsmen.
objects and utensils out of silver—was a lucrative trade in colonial Boston. Johnny is learning this trade in Mr. Lapham’s shop and he shows a great deal of talent until his hand is unfortunately injured through the treachery of Dove. The historical Paul Revere was also a master silversmith. C
Lapham (seated) is the girl who admires Johnny (standing next to Cilla) and waits for him. It is thought for a while that Cilla and Johnny would eventually marry. It is not until Rab (seated) takes an interest in Cilla and seems to be courting her that Johnny begins to esteem her more.
Johnny is unable to find work and has no place to sleep, Rab Silsbee (foreground) offers him a job delivering the Boston Observer and shares his living space in the loft above the print shop. Rab opens a world of opportunity for Johnny and shows him something bigger than himself to live for—the cause of liberty. D
the book, Paul Revere is friendly and companionable, a master silversmith and devoted family man with a good sense of humor. The idea for Johnny Tremain grew in Esther Forbes’s imagination as she wrote a biography of Paul Revere called Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, published in 1942.
setting, which gives a strong sensory quality to Johnny Tremain, contributes to the experience of historical immediacy. Forbes presents a picture of colonial Boston that allows the reader to see its wharves, markets and shops, cramped attics and grand mansions, open fields, and high steeples. Pictured here is the Old North Church in Boston. F
Tremain participates in the famous Boston Tea Party, when those protesting British rule dumped tea into Boston Harbor. Forbes describes the scene: “The three ships, the silent hundreds gathering upon the wharf, all were dipped in the pure white light. The crowds were becoming thousands, and there was not one there but guessed what was to be done, and all approved.”
Revolutionary War, the conflict at the heart of Johnny Tremain, was between the American colonists (portrayed here) desiring independence and the British soldiers trying to maintain their rule. The book includes early skirmishes in the war, including the Battles of Lexington and Concord. H