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Johnny Tremain

Esther Forbes

Chapter II: The Pride of Your Power

Chapter I: Up and About

Chapters III–IV

Summary

Though everyone assures Johnny that the handle he designed for the sugar bowl is beautiful, Johnny remains unconvinced. Before casting the wax model in silver, he takes his design to Paul Revere, a silversmith of great repute, to ask his advice. Johnny has never met Revere before and is shocked to discover that the great artisan knows his name and his face. Johnny is not aware that all of the master silversmiths in Boston have been watching him. Revere immediately spots the imperfection that Johnny was sensing all along in his design: the curve of the handle is wrong, and the ornate design too large. Revere offers to buy the rest of Johnny’s apprentice time from Mr. Lapham for more than the normal price, but Johnny refuses the honor. He explains to Revere that he is the Laphams’ chief breadwinner and cannot abandon them.

Back at home, Johnny follows Revere’s advice about the sugar bowl, and he is finally satisfied with his work. He quickly makes the wax models and sends Dove to buy some charcoal, but Dove returns with charcoal of inferior quality. Johnny fiercely criticizes Dove, which bothers Mr. Lapham. Mr. Lapham lectures Johnny about his attitude, encouraging him to be more pious. Consequently, he forbids Johnny to work that evening. Johnny despairs because Mr. Hancock wanted the sugar basin by Monday morning, and it is now Saturday night. Working on Sunday is not only against the law, but it would be a violation of Mr. Lapham’s pious lifestyle. Mr. Lapham seems entirely unconcerned by the prospect of failing to meet the deadline.

Mrs. Lapham, however, does not put much stock in her father-in-law’s strict religious beliefs and casual attitude toward work, so she urges Johnny to work on Sunday. Mr. Lapham, she points out, will be away most of the day, so he will never know if the religious rule to rest on Sunday is violated. Johnny’s work begins well, but Dove deliberately hands him a cracked crucible. Dove’s intention is to humble Johnny by making him look clumsy when the silver spills out, but his actions result in a terrible accident. When the crucible breaks, spilling molten silver over the furnace, Johnny slips and badly burns his hand. Mrs. Lapham is afraid to reveal Johnny’s sin of breaking the Sabbath, so she summons a midwife instead of a doctor. The midwife does not bandage Johnny’s hand correctly, and when the bandages come off, Johnny’s thumb is fused to his palm, ruining him forever as a silversmith. Johnny walks through Boston in an angry, bleak mood. The Lapham family’s careful courtesy and Dove’s impudence infuriate him. When Mr. Lapham learns that Johnny broke the Sabbath to work on the basin, he melts down the entire piece and tells John Hancock that he cannot fill his order, giving no explanation for the failure. Mr. Lapham also discloses to Johnny that Dove was the true cause of his accident and asks him to forgive Dove “like a true Christian.” Johnny, however, only swears revenge.

Analysis

Mr. Lapham and Johnny have vastly different attitudes toward work, religion, and humanity, and these divergent opinions may reflect a broad difference between the older and younger colonists. Mr. Lapham has a somewhat laid-back work ethic—he is unconcerned about meeting deadlines and not interested in achieving fame and fortune. He thoroughly enjoys casting silver and feels it is his moral and religious duty to provide for his family. These motivations alone drive his labor. Johnny, on the other hand, is fervently ambitious. He views the Hancock sugar basin order as his chance to achieve widespread recognition, and through that recognition, to build a lucrative silver business. Johnny fantasizes about running a shop outside of his home, which only the most successful silversmiths can afford to do, and he dreams about all the important people who will come to beg for his services. This shift in work ethic is reflected in the difference between the dreams of the older and younger colonists. The older colonists have small dreams: they want to comfortably support their families, work at their trades, and enjoy religious freedom. The younger colonists have more robust dreams, and they desire to get all the money, rights, and opportunities. The younger colonists are not as easily satisfied with their role in life, and their growing needs lead to a broader dissatisfaction with English rule. When the British try to raise revenue from the colonists in the wake of the French and Indian War, taxing them and limiting their self-rule, they threaten the ambitions of the younger generations, who want to maintain control over their pocketbooks and their colonial legislatures. The older generation might have suffered silently under the new impositions, but the new generation protests and ultimately revolts.

Mr. Lapham and Johnny also view religion through different lenses. Mr. Lapham is gravely pious. He reads the Bible more often than he casts silver, and he tries to imbue all actions in his life with the instructions he finds in the Holy Book. Though he constantly urges Johnny to take the advice of the Bible seriously—to rein in his arrogance and to learn to forgive—Johnny is indifferent to these suggestions. The Bible, and religion in general, does not interest Johnny, and he does not use religion as a guide for how he should treat others or live his life. He is not even reluctant to break the Sabbath, which at that time was considered a sin and was against the law. Mr. Lapham’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. Lapham, shares Johnny’s lax attitude toward the Sabbath, which suggests that the shift in religious attitude is generational. Later on, we see that these lenient attitudes toward religion exist also among the leaders of the revolutionary cause. The leaders meet on Sunday to conduct political business, and the Minute Men train on Sunday.

In part, the more relaxed religious attitudes among the younger generation are the result of the increasingly cosmopolitan character of the colonies. During the time in which the novel is set, Boston is the largest city in the colonies and a major international port. However, the shift in religious attitudes was not limited to the colonies. The eighteenth century brought on a gradual but perceptible weakening of religious observance all over Western Europe. Philosophers who were part of the intellectual movement called the Enlightenment believed that truth lay in science and rational exploration rather than in religion and faith. The new Enlightenment beliefs spread widely and eventually influenced the colonies by way of large port cities like Boston.

The broader shift in European thought is another underlying cause of the younger generation’s revolt against England. The Enlightenment’s focus on reason rather than faith led to the belief in radical ideas about politics. As thinkers sought to examine all doctrines with their rational faculties, they came to reject many of the traditional doctrines and form new ones. Religious tolerance became more important, as well as the idea of individual rights, or the natural rights that belong to all men, regardless of wealth, class, religion, and race. In England, and all other countries at this time, the small elite ruled over the large masses, masses of people who had no influence in government. A poor man of low class had little control over the direction of his life. The Enlightenment increased people’s desire to change the unbalanced power structure, which led to the Founding Fathers’ desire to fight for their own country, in which individual rights would be honored.

Johnny and Mr. Lapham approach personal relationships in entirely different ways. Mr. Lapham believes that people should forgive all wrongs and not hold grudges. His attitude toward humanity and morality leads him to be politically apathetic: just as he does not believe in avenging a wrong done by an individual, he does not believe in avenging a wrong done by a government. Mr. Lapham reveals to Johnny that he disapproves of the people who are “trying to stir up discontent in Boston.” He would prefer to forgive England for whatever wrongs it has imposed on the colonists, and to continue living a quiet, peaceful life. Johnny, however, takes a much more belligerent stance toward the world. His hostility takes a selfish turn, and he hopes to exact revenge for the wrongs that were done to him personally. For example, Johnny wishes to get revenge on Dove for the foolish prank that resulted in Johnny’s injury. But as Johnny matures into a less selfish individual, his belligerence becomes directed toward ideological enemies rather than personal ones, and he develops into a patriot and a soldier.

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