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The title character and hero of Johnny Tremain is
a fourteen-year old boy living in colonial Boston. When we first
meet Johnny, he is arrogant, ambitious, slightly cruel, and wholly
self-centered. In part, these vicious character traits stem from
his prodigious gifts: he is unusually bright and well educated for
an apprentice, and he is widely considered the most talented young
silversmith in Boston. His insecurity and cruelty may also stem
from his lack of a loving family, as his parents died when he was
very young. Johnny works as an apprentice in a silversmith’s house,
learning the craft in the hope that one day he can open his own
shop. As an apprentice in his master’s house, Johnny has a status
only a little above a servant, but he acts as tyrant, ordering around
not only the other two apprentices but even his master and his master’s
Johnny’s disdainful treatment of others leads to resentment,
and this resentment leads to a disfiguring accident that ruins Johnny’s future
as a silversmith. With a crippled hand, Johnny cannot find skilled
work, and he allows himself to feel self-pity and despair. Dangerously
close to giving up all hope of an honest life, Johnny almost turns
to crime. Yet, due to his new job with the Boston Observer, the
Whig newspaper, and his friendship with Rab Silsbee, the Lornes,
and the leaders of the revolution, Johnny takes a more honest path.
Inspired by their idealism and self-sacrifice, Johnny finds himself
transforming from a selfish boy into a patriotic man. On a conscious
level, he models himself after his new best friend, Rab, trying
to imitate the older boy’s quiet, unassuming confidence and mild
temperament. Unconsciously, as Johnny devours books in the Lornes’
library and soaks in the rhetoric of such acquaintances as Samuel
Adams and James Otis, he begins to care about something much larger
than his own petty ambitions and comforts. Johnny suddenly becomes
an ardent Whig and a soldier, not because he is part of the Lorne
family but because he rationally believes in freedom and rights
for the colonists. At the novel’s end, Johnny has finally overcome
his psychological and emotional handicaps. Faced unexpectedly with
the prospect of a restored hand, Johnny is less concerned about
whether he will be able to resume his job as a silversmith than
whether he will be able to fire a gun and serve his nascent country.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Johnny Tremain!