Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3


Johnny tries to look for work, but he does so with a bad attitude. He avoids employers that might pity him, and rejects an offer from a butcher because he would rather be a “fine craftsman” (50). The worst part about these interviews is that he must show the potential employers his hand. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lapham is hinting that he should leave their house soon. She wants to hire an assistant for Mr. Lapham who would live in the “birth and death room” where Johnny currently sleeps. Johnny starts skipping lunches so he won’t be a burden, but Cilla usually sneaks him some food.

One day, Johnny passes a printer’s office. This printer is famous because it publishes The Boston Observer. Mr. Lapham always insults this paper because it takes a Patriot point of view. However, Johnny goes in because he likes the building’s funny sign. Inside, the apprentice is chatting with an old market-woman about her lost pig. Johnny is struck by the apprentice’s friendliness and laid-back personality. He is pleased when the apprentice, whose name is Rab, invites him to share his lunch. Johnny feels better about his life after talking to Rab, who is a good listener. Although Rab cannot offer Johnny a skilled job at the printer’s, he invites Johnny to come back if he’d like to do odd jobs.

Johnny meets Mr. Percival Tweedie, the man Mr. Lapham has hired as an assistant. As part of the contract, Mr. Tweedie will get to marry one of the Lapham daughters, but he cannot decide which one. He likes to show up at the Lapham house for free meals, even when he is not invited. Johnny tries to warn Mrs. Lapham that Mr. Tweedie is no good. However, he does so in a rude way and Mrs. Lapham cuffs him. For the past few weeks, Johnny’s clothing and his arrogant attitude have made Mrs. Lapham suspect he is up to no good.

Johnny goes to the Long Wharf to ask for work from the merchants. He spots Lavinia Lyte, who is just returning from a summer in London. She is beautiful and well-dressed but Johnny resents her wealth. He goes to ask John Hancock if he can work for him as a cabin boy. Mr. Hancock does not recognize Johnny from the silver shop, but he is impressed by the boy’s reading and math skills. However, he rejects him when he realizes Johnny cannot write because of his injury. On his way out, Johnny mutters that Hancock caused the injury himself. As Johnny is leaving, Jehu (Mr. Hancock’s slave boy) catches up with him and hands him a heavy purse full of silver.

Johnny uses some of the money to buy a big meal at the best restaurant he can find. Then he buys a pair of new shoes and some limes for Isannah. He regrets spending so much money because now he has less for a gift for Cilla. However, he is able to buy her an illustrated book about Christian martyrs (she wants to learn to read) and some pastel crayons. When he returns home, Mrs. Lapham accuses him of stealing his new shoes. However, Cilla and Isannah graciously accept their gifts. But when they are hugging and playing with the limes, Isannah catches a glimpse of Johnny’s deformed hand and screams in fright. Although Cilla scolds Isannah and slaps her, Johnny is heartbroken. He runs away and sleeps in the Copp’s Hill graveyard. He sees his mother’s grave and decides he is now desperate enough to ask for help from Merchant Lyte.


In Johnny’s second encounter with John Hancock, Forbes makes a reference to the merchant’s role in history. To prove that Johnny can read, he asks him to “write John Hancock, Esquire” (65). This is a reference to Hancock’s famously large signature on the Declaration of Independence. It also suggests that Hancock puts himself before others. Rather than asking to see Johnny’s signature, Hancock wants to see his own name written out. The narrator criticizes Johnny for his pride, but Forbes shows that grown men––even important ones like Mr. Hancock––suffer from the same flaws.

In this chapter, Johnny is very concerned about the difference between skilled and unskilled labor. He rejects a job at the butcher because he would prefer a job where he can be a ‘fine craftsman’––even though his injury prevents him from doing most of these jobs. He also rejects Rab’s offer of employment, although he does so very politely. This difference was very important in the eighteenth century. Skilled laborers made more money than unskilled laborers, and skilled artisans—like clockmakers or silversmiths—had a higher social status than unskilled workers, like butchers.

People have many different reactions to Johnny’s injury in this chapter. Most of the adults he meets pity him. This hurts Johnny even more than the teasing of Dove and the slaves, because it offends his pride. He is also disturbed when Isannah is frightened by the deformity. The only person who responds well to him is Rab, who doesn’t fuss over the injury. Johnny appreciates this because it allows him to maintain his dignity.