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Johnny Tremain

Esther Forbes


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

“It is all another way of saying—God’s way of saying—that pride goeth before a fall.”

Johnny speaks these words in the first chapter to reiterate the lesson that Mr. Lapham has just tried to teach him about the sin of pride. Johnny can paraphrase the words of the Bible, but he is not yet prepared to truly believe the words in his heart. At this point in the novel, Johnny’s arrogance and pride guide his behavior toward others. He constantly bullies the two other apprentices in the Lapham household, and he is unable to empathize with others. Johnny is unwilling to struggle against his pride and instead prefers to indulge it. This quote describes the notion of pride preceding a fall, which foreshadows Johnny’s coming accident, an accident that is the direct result of his pride. Ironically, if Johnny had responded positively to Mr. Lapham’s lesson rather than ignoring it entirely, he might have developed into an arrogant, proud man. If Johnny had listened to Mr. Lapham and tried to rein in his pride, then Dove would not have played his practical joke, and Johnny’s hand would not have been injured. It is Johnny’s injury, however, that forces him to examine himself and struggle toward a new, less arrogant identity. Without this traumatic accident, Johnny might not have met Rab and the Lornes or become involved in the Whig rebellion. Therefore, he might never have developed into an empathetic, patient, self-assured young man.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me with that dreadful hand!”

Isannah Lapham speaks these words in Chapter III, driving Johnny to the lowest point of his despair. Because of his handicap, Johnny is now unemployed and broke. Once Isannah expresses her disgust toward his disfigurement, Johnny also feels that he does not have any friends or loved ones. Isannah’s statement is a catalyst for a series of events that affect the rest of Johnny’s life. Because of her words, Johnny feels he has no other recourse than to approach Lyte with the silver cup, which leads to his arrest and his relationship with Rab and the Lornes. Isannah’s exclamation also reveals her true character. Johnny has just given Isannah a gift, then tried to hug and kiss her, when she makes this outburst. Her response to Johnny’s affection and kindness reveals Isannah’s selfishness and lack of sensitivity toward others and her inability to consider anyone’s feelings but her own. These words foreshadow Isannah’s choice of a life of luxury over a life with her loved ones, when she decides to join the Lytes and move to London.

“Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! That worst of Plagues, the detested tea shipped for this Port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the Harbour: the hour of destruction, of manly opposition to the machinations of Tyranny, stares you in the face.”

This quote appears in Chapter VI, as part of Samuel Adams’s rally cry. Adams writes this passage to rouse up the colonists against the shipment of tea that the British are forcing the Bostonians to purchase. Adams and the other rebel leaders view the shipment as an act of British tyranny and another instance of “taxation without representation,” since the colonists must pay a small tax on the tea. When the British governor of Boston refuses to send the pricey tea back to England, the rebellious Whigs organize a controlled act of violence, now known as the Boston Tea Party. Young men, dressed as Native Americans, board the ship and throw all of the tea overboard. Historically, this act of rebellion was the most dramatic one the colonists had ever staged, and it drew a strong punishment from the British government: the port of Boston was closed. The Boston Tea Party was significant because it set off a series of events that led to the Revolutionary War. The colonists were outraged by Britain’s stiff penalties, such as the Intolerable Acts and the closing of Boston’s harbor. As a result, the colonists banded together to fight against the injustice and declared a war for independence. Adams’s quote expresses the anger and frustration of the colonists that caused them to unite against the British and emerge as a new, independent country.

Adams’s quote is also important because it shows how the Whigs tried to unify the colonists against the British by making them seem like an inhuman enemy. Many colonists still had ties to the British and considered themselves English citizens. Adams realizes that it is difficult to fight against a country if you feel you are fighting against your family members, lovers, or friends. Adams chooses his language carefully, and forces a distinction between the colonists (“us”) and the British (“them”). He speaks to the colonists, whom he calls friends, family, and countrymen, and the “manly opposition,” showing that the colonists are human beings, fighting for human rights. He asks the colonists to fight against the British, whom he describes as an inhuman face and an unnatural machine—a technological monster clamping down on the rights of humanity.

“There shall be no more tyranny. A handful of men cannot seize power over thousands. A man shall choose who it is shall rule over him. . . . We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills . . . we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.”

James Otis speaks these words in Chapter VIII. Otis is brilliant but insane, so he has not been involved in the Boston Observers even though he was a founder. Nonetheless, Otis speaks these words as part of a rousing speech at one of the Boston Observers’ meetings. Here Otis offers his idealistic vision of what the American Revolution seeks to achieve: an independent nation based on the principles of freedom and equality, where the rights of every man are the same, regardless of class, wealth, and religion. His lofty sentiments inspire everyone in the room, particularly Johnny, and he helps to unite the audience against the British government. “So that a man can stand up” becomes Johnny’s personal war cry, and he repeats it to himself in moments of doubt. Johnny does not admire Otis’s sentiments merely because Otis is an articulate, enthusiastic speaker. Rather, Johnny rationally believes that human beings each have the natural right to liberty and freedom.

The cow that lowed, the man who milked, the chickens that came running and the woman who called them, the fragrance streaming from the plowed land and the plowman. These he possessed. . . . The wood smoke rising from the home-hearths rose from his heart.

This passage from Chapter XII describes how Johnny develops his sense of self and his sense of country simultaneously. In the aftermath of the first battle of the Revolutionary War, Johnny looks around at his countrymen, who are optimistically preparing themselves for war. He finally realizes who he is and what identity he has been seeking—he is an American. He is a patriot, a soldier, an idealistic believer, and he believes in the equal rights of man. Until this moment, Johnny has modeled himself on Rab and has tried to comport himself based on Rab’s beliefs and behavior. But now Rab is dead, and Johnny realizes that he is an independent person and more than just Rab’s follower. He has developed into someone who feels strongly about a cause. Without Rab, he must now govern his own actions based on his own ideology. Likewise, Johnny realizes how important it is for America to fight for its own right to govern itself, and he is ready to fight for this goal.

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