Johnny Tremain

Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8

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Summary

Just as Mrs. Bessie predicts, the Lytes are driven out of Milton after only a few weeks there. It turns out that Mrs. Bessie helped them flee before the mob arrived. Cilla was supposed to bring the silver with her to prevent it from being stolen, but she lost it in the confusion. She feels guilty about this and wants to go back and rescue the silver, so Johnny agrees to accompany her with a horse borrowed from Dr. Warren.

When they get to Milton, Johnny explores the empty house while Cilla gathers the silver. He discovers some papers that will be useful to Sam Adams, as well as a family Bible. In the Bible, he finds a listing on the family tree for a woman who could be his mother. This Lavinia Lyte (most women in the Lyte family are named Lavinia) married a French doctor, and both of them are scratched out of the family tree. Johnny takes the page with him, but then decides that it no longer matters whether he is related to the Lytes. He burns the page. When Cilla offers to let him take back his silver cup, he declines. The house is very melancholy, and Johnny tells Cilla that the Revolution will prevent the Lytes from ever coming back here.

On the way back to Boston, Johnny notices some Minute Men marching and reflects that the British are much better armed than the American rebels. Rab becomes preoccupied with getting a good musket. He becomes so obsessed with getting a gun that he participates in a foolish plan with a farmer to steal a musket from a British officer. Rab is caught, but the British let him go because he is so young. He is offended by this, even though the farmer suffered a horrible punishment: he was tarred, feathered, and paraded around Boston. Rab is angrier than ever at the British and looks forward to killing officers when he gets the chance.

Talking to Cilla, Johnny learns that Mrs. Lapham has married Mr. Tweedie. He also finds out that Rab has been taking Cilla out walking without telling Johnny. However, Cilla says she could never marry Rab because her married name––Priscilla Silsbee––would sound silly. She remarks that Priscilla Tremain would be a fine name. Johnny notices that Cilla has grown into a beautiful woman. They have a romantic moment and she gives him an apple. Johnny considers this a symbol of their relationship and is furious when Rab eats it.

The Boston Observers hold one last meeting, although they suspect General Gage knows about them. They discuss a recent conflict. General Gage had sent some British troops to the countryside to seize rebel gunpowder. Nearly a thousand Minute Men had come to prevent the British from leaving Boston, but they had arrived too late. Although the rebels had failed in this case, Sam Adams is still pleased that they were able to get so many men. He urges Paul Revere to set up a spy network so the Minute Men will not arrive late next time. He vows to go to war with the British. Just then, James Otis enters. He is a former Boston Observer who has fallen out of favor with the group. He thinks the rebels should use as little force as possible. They must revolt to stand up for human rights, but they should also remember that Britain is hardly as tyrannical as it could be. Dr. Warren makes a speech about the great sacrifice that will be required of many of the Observers. James Otis and Paul Revere both talk about what they are fighting for––a world in which people don’t have to live in fear of their government, one in which “a man can stand up” (193).

Analysis

This chapter is less focused on plot than the ones that precede it. Instead, Forbes dedicates her attention to the ideas behind the American Revolution. At the Observer’s meeting, many of the men speak at length for the first time about why they are revolting against the British. James Otis’s speech is the simplest and the most touching: “We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills ... we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up” (192).

By “a man can stand up,” Otis is referring to the idea that individuals should be able to live in dignity and freedom without fearing their government. Paul Revere strikes a similar note in his speech, when he explains how his father was forced to flee from France because of the tyrannical monarchy. These heartfelt speeches contrast with Sam Adams’s monologue. He is most focused on violence and blood, and sometimes forgets the reasons for fighting in the first place.

This chapter complicates the character of Rab. In the early chapters, Johnny looked up to Rab as a hero. However, Rab shows his immature side here, becoming easily offended when the British officers release him rather than appreciating their mercy. His cold desire to kill the officers is off-putting to Johnny. This foreshadows problems in the boys’ friendship. This foreshadowing is reinforced by the fact that Rab is secretly courting Cilla. Although he does not know about Johnny’s love for her, the fact that Rab doesn’t notice when Johnny gets upset about the apple is unusual. Up to this point, Rab has been characterized as an especially perceptive character.