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Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 11 : Yankee Doodle | Summary



When Johnny wakes up, Doctor Warren tells him the battle has begun at Lexington. Johnny asks who won, and Doctor Warren says, "They did [the British]. Seven hundred against seventy. It wasn't a battle. It was ... just target practice." He says the British cheered at their victory and then took the road to Concord. Doctor Warren is heading out to tend to the wounded. He tells Johnny to stay in Boston and gather news about which regiments are being sent out and other information relevant to the patriots. At some point Johnny will slip away and find Doctor Warren on the battlefield to share what he knows.

More civilian colonists—minutemen—are now marching for Concord, as are the British redcoats. Johnny sees Tremont Street "overflowing with the waiting scarlet-coated men. Like a river of blood." Boston residents are tense, many of them unsure what is going on. But schools are closed, and children chant, "School is done. War's begun." Johnny thinks the children are "shrewder guessers than their elders," who want to believe "not a shot had been, or would be, fired." Madge Lapham sobs as she watches the man she hopes to marry, a British sergeant, march off with the reinforcements.

British troops are searching houses for the leaders of the revolt, but they find most are gone. Mr. Lorne has fled the Boston Observer, and Johnny finds the beds upstairs from the office ripped by bayonets.

Word starts to come back from Concord that things are not going well for the British. First a trickle, then—as the day goes on—a flood of soldiers straggle back with news of the fight and a disastrous British retreat back to Boston.

The Lytes are preparing to leave town. Mrs. Bessie tells Johnny that they are "going to London until this insurrection, as they call it, is over." Lavinia Lyte wants to take Isannah with her, and although Cilla begs her sister to stay, Isannah says she wants to go to London, where Lavinia will train her to be an actress: "the toast of London." Lavinia then turns to Johnny and says, "I must talk to you, Jonathan Lyte Tremain." Johnny is astonished. Lavinia says her father never knew that Johnny's mother had a child, and she insists he did not deliberately try to cheat Johnny out of his silver cup. Johnny finds it hard to believe Lavinia, but she promises her father will write out the true family history so that Johnny can file a claim after the coming war is over.

Johnny asks Cilla for Pumpkin's old uniform. He wants to get to the mainland to find Rab, and to do that he must wear a British uniform. He also asks Cilla to fetch his horse, Goblin, from the Afric Queen and keep him safe in the Lytes' pastures. Johnny suggests that Mr. Lorne and his family can move to the Lytes' and stay in the coachman's quarters, caring for Goblin and the other animals. There, Mr. Lorne can conceal his identity from the British, who are after him for publishing the anti-British Boston Observer.


Johnny struggles with conflicting loyalties. He stands with Marge Lapham, from a staunch Tory family, as she watches Sergeant Gale march away. He sees Lieutenant Stranger, a redcoat, return from the battlefield and resists the urge to reach out to help him, even though they became friends in the tense period leading up to the war. Through Johnny's experiences, readers might recall the words of the medical officer: "We're all one people, you know."

Lavinia's promise to make Isannah the "toast of London" would have been a mixed blessing for the child. The phrase "toast of the town" originated in male drinking clubs of early 18th-century England. The "toast" was any woman men celebrated through drinking. A glamorous stage actress such as Sarah Siddons (1755–1831) might have received a respectful toast, but acting was still often considered an unsuitable and somewhat tawdry career for many women, as is evidenced by Lavinia Lyte's acknowledgement that her "station in life" prevented her from pursuing acting.

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