Johnny Tremain Essay

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Some literary pieces have much more to offer than it might seem on the surface. Sometimes, the most absurd and non-sensical stories might bring about deeper meanings and provide insightful lessons. Sometimes, children’s books raise rather adult and universally relevant themes and questions. One of such works that go deeper than one might expect is the children’s period novel Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes published in 1943. In this Revolutionary period piece intended for children, Forbes provides an insightful lesson on what it is to be human, providing strong implications as to why it is important to present day.

Key Points and Summary

Johnny Tremain contains a number of valuable characteristics, especially considering that it is intended for children. As such, the novel serves as a rather detailed historical lesson about the American Revolution, involving a character of Paul Revere and an event of the Boston Tea Party (Forbes 218; 153). The critical historical value of the book lies in showing the events and characters from the perspective of the fourteen-year-old child who is Johnny Tremain. Such a powerful insight allows the intended readers to fully immerse into the period, which is particularly important for the main purpose of the book.

The major lesson Johnny Tremain teaches its readers, however, is about being a human. Throughout the book, the reader becomes progressively acquainted with the title character Johnny Tremain, a silversmith apprentice, as well as the process of his personality development. At the very beginning of the story, Johnny appears to be a very arrogant young man. He is undoubtedly talented, yet he uses such a status to dominate over others. In chapter I, Johnny even admits his pride, at the same time, showing the lack of understanding why this characteristic of is negative and might even be dangerous (Forbes 11). In the same chapter, it is made clear that Johnny could “beat up Dove [Johnny’s fellow apprentice] any time he chose” (4). As the story develops, however, Johnny significantly changes in personality gradually becoming more empathetic as he faces challenges himself.

A turning point for Johnny occurs quite early in the story. In chapter II, Johnny gets a serious injury after his fellow apprentice Dove, constantly bullied by Johnny, decides to prank him. Johnny severely burns his hand and cannot work at the silversmith’s workshop anymore (38). From this point, protagonist’s life experiences a strong downward shift as he essentially becomes isolated not only from his work, but also from society overall. In chapter III, the silversmith’s wife that was previously kind to Johnny iterates, “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me with that dreadful hand!” (70). It appears that Johnny’s disfigurement serves as a symbolic mark that turns everyone around against him. At this lowest point of despair, Johnny begins to change.

After Johnny unsuccessfully searches for work, he stumbles across the Whig publication that eventually turns him into the American patriot. The ideas followed by the Whig Party motivates Johnny to change the course of his thoughts into a much less selfish direction. Participating in the public life of Boston, ideologically resisting the British oppression of the time, as well as the revolutionary thoughts overall turned the protagonist’s personality upside down. Johnny helps organize the Boston Tea Party, consults with Paul Revere over the course of action patriots should take, and helps his comrades during the historically important battles (149-172). All the while, Johnny learns about the importance of compassion and collective power. By the end of the book, Johnny almost completely forgets about his arrogance, obtaining the characteristics of a strong and compassionate leader that would make all effort he can for the good of the greater society.


Esther Forbes’ 1943 novel Johnny Tremain is a tremendous lesson in history and humanity. Throughout the story, the author shows the Revolutionary-period United States through the eyes of an arrogant and prideful teenager. The challenges of revolutionary life, however, drive Johnny towards the right course, thus, underlining the importance of joint human forces, compassion, and clear mind. While the challenges Johnny faces make him change in particular, the story makes it quite clear that some of the worst problems in life can be overcame or at least mitigated by simply remaining humane to others.

Works Cited

Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain. Graphia, 2011.

May 12, 2022




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