Johnny Tremain

Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2

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Summary

For the rest of the week, Johnny continues to work on the sugar basin. His job is to make a larger replica of the handle on John Hancock’s pitcher, which will then be attached to the basin. Mr. Lapham approves of his work, but Johnny brings the replica to Paul Revere––a famous silversmith as well as a Patriot––to make sure that the handle is good enough. Mr. Revere points out Johnny’s mistakes and gives him advice about how to make the handle better. He also wonders aloud why Mr. Lapham didn’t notice the mistakes. Johnny explains that his master has become “feeble” (31). Mr. Revere says that if Mr. Lapham ever wants to cut down on his work, he would be happy to take Johnny on as an apprentice. Johnny is flattered but doesn’t want to leave his master.

Johnny is in a hurry to perfect the handle before Monday, when it is due to Mr. Hancock. But when he gets back to the shop, there is no charcoal. Dove is purposely unhelpful. When he finally brings Johnny some charcoal, it is not good enough to use and the boys quarrel. Mr. Lapham notices and lectures Johnny again about his pride. He explains that it’s not Dove’s fault that he’s stupid. He also declares that no one in the house will work for the rest of the day. Because tomorrow is Sunday, this means that Johnny won’t be able to work on the handle at all. When Mrs. Lapham hears this, she urges Johnny to finish the handle on Sunday while Mr. Lapham is at church for afternoon services. Although working on Sundays is illegal and a major sin, Johnny agrees.

On Sunday, Johnny works on the basin as planned. Dove, Dusty, and Mrs. Lapham all help him in the shop. Entrusted with this important task, Johnny becomes even more insufferable than usual. He bosses everyone around and even speaks rudely to Mrs. Lapham. To get revenge, Dove hands him a cracked crucible to melt the silver in. He thinks the silver will spill on the furnace and make Johnny look like a fool. This happens exactly as Dove plans. When Johnny sees the spill, he is so surprised he slips and his right hand lands on the furnace.

Johnny’s hand is horribly burned. Although the local midwife, Gran’ Hopper, does the best she can to treat it, she forgets to keep the hand flat and instead allows it to turn in on itself. Because of this, he loses the use of his thumb and is permanently crippled. Johnny will never be a silversmith. Cilla and Isannah try to offer their sympathies, but he rudely brushes them off. He goes into the shop and sees Dove working. When Johnny tries to correct how Dove holds the crimping iron, Dove reminds Johnny of his injury.

Upset, Johnny goes for a walk at Hancock’s Wharf. Although he knows all the boys there, he feels like a stranger and can sense them whispering about him. He goes swimming in the ocean, an activity that allows him to forget his injury.

Life changes for Johnny after the burn. Mrs. Lapham is meaner to him, and he has to do the menial chores that used to be assigned to Dove and Dusty. One day, Mr. Lapham pulls him aside. He explains that while Mrs. Lapham thinks it is too expensive to keep Johnny around, he can stay as long as he likes. However, he should try to find a new trade that he can do even with a deformed hand. Mr. Lapham also asks Johnny to “forgive Dove like a Christian” (47). This is how Johnny finds out that Dove caused the accident. Although Mr. Lapham says that Dove was very repentant and didn’t mean to hurt him, Johnny vows to get revenge on the older boy. As Johnny goes about his chores, Dove and the slaves tease him about his new low status.

Analysis

In Chapter 2, Forbes raises the question of responsibility for Johnny’s accident. No one person is fully responsible. Dove is probably the most guilty, but even he just wanted to play a prank on Johnny––he did not intend to ruin the boy’s career. Mrs. Lapham suggested that Johnny work in the first place, and Forbes emphasizes that Dusty saw Dove get the cracked crucible but chose not to say anything. Even Johnny himself is partially responsible––he broke the Sabbath, and he also chose to work without supervision from Mr. Lapham.

Each of the characters’ lapses in judgment can be explained by pride. Johnny’s pride has already been discussed in depth, but pride also influences Dove and Mrs. Lapham. It does not occur to Dove that his prank could go awry, and he believes it is his place to teach Johnny a lesson for being bossy. Likewise, Mrs. Lapham encourages Johnny to work on Sunday because she is desperate to improve the family’s financial and social standing.

This chapter describes the emotional aftermath of Johnny’s accident. Although burns are among the most painful injuries, Forbes does not dwell on the physical pain of Johnny’s injury. Rather, she focuses on its effects on him emotionally. Johnny becomes very self-conscious and is always aware of how people see him. He is also more likely to lose his temper––especially with the Lapham daughters, who he was always kind to before his injury. Rather than expressing his feelings, Johnny lashes out at the people around him.

Johnny’s character development is gradual. His injury could be seen as punishment for his pride. Indeed, many of the characters—including Dove and Mr. Lapham—see the injury this way. However, it does not immediately cause a change in his character. He remains haughty and unpleasant to the people around him. For example, he responds angrily when Cilla tries to comfort him, and he continues to point out Dove’s lack of skills in the silver shop. Forbes has laid the groundwork for the accident to make Johnny a better person. However, it takes a long time after the injury for Johnny to learn his lesson.