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Johnny Tremain

Esther Forbes

Chapters III–IV

Chapter II: The Pride of Your Power

Chapter V: The Boston Observer

Summary: Chapter III: An Earth of Brass

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

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Johnny is unable to earn money and now is just an added expense for the Laphams. Mrs. Lapham begins insulting Johnny the way she once insulted the other boys, and looks at him with uncloaked resentment. She complains about having to feed someone who does not help put food on the table. Cilla begins hiding food in Johnny’s pockets so that he does not have to eat in front of Mrs. Lapham. Mr. Lapham assures Johnny that he can remain a part of their household for as long as he needs, but Johnny’s pride is severely hurt by his lowered status. Consequently, he dwells in self-pity and longs to find a new home. Unfortunately, as he makes his rounds from artisan to artisan he is consistently rejected because of his crippled hand. Only the butcher offers to take him in, but Johnny cannot bring himself to accept such unskilled work. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lapham begins negotiating a business partnership with an adult silversmith named Mr. Tweedie to ensure that there will be someone to take over the shop when Mr. Lapham dies. Johnny resents Mr. Tweedie for usurping a position that was once his, and when they run into each other one day at the Lapham house, Johnny viciously attacks Tweedie with a barrage of insults and accusations, earning himself another enemy.

While in search of work, Johnny enters the print shop of the Boston Observer, a Whig newspaper. The quiet, dark, older boy minding the shop sizes Johnny up silently and offers him something to eat. Johnny is drawn to the boy, who introduces himself as Rab, and finds himself sharing the story of his accident, the Laphams, and his search for a new trade. Rab offers Johnny a job delivering the Observer, but Johnny still hopes to find skilled labor as an artisan. Rab kindly tells him to return if he can find nothing else.

Johnny next approaches John Hancock for a job. Hancock does not recognize Johnny as the silversmith who was supposed to make his basin, but Johnny’s quantitative skills impress Hancock so much that he prepares to take him in as a clerk. However, he rescinds the offer when sees Johnny’s handwriting, which is illegible because of his injury. Hancock sends Johnny away, but later sends his slave boy to give him a bag of silver. Johnny wastes this small windfall on expensive foods, and he is ashamed by his lack of prudence, reflecting that Rab would never act so foolishly. With the remainder of his money, he purchases new shoes for himself and spends the rest on gifts for Isannah and Cilla. When Johnny returns home, Mrs. Lapham accuses him of stealing the new shoes he is wearing, but she cannot ruin his good mood. Cilla and Isannah are delighted with their gifts, but when Johnny tries to pick up Isannah, she declares that she does not want him to touch her with his “dreadful hand.” Heartbroken, Johnny cries himself to sleep on his mother’s unmarked grave. He decides that he has finally hit rock bottom and the time has come to approach Jonathan Lyte.

Summary: Chapter IV: The Rising Eye

Lyte thinks that Johnny is a conniving impostor, but Johnny announces that he can prove his story with a silver cup bearing the Lyte seal. Lyte urges Johnny to bring the cup to his house that evening. On his way to the Lyte home, Johnny stops by the Observer to tell Rab what happened. Rab warns that Lyte is a crooked man who pretends to be a loyal British citizen when dealing with Tories and pretends to be sympathetic to the rebel cause when dealing with Whigs. He loans Johnny a fine linen shirt and corduroy jacket. When Johnny returns to Lyte and presents the cup, Lyte accuses him of theft. Lyte announces to his houseguests that he once owned four such cups, but that one was stolen on August 23. Mrs. Lapham, he continues, has already sworn that Johnny never owned such a cup and has confided in Lyte her suspicion that Johnny has resorted to crime. Mr. Tweedie has further offered that Johnny is a known liar. Based on this evidence assembled by Lyte, the sheriff places Johnny under arrest.

Rab visits Johnny in jail. Johnny stays in a comfortable, private cell because the jailor, the turnkey, and Rab are all members of the Sons of Liberty, a semisecret, slightly violent organization that tries to resist the alleged tyranny of Britain. Rab asks Johnny whether anyone saw the cup in his possession prior to August 23, and Johnny remembers that he showed the cup to Cilla in early July. Later, Rab discovers that Lyte is attempting to block Cilla’s testimony in court by bribing the Laphams with a big silver order and a promise of further orders should they cooperate. Mrs. Lapham forbids Cilla from testifying, but Rab attests that he will find a way to sneak her to court on the day of the trial. Rab also secures a lawyer for Johnny, the famous Whig attorney Josiah Quincy, who agrees to defend Johnny free of charge.

