Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

June 4, 2011
By Rage747 BRONZE, Lillington, North Carolina
Rage747 BRONZE, Lillington, North Carolina
4 articles 0 photos 4 comments

Johnny Tremain, written by Esther Forbes in 1943, is a historical fiction novel that took place during the Pre-Revolutionary War era. The story follows the path of a young boy named Johnny Tremain, the protagonist in the novel, as he struggles to find his way in colonial Boston. Johnny Tremain takes place over the course of about two years, finishing at the start of the Revolutionary War. Esther Forbes writes this novel with a showcase on the affects of the British oppression in the colonies, particularly Boston, Massachusetts.

Johnny, a fourteen year old boy, is an arrogant apprentice of silversmith Ephraim Lapham. Although an apprentice, Johnny behaves like a tyrant, telling people what to do and how to do it. He often receives praise as being Boston’s most talented young apprentice in his skilled profession, allowing it all to go to his head. Having no care for the outside world, all he wanted was to be a silversmith. After a practical joke done by fellow apprentice, Dove, Johnny becomes handicapped and can no longer continue working in silver. The selfish and prideful Johnny becomes ashamed and humiliated; he must now find other skilled work that he can do with a crippled hand.

The world outside of silver work is bustling, tension between the Whigs and Tories were growing. Johnny, unaware of the importance of the political world, soon gets hired to deliver newspapers for the Boston Observer, a Whig newspaper published and owned by Mr. Lorne. Rab, the nephew of Mr. Lorne, shows Johnny the ropes and eventually becomes a role model for Johnny. After realizing that being selfish and arrogant won’t get him far in the political arena, Johnny starts to mature into a selfless and patriotic man, much like Rab. Learning the ropes quickly, Johnny and Rab become close friends and take part in the Boston Tea Party. Johnny becomes a part time spy and errand boy for the Boston Whigs.

Whigs are not the only political views discussed in this book. Views from both parties, Whigs and Tories, are expressed through character’s actions and dialogue. While Johnny turns into a passionate Whig, he learns of key political events and leaders by becoming apart of the Observer’s Club, a secret Whig organization. Johnny does not want to kill the British, especially since he has both extended relatives and acquaintances who are Loyalists. Although he doesn’t care for his extended relatives and wants nothing to do with them, he can’t picture them as targets. To my assumption, I believe Esther Forbes was trying to ease the hostility between the two parties. She doesn’t criticize either party; however, she has favor of the Whigs, obviously. Both Whig and Tory views were respected, the narrator (the novel is written in the third person) showing sympathy and hopes for almost every character in the story (Whig and Tory).

One of the main themes for this novel is how quickly boys mature into men during wartime. Johnny turns into a humble, selfless, and patient man in less than two years, this transformation is the result of war. At the same time Johnny is maturing, so is the beloved colonies of America. Colonists are growing angry with Britain and start to gather men to train and drill in marksmanship and combat. British forces learn of rebellious training led by colonists and decided to attack Lexington, Massachusetts. Johnny, having learned about this secret attack, alerts Whig leaders who then alert Paul Revere who begins his famous midnight ride. Johnny shows that he truly does care by passing this information along, something he would not have done in the beginning of the novel. Another example of the affects on war in the maturing of boys is Rab. Although we don’t know much of Rab’s history, we know he has been involved in the complexities of politics for many years. This ultimately molds him into a fearless and altruistic young man who is willing to die for his sentiments. Rab, having left for Lexington shortly before this event, was fatally wounded in the first round of gun shots volleyed from British soldiers. Desperate for news on the whereabouts of Rab, Johnny finally locates him and is able to speak with him briefly before he dies.

Every person has their flaws, whether it’s their views or actions, I think Esther Forbes realizes this and implemented these truths in both her fictional and historical characters. These characters in her story are versatile in their fields of choice. Whig characters know the sacrifices they must make in order to free themselves from oppression, they know what it takes to continue on when another falls, and they are self-determined in fighting for what they believe in. Tory characters know they must either fight the rebels or flee from conflicting areas. Although there are not many Tories in this novel, Johnny respects the ones who deserve the respect, those who stick up for what they believe in. Johnny’s final break from arrogance is when he at last agrees to let fellow Whig, Doctor Warren, examine his hand. Doctor Warren is able to fix Johnny’s mutilated hand, making it clear even though it will be fixed, Johnny will not be able to work with silver. Accepting this, all he wants is to shoot a gun-the musket Rab left for him- in order to better serve Patriots in this war against Britain. “So a man can stand up.” Johnny has certainly stood up at this point and is prepared to defend his not-yet-but-soon-to-be country.

Overall Esther Forbes wrote an invigorating novel about the coming of age and emotional transformations and affects of oppression and war. Johnny chose an honest path to follow which led to him becoming confident and showing the possession of integrity. This book was not only captivating and incisive on a commoner’s life, but it showed me the true meaning of maturing behavior wise. Everything Johnny was, I am. I have slowly started changing, but this novel has demonstrated that it takes more than simply changing; you must become the person not change.

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