“[Johnny] knew his power and reveled in it. He could have easily made friends with stupid Dove, for Dove was lonely and admired Johnny as well as envied him. Johnny preferred to bully him.”
Here, Forbes complicates Johnny's character. She has just explained that there are good reasons for Johnny's authority in the Lapham household––he is genuinely smart and good-natured. However, he is also immature and does not always use his power wisely. It is clear that Dove has not had all the advantages that Johnny has in life. His family does not seem to have done much to help him get ahead, and he lacks Johnny's natural talent as a silversmith. This quote illustrates that even people who are mostly good can still have moments of cruelty.
“Johnny, I don’t want you to be always riding them boys so hard. Dove tries, but he’s stupid. Ain’t his fault, is it? If God had wanted him bright He would have made him that way. We’re all poor worms. You’re getting above yourself—like I tried to point out to you. God is going to send you a dire punishment for your pride.”
Here, Mr. Lapham points out another important theme of the novel: everyone is unique and has their own place in life. Things that seem like a curse––such as Dove's stupidity or Johnny's injury––don't have to be bad if a person has the right outlook. The line that "God is going to send you a dire punishment for your pride" foreshadows Johnny's injury. It also hints to the reader that the injury will serve a greater purpose and make Johnny a better person.
“And Grandpa Lapham . . . oh, he’d buy him a Bible with print an inch high in it. Mrs. Lapham? Not a thing, madam, not one thing.”
This quote shows Johnny's goodwill for Mr. Lapham. A "Bible with print an inch high" would have been very expensive at this time. Books for rich people were often printed in large print and with wide margins, while cheaper books came on thin paper with tiny print. However, Johnny's reluctance to buy anything for Mrs. Lapham shows that while he has observed Mr. Lapham's piety, he hasn't really learned any lessons from his master. Earlier in the book, Mr. Lapham urged Johnny to forgive those who were mean to him. But despite Johnny's desire to do something nice for his master, he has not yet internalized this lesson about forgiveness.
"By temperament Johnny was expansive, easily influenced. ... If pushed a little farther, he might have taken to crime––because that was what was expected of him. But no matter what happened to Rab, good or bad fortune, good or bad reputation, he would never change."
Johnny's good situation at the Lornes' print shop allows him to think about his behavior when he was living with the Laphams. He comes to realize that he is more influenced by external events than he should be. Over the course of the novel, Johnny learns integrity––that is, the ability to stick to one's values no matter the circumstances. Forbes shows that integrity is more important than a person's political views. As Rab says, he can respect a Tory that truly believes the monarchy is good for the colonies. However, he cannot respect Merchant Lyte, who has no integrity and changes his values depending on what will work to his advantage.
"If he had not counted ten, he would have told her what he thought of her, black folk in general, and thrown in a few cutting remarks about her master––the most powerful man in Boston. But counting ten had its rewards."
Another benefit of Johnny's job as a delivery boy is that he learns patience and to think before he speaks. This is partly due to the influence of Rab, who suggests that Johnny shouldn't go out of his way to sow bad feelings. This quote shows a practical strategy to avoid losing one's temper that young readers might use in their own lives. The racism is also important to keep in mind. Although this attitude is not acceptable today, it was common among white people in the eighteenth century.
"Ah, Mr. Lorne, ... without you printers the cause of liberty would be lost forever."
Sam Adams's gratitude to Uncle Lorne illustrates the important role that pamphlets, newspapers, and other printed material played in the American Revolution. Although many women (like Mrs. Lapham and her daughters) could not read, 70-100% of adult men could. Whig newspapers and pamphlets like Thomas Paine's Common Sense were very effective at spreading discontent against the monarchy. This was partly due to Britain's decision to increase freedom of the press in its colonies. Although printers like Uncle Lorne still faced some restrictions and would have been arrested for helping someone like Sam Adams, they were easily able to get the ink, paper, and machinery to print rebel publications.
"You remember that we don't like being here in Boston any better than you like having us. I'd rather be with my wife and children in Bath. We're both in a tight spot. But if we keep our tempers and you keep your tempers, why, we can fix up things between us somehow. We're all one people, you know."
In Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes emphasizes that there were good and bad people on both sides of the American Revolution. Here, the British medical officer's kind words (immediately after another officer cruelly beats Rab) remind readers that despite the excitement of the Revolution, most of the people involved would rather have been safe with their families than fighting. She supports a mature, measured attitude toward armed conflict. Over the course of the novel, Johnny learns that violence should only be used as a last resort.
"...It was only where horses were concerned they were equals. Indoors [Lieutenant Stranger] was rigidly a British officer and a 'gentleman' and Johnny an inferior. This shifting about puzzled Johnny. It did not seem to puzzle the British officer at all."
Although Lieutenant Stranger does not appear often in Johnny Tremain, he is a good example of a 'round' character––that is, a character with good and bad qualities and complicated motivations. Stranger seems friendly and willing to help Johnny, but he still adheres rigidly to the British class system, in which gentlemen cannot be seen associating with commoners. This demonstrates an important difference between Britain and colonial America, where less emphasis was placed on class even before the Revolution.
"That flag––it stood for the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, Charles the First's head upon a block, and centuries of struggle for 'English liberty.' But over here there had grown up a broader interpretation of the word 'liberty': no man to be ruled or taxed except by men of his own choice. But we are still fighting for 'English liberty' and don't you forget it. French slaves to the north of us, Spanish slaves to the south of us. Only English colonies are allowed to taste the forbidden fruit of liberty––we who grew up under England. Johnny thought of James Otis's words. Upholding the torch of liberty–which had been lighted on the fires of England."
Johnny's reflections on seeing the British officers march off to war complicates his earlier passion for the rebel point of view. As James Otis points out, many of the ideas that the rebels used to fuel their demands for liberty come from British thinkers, and the rebels are successful largely because the British government is moderate. Even under England, the colonists had some freedom of speech and right to bear arms, which allowed rebel ideas to spread and the rebels to get the supplies for a successful uprising. This ideological similarity––both the American and the English governments are relatively liberal and moderate––helps explain why they became allies just a couple generations after the end of the American Revolution.
"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."
In this passage, Johnny states what he has learned over the course of the novel. Men should not fight for the thrill of violence, but rather to defend their individual liberties––their right to "stand up on their feet like men." The ongoing struggle for freedom may be a veiled reference to World War II, which was at its height when Esther Forbes wrote Johnny Tremain in 1943. She has stated that she hoped young people would follow the examples set by Johnny and Rab of selfless, patriotic behavior. Johnny's words here suggest that freedom will always be something for which Americans will have to make sacrifices.
Johnny Tremain Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Johnny Tremain is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Rab is convinced that fighting will break out before the week is over, so he also leaves Boston to report for duty in Lexington. Rab fears that once the fighting begins, the British will seal off Boston to stop people from joining the rebel...