At the trial, Rab appears with Cilla as planned. Afterward, he reveals how he accomplished this feat: he presented Mrs. Lapham with a letter bearing the seal of the governor. Though the letter bore no relation to the trial, the illiterate Mrs. Lapham had no way of knowing this. Cilla testifies that she saw the cup in early July. Isannah repeats Cilla’s testimony, although she herself did not actually see the cup and is merely mimicking her older sister. Convinced by the testimony of the two girls, the judge rules that Johnny is innocent and orders that his cup be returned to him. After the trial, the famous beauty Lavinia Lyte, daughter of Jonathan Lyte and the object of Johnny’s reluctant infatuation, seems drawn to Isannah, taking her hand and remarking on her ethereal beauty. Isannah kisses Johnny’s burned hand before they leave the courtroom, restoring his spirits.

Analysis: Chapters III–IV

After reading Chapter III, we may feel pity for Johnny and surprise at Mrs. Lapham’s actions. Her grim attitude toward Johnny after his accident appears cruel and insensitive. However, as the mistress of a household that does not have a steady source of income, she does not have the luxury of letting Johnny wallow in self-pity. Johnny has become a financial burden on her family, and the other apprentices are untalented and unable to pull in enough money to feed a family of nine. Therefore, Johnny’s accident is not just a major setback for Johnny, but for the entire Lapham family. Though Mr. Lapham seems to treat Johnny favorably in contrast to Mrs. Lapham, we must remember that it is Mrs. Lapham’s duty to feed and clothe a large household. Mrs. Lapham is a resourceful and practical woman, whose first interest lies in providing for her family.

With his secure, quiet confidence, Rab serves as a foil to Johnny, who is quick-tempered, talkative, and insecure. Sensitive and understanding, Rab offers Johnny a patient ear and food because he senses right away that Johnny is too proud to ask for either. In return, Johnny immediately looks up to Rab as a role model. For example, when Johnny wastefully spends the majority of his silver from Hancock on a lavish feast, he asks himself whether Rab would have done the same. Johnny acknowledges that his decision to spend the money on a feast is a foolish one, because Rab would not have spent the money that way. Johnny’s acquaintance with Rab marks the beginning of his transformation from a selfish child to a selfless and patriotic man. Johnny will accomplish such a transformation by emulating Rab’s actions and seeing the world through Rab’s eyes.

Jonathan Lyte also serves as a foil to Johnny. His arrogantly flippant reaction to Johnny’s claims of kinship reminds us of Johnny’s arrogant pride, suggesting that the arrogance is hereditary. Johnny, however, is still a child, and we do not know whether his vanity will change into noble pride or petty arrogance. Jonathan Lyte represents one path that Johnny can take, where selfish arrogance takes the form of cruelty and crookedness. Forbes introduces Rab and Lyte concurrently, showing the strong contrast between the two characters. Johnny can either mature into a man with Rab’s quiet confidence or a man with Lyte’s cruel vanity. Johnny’s decision to use his small windfall from Hancock to purchase gifts for Isannah and Cilla demonstrates that he has the capacity for generous behavior. His selfless act is an indication that, given the right environment and influences, he can change in a positive direction and may well avoid the fate that Lyte embodies.

Johnny’s struggle with Lyte foreshadows the coming battle between Britain and the colonies. Johnny, like the colonies, does not have resources to fight, but he finds himself at war with a wealthy, well-equipped opponent. Johnny enters this battle because of his desire to assert himself as an equal of the rich and powerful Lyte; he wants to enjoy the privileges of the Lytes and those in the wealthy class. Similarly, the colonists struggle against the British because they want all people to be treated as equals so that everyone can enjoy the same privileges. Social and economic class is an important motif throughout the Lyte-Tremain struggle, just as it was an important motif in the ideology of the colonial rebels. Lyte insults Johnny primarily by mocking his poverty and his ancestry, attacking him based on his social and economic class. Like the colonists, Johnny the underdog ultimately triumphs against his powerful enemy.

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