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Johnny Tremain

Esther Forbes

Chapters VIII–IX

Chapters VI–VII

Chapter X: ‘Disperse, Ye Rebels!’

Summary: Chapter VIII: A World to Come

Mrs. Bessie warns the Lytes just before the Whig mob comes for them because she cannot bear to see them treated roughly. The Lytes escape from their country house and head toward Boston with only the clothing on their backs. Jonathan Lyte has an anxiety attack due to the scare, so Doctor Warren instructs Lavinia to keep him away from stress. Cilla and Johnny borrow Doctor Warren’s carriage and horse so they can return to the Lytes’ country house to fetch the precious silver left behind in the hasty departure. While in the house, Johnny pockets Jonathan Lyte’s important papers hoping that they will be of interest to Samuel Adams. He also finds a family genealogy in an old Bible and discovers that his mother’s name is scratched out. The genealogy states that she married a man named Charles Latour and that they both died of plague in Marseilles before the date of Johnny’s birth. He cuts out the genealogy, only to burn it a few moments later. Cilla suggests that he seize the opportunity to retrieve his cup from among the Lyte’s silver, but Johnny no longer wants any connection to the Lytes and leaves the valuable cup behind.

Rab is caught trying to buy a gun from a farmer who resells British muskets. The British soldiers tar and feather the farmer, but Rab is not punished because he is so young. Meanwhile, Johnny finds it difficult to think of the British as targets rather than people. Madge elopes with Sergeant Gale, so Mrs. Lapham herself marries Mr. Tweedie to keep the silver shop in the family. Johnny learns that Rab has been earnestly courting Cilla, but Cilla finally decides that she likes Johnny best. Johnny admits to himself that he likes her too.

The Observers hold their last meeting because they cannot risk the chance of being discovered. James Otis is not notified, but he arrives and delivers a rousing speech. He declares that they are fighting the British so that “a man can stand up,” meaning that they are fighting for the rights of all individuals, everywhere.

Summary: Chapter IX: The Scarlet Deluge

Paul Revere organizes a spy system made up of master artisans and their apprentices to keep a watch on the British forces in Boston. The purpose of the spy system is to alert any outlying towns if the soldiers appear to be advancing in their direction.

Lydia gives Johnny the shreds of some aborted letters that Lieutenant Stranger had drafted to Lavinia Lyte. The letters reveal valuable information about the movements of British troops. As a result of this information, the Whig forces are able to seize a store of British military supplies. Meanwhile, Stranger gives Johnny a lesson jumping hurdles. Johnny is puzzled that Stranger treats him like an equal where horses are concerned but as an inferior in all other contexts.

Johnny discovers that many of the British regulars are actually Whigs. One of them, Pumpkin, asks for Johnny’s help in deserting his post. He dreams of owning his own farm, a dream he has no chance of fulfilling in England. Johnny gives Pumpkin a farmer’s smock sewn by his mother before she died and arranges to have him smuggled out of Boston. In return, Pumpkin gives Johnny his musket and his old uniform. Johnny gives the musket to Rab. Pumpkin is caught and executed for desertion by the British.

Analysis: Chapters VIII–IX

Johnny’s decision not to retrieve his stolen cup from Lyte is highly significant. The silver cup, a luxury item bearing the seal of a powerful and wealthy family, is symbolic on two levels. First, the cup symbolizes Johnny’s initial vices—his self-centered desires for money, status, and recognition. The cup is Johnny’s only connection to the Lyte family, and the Lyte family, presumably, is the genetic source of his vices, since the Lytes seem to exhibit the worst aspects of Johnny’s personality. When Lyte steals the cup from Johnny, he takes away Johnny’s connection to the Lyte family and the vices that they represent. Cut off from his sole possession and his only relatives, Johnny must turn to Rab for help. Modeling Rab’s behavior is what ultimately saves Johnny from his vices, as Rab and his friends transform Johnny into a selfless patriot. When Johnny passes up the opportunity to take back his cup from Lyte’s possession, he shows that his former selfish, materialistic ambitions are not important to him anymore.

We can also view the silver cup as a symbol of England and the type of world that fosters the vices Johnny now rejects. First, the cup literally originated in England. Second, the cup is a luxury item that symbolizes Britain’s wealth, and its Lyte seal represents Britain’s power and class-consciousness. By leaving behind the cup, Johnny not only renounces his selfish younger self, he also severs his ties to England and the system of class and wealth that it fosters. In other words, Johnny is declaring himself a citizen of America and not of England.

Johnny’s growing awareness of his romantic feelings for Cilla also indicates a final step in his embrace of a new, more democratic, identity. Until this time, Johnny has harbored a slight infatuation with the regally beautiful Lavinia Lyte. Lavinia, with her haughty, noble beauty and her strong preference for London, signifies, like the cup, the old, class-conscious world of England, where nobility of birth is more important than nobility of spirit. When Johnny is focused on his old desires for Lavinia, it is difficult for him to notice Cilla, who, with her unassuming prettiness and self-sacrificing, hardworking, democratic nature, symbolizes the spirit of the colonial rebels. As Johnny loses his yearning for petty personal gain, Lavinia’s glamour loses its hold on him, and Cilla’s sincere affection becomes more appealing.

It is also significant that Johnny first becomes aware of his feelings for Cilla when Rab begins courting her. Rab is instinctively drawn to nobler, more democratic ideologies, ways of life, and women. Johnny merely follows Rab’s lead and models his behavior. At this point in the novel, Johnny is not entirely capable of finding his own path; he still follows Rab, as he struggles toward his new sense of self.

Johnny’s relationship with Stranger illustrates the growing cultural divide between Britain and the colonies. Stranger, a British soldier, strictly observes the rules regarding class boundaries in his interactions with Johnny. In the colonies, however, class boundaries are not clear. In Britain, class is a set of rigid norms that delineate possible relationships and ambitions. In the colonies, class is a more fluid demarcation that affects, but does not determine, one’s station in life. Stranger’s behavior toward Johnny—the way he treats him as a subordinate despite their growing friendship—puzzles the American boy, who is not used to such treatment. The episode with Pumpkin further illustrates the differences between the British and American conceptions of class. Pumpkin longs to desert the army and become an American, because only in the colonies can a poor boy of low class hope to aspire above his station and acquire his own land. America is a land of opportunity and equality, at least compared to England.

Johnny has been growing increasingly aware of the very real and weighty significance of his friends’ ideologies, but it is not until he sees Pumpkin killed that Johnny realizes the consequences of violent, armed conflict. Only then does he recognize that his closest friends might die while trying to implement their ideas. Johnny’s fear that Rab will die becomes a small obsession for Johnny for the remainder of the book, manifesting itself in a recurring vision of muskets staring at his friend as if they were the “very eyes of death.” The recurring image of the muskets foreshadows Rab’s demise on the battlefield.

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