Early in the novel, Johnny is excessively proud of his skills as a silversmith. He believes he is too good to be friends with the other apprentices––especially Dove––and has a pompous manner with the people around him. After his hand is burned, Johnny must learn new skills. Although his proud attitude does not go away overnight (he turns down several job offers because he thinks they are beneath him), he eventually learns humility by following the example of Rab, a reserved older boy who shows Johnny the benefits of being modest.
Hard work and professionalism
Forbes uses Johnny Tremain to address questions of how people should do work. The characters in the book think that skilled labor is better than unskilled labor; for example, Johnny refuses to work for a butcher because he would rather be a craftsman. But once he accepts a job as a delivery boy out of desperation, he realizes that any job can be satisfying if a person does it with honor and hard work.
Finding one's place in life
The novel traces the two years leading up to the American Revolution, but it is also a story about growing up in any time. Johnny must try many different jobs and types of behavior before he can become a brave, self-sacrificing man. Forbes suggests that although Johnny often makes things worse for himself through his immature behavior, he is a good person deep down and that learning through experience is the only way one can find one's niche in life.
On page 109, Johnny notices that Rab never changes, while Johnny's opinions and behavior often change depending on his mood and his whims. Although Rab's integrity (or stubbornness) leads him to dangerous behavior, like participating in the Boston Observers and the battle of Lexington, Johnny admires the older boy's willingness to stick to his beliefs. By the end of the novel, Johnny's experiences during wartime have led him to come to a few of his own opinions––that violence is horrible but sometimes necessary, and that people must be willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good––that he will stand by no matter what.
Part of the reason Johnny has so much trouble finding a job after his injury is that he is impulsive and loses his temper easily. Rab eventually influences him to count to ten before reacting when something bothers him. This strategy works well, and Johnny starts reaping the benefits immediately, getting a slice of apple pie and a job offer from a girl he almost yelled at.
Johnny Tremain brings up the question of when it is appropriate to sacrifice oneself. It shows the consequences of needless self-sacrifice in great detail; for example, Mr. Lapham is often unavailable to his family because he spends so much time praying and doing church business. Johnny learns by the end of the story that sacrificing one's own interests––or even one's life––for one's country is a very noble goal.
Forbes emphasizes in Johnny Tremain that violence is not fun and exciting––it hurts people deeply. This can be seen in Johnny's reaction to the street brawls in the months leading up to the Revolution; they make him sick and he is upset to see the Sons of Liberty beating up old Tories. Forbes suggests that unnecessary violence is bad no matter which side is the perpetrator.
Johnny Tremain Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Johnny Tremain is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.