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Johnny Tremain

Esther Forbes

Chapters XI–XII

Chapter X: ‘Disperse, Ye Rebels!’

Important Quotations Explained

Summary: Chapter XI: Yankee Doodle

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.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

When Johnny wakes up, Doctor Warren tells him about the events that occurred in Lexington. A handful of rebels were killed, but Doctor Warren does not know their names. Johnny instantly thinks about Rab. Doctor Warren heads to Lexington to tend to the wounded, and Johnny asks to come along. The doctor tells him to stay in Boston and spend the day collecting information, then slip out across the Charles at night to find him and relay what he has gathered.

Outside in the streets of Boston, no one knows that the fighting has begun, but the entire city is at the harbor watching the British soldiers line up and pile into boats. General Gage orders that the leaders of the colonial opposition be arrested, but all of the principal men, such as Adams, Hancock, Revere, and Warren, have already fled toward the fighting in the countryside. Johnny sends a warning message to Uncle Lorne, because printers of Whig papers are also being rounded up. When Johnny finally makes it to the Lorne house, he finds Mrs. Lorne mending a feather mattress. Uncle Lorne steps out of the mattress, and explains that he hid inside because he did not have time to escape.

Next, Johnny goes to the Lyte house. He finds the Lytes loading their possessions into coaches, and he learns that they are moving to London now that war has broken out. Only Cilla and Mrs. Bessie are staying behind. While Johnny talks to Cilla, Lavinia approaches and informs them that Isannah is accompanying her to London. Cilla begs her sister to stay behind. Lavinia asks Isannah if she would prefer a life of luxury or one of poverty. Faced with the choice between her sister and her patroness, Isannah bursts into tears but then quickly chooses to go to London, where Lavinia plans to train the child as an actress.

Lavinia then dismisses Cilla and Mrs. Bessie from the room. She reveals to Johnny that her father was not completely honest when he testified that only four of the six silver cups came to the New World, when in fact, there had been five. Mr. Lyte had no reason to believe, she explains, that Johnny could be in possession of the fifth cup, because he had never been told that Johnny’s mother had a child. The entire family believed that both of Johnny’s parents died of cholera in France. Johnny’s father was a French soldier who became a prisoner of war in Boston during the French and Indian War, and during that time he went under the assumed name of Charles Latour. Johnny’s mother fell in love with Charles and defied her parents by running off to France with him after his release. When Charles died, the Tremain family sent his young widow to a convent, hoping that she would convert to Catholicism. It was in that convent that Johnny was born. Lavinia excuses her father’s dishonest conduct by swearing that he did not know any of this information at the time of the trial. It was only after the trial that she began to investigate, and uncovered the facts that she is now revealing. Lavinia and her father now acknowledge that Johnny has a right to some of their property, and she tells him that he is free to stake his claim to whatever is left when the war is over.

Summary: Chapter XII: A Man Can Stand Up

Johnny travels to Lexington, trying to find Doctor Warren, but also searching for news about Rab. When he finds Warren, he learns that Rab was seriously wounded in the first volley of shots fired at Lexington, and he goes to a small back room in a tavern where Rab is resting. Rab gives Johnny his musket, saying that his only regret is that it was never fired in battle. Then he sends Johnny away, asking him to locate his family. No members of Rab’s family are in their house, and Johnny returns, defeated, to learn that Rab has died in his absence. Rab had sent him away on a wild-goose chase because he did not want Johnny to see him die.

Alone with Doctor Warren, Johnny finally lets him examine his injured hand. The thumb, the doctor discovers, is fused to the palm only by scar tissue. If Johnny is brave enough to stand the pain, Warren can cut the thumb loose. It is unlikely that Johnny will ever be a silversmith again, but he will be able to fire a gun. Johnny takes a walk while Warren prepares his surgical instruments. Looking across the landscape, at the people readying themselves for more fighting, he is filled with an intense love for his country.

Analysis: Chapters XI–XII

The final split between Cilla and Isannah is parallel to the final irreparable divide between the colonies and Britain. Throughout most of the turmoil leading up to the first exchange of shots, the majority of colonists still considered themselves Englishmen. After the first exchange of gunfire, however, many of these colonists no longer claimed any kinship with Britain. The split was final and radical, like the split between Cilla and Isannah, the two sisters who were once inseparable. Both splits in kinship occur in the immediate aftermath of the first battle of the war. While the colonists decide to sever their ties with Britain, Isannah does the reverse, and decides to stop identifying with her colonial family by leaving for Britain.

Lavinia Lyte weakens the strong bond between the Lapham sisters by spoiling Isannah with luxury and treating Cilla like a common servant, creating an artificial distinction of class and privilege between Cilla and Isannah. The triangle of affection between Lavinia, Isannah, and Cilla is a metaphor for the complex relationship between England, the Tories, and the Whigs. Lavinia serves as a symbol of Britain, with her wealth, her good breeding, her class-consciousness, and her love of London. We can view Isannah as a symbol for the Tories, who are loyal to Britain, many of whom rose quickly from poverty to wealth as merchants just as Isannah rose quickly from poverty to wealth when Isannah adopted her. England appealed to Tory sympathy by appealing to their desire to continue the luxurious, comfortable life they enjoyed. Similarly, Lavinia ultimately convinces Isannah to move to London by reminding her that staying in the colonies means losing her life of wealth and prestige. Isannah, in turn, behaves toward Cilla as many of the wealthy Tory families behaved toward their Whig neighbors. Forced to choose between the colonies and a future of continued privilege and luxury, the Tories chose the latter and left their old world behind.

Johnny has changed so radically during the course of the book that Lavinia’s confession about his true ancestry is hardly momentous. He does not care whether the Lytes acknowledge him as kin and does not reflect on the possibility of getting a share of Lyte land. If Lavinia’s confession had come earlier in the story, it would have marked a radical turning point as Johnny’s great triumph of wealth. Now this admission is no longer consequential to the primary trajectory of the story. The focus of the novel is not on Johnny’s personal fortune, but on his participation in the larger goal of the war effort. Similarly, Johnny no longer focuses on gaining wealth and revenge. Instead, he redirects his pride toward his country and his fellow man.

Just as Johnny has escaped from the emotional handicaps of insecurity, arrogance, and resentment, he also escapes from his physical handicap. Johnny finally allows Doctor Warren to examine his injured hand and learns that the doctor can repair some of the damage. By mending his crippled hand, Johnny shows that he has symbolically overcome his emotional handicaps as well. It is significant that Johnny only allows his hand to heal after Rab is gone. Rab’s death thrusts Johnny fully into his new identity. He faces the stark reality of his terrible personal loss without self-pity and anger. Johnny’s thoughts are selfless, and he focuses on the greater good of the war. He is so focused on the big picture that he is unable to feel the grief that he knows is festering inside of him.

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