Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 12 : A Man Can Stand Up | Summary



Wearing Pumpkin's British uniform and claiming he has a message for a British officer, Johnny waits down on the docks for a boat ride to Charlestown. He watches in horror as boatloads of wounded soldiers arrive at the wharf. "The first two boats were filled with privates. They ... now were being tossed ashore, like so much cordwood." Johnny thinks of James Otis's words about "why we fight." He tells himself he is witnessing one such reason: "Because a man is a private is no reason he should be treated like cordwood."

After reaching Charlestown Johnny strips off his overcoat and eventually makes his way along the road to Lexington, where he sees evidence of the bloody British retreat. He finally reaches Lexington and learns the names of the dead. He is relieved that Rab is not among them. But when he finally locates Doctor Warren, he learns Rab has been mortally wounded and is in a local tavern. When Johnny visits him, Rab says Johnny can have his musket, which he never fired. He asks him to go check on the Silsbee family. When Johnny returns, Rab is dead.

Doctor Warren says that Rab sent Johnny away so Johnny wouldn't see him die. As Johnny holds Rab's musket, the doctor asks to look at his damaged hand. Doctor Warren says he can repair the hand if Johnny can put up with the pain. "Will it be good enough to hold this gun?" Johnny asks. The doctor assures him it will.

While Doctor Warren prepares his instruments, Johnny walks outside and takes in the smells and sounds of farmland. This is his land, he thinks, a green world that will have a future soaked in blood. He thinks, "True, Rab had died. Hundreds would die, but not the thing they died for. 'A man can stand up ...'"


Johnny Tremain's story ends with both sadness and grim hope as Rab dies and passes on his gun to Johnny.

While he waits for Doctor Warren to prepare to operate on his hand, Johnny looks around him. Most of his story has taken place in the streets of Boston. This last chapter has Johnny looking around at a countryside and the working people he has not appreciated before, and love for the land fills him completely. Rab's musket, the march of determined men past him, the smell of the farmland—Johnny believes all of this is worth fighting for.

The novel's last chapter attends to both Johnny's character flaw—his stubborn arrogance disappears as he pledges himself to a cause bigger than himself—and his physical flaw—his injured hand will be treated by Doctor Warren, and the cause worth fighting for gives him the impetus to ask for and receive help.

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