Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain Summary and Analysis of Chapter 11


The next morning, Dr. Warren gives Johnny the latest news. Lexington fell quickly to British forces––it was a battle between 700 British soldiers and 70 rebels. Most of the rebels fled when they realized they were outnumbered. Although few rebels were killed, this is a major event because it is the first bloodshed of the American Revolution. The British soldiers have moved on to Concord to try to take rebel supplies there.

General Gage prepares to send more troops out of Boston. Johnny sees Madge Lapham tearfully bidding farewell to her husband, a British officer. At least 1,200 British troops leave Boston to reinforce the ones that are headed for Concord. Johnny is impressed by their professional appearance but worries for the safety of Rab and his other rebel friends. Rumors spread quickly that the British fired the first shot at Lexington, but the English authorities insist that there was no fighting at all. General Gage sends troops around to arrest all of Boston’s rebel leaders––John Hancock, Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and more––as well as the rebel printers. However, all of these people have already left the city. Uncle Lorne has not escaped, but he hides from the British inside a feather mattress.

The British soldiers have become much rougher and more violent. Johnny thinks this is because the rebels are winning and they are frightened. He also correctly predicts that the returning British troops will come through Charlestown rather than returning the way they left, via Cambridge. He is right, and he watches them enter Charlestown from the top of Beacon Hill.

Johnny goes to request Pumpkin’s uniform from Mrs. Bessie, who have been hiding the clothes in the Lytes’s barn. He learns that the Lytes are fleeing Boston for London, under special permission from General Gage. Lavinia has received permission from Mrs. Lapham to take Isannah with her. Cilla objects strenuously to this, so Lavinia asks Isannah which of the older women she loves more. When the little girl says nothing, Lavinia tempts her with promises of fine clothing and a carriage. She adds that she will set Isannah up in an acting career––a job Lavinia always wanted herself, but couldn’t pursue because of her high social rank.

Lavinia sends Cilla and Isannah off to have a moment alone together before leaving for England. She pulls Johnny aside and admits to him that he really is related to the Lytes. Johnny’s mother, Lavinia “Vinny” Lyte, was Miss Lavinia’s older cousin. She was “wild and beautiful” (246) and Lavinia admired her greatly. Vinny fell in love with a French prisoner-of-war and eloped with him when the Lytes told her they couldn’t marry. Johnny was born in Marseilles. After his father died, Vinny returned to America with Johnny and lived a modest life under the name Mrs. Tremain until her death. Johnny also learns that his father gave a false name in America because he was ashamed to have been taken prisoner. Johnny’s real last name is not Tremain but Latour. Lavinia says that Merchant Lyte did not mean to be so cruel to Johnny––he honestly thought Johnny was trying to trick him. It was only after Lavinia did her own research that she discovered all of this; she was inspired to look into the matter after seeing Johnny’s widow’s peak, which reminded her of her cousin Vinny. She tells Johnny that he can have some of their property if there is any left after the Revolution, and asks him to call her Aunt. This destroys any physical attraction Johnny had to her.

Johnny speaks to Mrs. Bessie. He explains that he needs the uniform to sneak in among the British troops and spy on their movements. He also asks if Aunt and Uncle Lorne can hide in the coachman’s house and pretend to be servants for the Lytes, so as to avoid getting arrested. Mrs. Bessie agrees, although she warns Johnny that he may be shot. As he leaves, he kisses Cilla goodbye and wonders what has happened to Rab and the kinder British officers.


In this section, Esther Forbes brings the novel into its denouement, or falling action. The mystery of Johnny’s ancestry is finally resolved; we learn that he is, in fact, related to the Lytes. By the time Lavinia admits this, though, Johnny has already outgrown his childish concerns about social class. Instead, he wants to prove his worth by fighting bravely for a cause he believes in.

Lavinia’s behavior in this chapter further develops her character. On the one hand, she is as snobbish and cruel as always, forcing Isannah to choose between Cilla and herself. However, she is also eager to tell Johnny the truth about his relationship to the family, and she shows loyalty when she insists that her father is a good man and wasn’t intentionally trying to harm Johnny. Although she still comes off as very unsympathetic, she is a good example of how Esther Forbes gives all of her characters––even the villains––a mixture of good and bad qualities.

Throughout this chapter, Johnny remains in the dark about Rab’s fate. The emotional anguish he experiences from not knowing shows that one of war’s greatest costs is the psychological toll it takes on the living. However, Johnny’s anxiety about the fates of his friends also spurs him to action; he wants to behave as bravely as they did by going to fight at Lexington. This is an example of how patriotism works; people can be inspired to do brave things they wouldn’t normally do if they see that everyone around them is also stepping up and preparing to make sacrifices.