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Johnny Tremain Summary and Analysis

by Esther Forbes

Chapter 10

Summary

It is April, 1775. General Gage has issued orders for certain British regiments to come in for special training, and the officers seem like they are preparing for some sort of action. All of Boston is on edge. John Hancock and Sam Adams have left town to participate in the Provincial Congress in Concord. Paul Revere and Dr. Warren come up with a system to warn the outlying towns if the British soldiers attack. Since they may not be able to get out of Boston in time, they will light a lantern in the spire of Christ’s Church, which can be seen in Charlestown. They will light one lantern if the British are coming by land, and two if they are coming by boat. On the way out, Dr. Church, one of the Observers’ inner circle, runs into Revere on the street and asks about the plan. Revere tells him nothing because he does not trust him.

Rab gets ready to sneak out of Boston. He wants to go to Lexington and join the Minute Men there, but he knows that once the fighting starts he won’t be able to get out of Boston. Johnny is resentful, both because Rab doesn’t seem to want Johnny to come along, and because Rab is willfully ignoring the danger he will face. Despite Johnny’s protests, Rab goes merrily on his way. All Johnny can think about is the horrible sight of the musket barrels at Pumpkin’s execution.

Johnny goes to visit Dove at the stables. Dove is having a bad day––his master, Colonel Smith, has just yelled at him for polishing the wrong saddle. Colonel Smith needed his campaign saddle and Dove polished the parade one instead. Johnny realizes that this means the British will be starting a campaign soon. He helps Dove polish the saddle and casually presses him for more information. He discovers that the British are planning a campaign for 8 o’ clock tonight, most likely on Lexington and Concord. They believe the campaign will be short––less than a day.

Johnny gives this information to Paul Revere and Dr. Warren. They prepare to warn the rebels in Lexington of the coming attack. They send Billy Dawes, who will get out of Boston by acting like a drunken farmer. They also send Johnny to tell Robert Newman, the church sexton, to put two lanterns in the spire of Christ’s Church, and to spy on the ships in the mouth of the Charles.

Johnny performs these tasks admirably, pretending to be a young child to get past the British patrol officers. Paul Revere and Dr. Warren say good-bye to each other. Although they are stoic, it is obvious that the two friends may never see each other again. Revere takes a small boat into the Charles; he plans to row around the British ship and then ride a horse to Charlestown to raise the alarm. Johnny goes to sleep in Dr. Warren’s surgery. That night, just before the dawn of April 19th, the first shots of the American Revolution are fired.

Analysis

Johnny’s success as a messenger for Paul Revere is partly due to the humility he has learned since the beginning of the novel. He is able to warn Robert Newman about the British because the officers on patrol think he is only a child. “Johnny was sixteen,” Forbes writes, “but he could pull himself together and play at being a little boy still” (227). This situation forms a parallel with Billy Dawes’s courageous mission to Lexington. Dawes escapes Boston by pretending to be a drunk farmer, a slightly embarrassing assignment that he accepts with bravery and good humor. By the end of the novel, Johnny has learned to put aside his pride for the sake of a greater cause, just like Billy.

Johnny’s mission contrasts with an event earlier in the novel, when Rab gets upset because he is too young to be tarred and feathered. Johnny’s maturity here shows that he has surpassed Rab, his great role model. This is also apparent in the two boys’s reactions to battle. Rab is excited and does not think much of the danger that he will be wounded or even die. Johnny, on the other hand, has seen plenty of violence and recognizes the seriousness of fighting for one’s country.

In this chapter, Paul Revere and Dr. Warren are shown as the only two characters with fully selfless aims in the Revolution. Johnny’s dream about the lobster emphasizes this. In the dream, Sam Adams seems to get a thrill from harming the lobster. John Hancock has a more mature attitude toward the suffering animal, but he still cooks the lobster and doesn’t do anything to make it suffer less. This suggests that Adams and Hancock are both influenced (if only slightly) by selfish motivations; Adams by the thrill of fighting and Hancock by social status and material gain. Rab, too, focuses excessively on the excitement and glory of participating in a battle, without thinking of the costs the violence will have for him and his friends.

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