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.