Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 2 : The Pride of Your Power | Summary



Johnny works to fashion new handles for a silver sugar basin John Hancock brought into the shop for repairs. He can't get them quite right, so he consults another silversmith, Paul Revere—"the best craftsman in Boston"—about his design. Revere knows who Johnny is because "all the master silversmiths had an eye on him." After he offers Johnny advice on the basin, Revere offers Johnny a position apprenticing for him, but Johnny says he can't leave Mr. Lapham's shop: "If it wasn't for me, nothing would ever get done. They'd just about starve."

By Saturday Johnny is getting nervous about finishing John Hancock's sugar basin. The deadline for the work is Monday, but Dusty and Dove aren't offering much help. Johnny calls them "lazy, good-for-nothing dish-mops." He knows they will have to work late into the night to finish the handles. But then Mr. Lapham abruptly declares work over for the day. "It was always the old-fashioned way to start the Lord's Day at sunset on Saturday," he says. Johnny realizes the only way to finish the job is to work on Sunday, while Mr. Lapham is at church.

On Sunday, with Mr. Lapham away, Johnny gets the furnace fired up, although work on the Sabbath is prohibited by law. The Lapham girls keep watch for the constable while Mrs. Lapham, anxious for the shop to get the commission, helps Johnny. When it is time to pour the molten silver, Dove goes to fetch Johnny a crucible, or mold. He purposely takes out one with a small crack, knowing it will likely break in the heat of the furnace. Dusty giggles. "Both he and Dove thought it would just about serve Johnny Tremain right" if the mold broke, given how he'd been bossing them around. Johnny pours the silver into the crucible, and it does indeed crack, emptying silver on top of the furnace. When Johnny steps forward to stop the disaster, he falls, putting his hand into the liquid silver on the furnace. "The burn was so terrible he at first felt no pain," but then he blacks out.

When he comes to, an elderly woman is using folk remedies to treat his hand in the Lapham's tiny "birth and death room," which is used as a closet except when someone is ill. The burn has fused Johnny's thumb to his hand. Johnny can barely stand to glance his mangled appendage. But Madge Lapham—the oldest Lapham daughter—takes a look and says, "My! Isn't that funny looking?" Then Isannah asks him, "Is it true, like Ma says, you'll only be good for picking rags?"

It doesn't come to that, but Johnny's fall is swift. He suddenly finds himself useless in the silversmith shop; Dusty and Dove take over his work. Mr. Lapham nevertheless tells Johnny to forgive Dove for giving him the cracked crucible. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lapham's sympathies fade quickly, and she sends Johnny on menial assignments. Johnny's injury means that his dreams of being a master silversmith will never come true.


While Johnny is arrogant, he is also loyal, as demonstrated when he turns down Mr. Revere's offer of apprenticeship. He knows that the Latham household needs both his skill and his drive in order to keep the business going and thus food on the table.

Boston's Puritan origins are evident with its ordinance against working on Sundays. When Johnny and the household plot to finish the sugar basin while Mr. Lapham is out, the girls have to keep a lookout for anyone who will spot smoke coming from the shop's furnace.

Furthermore, despite the terrible injury to Johnny's hand, Mrs. Lapham won't risk alerting the authorities to their transgression by calling a regular physician. She instead calls an old midwife to treat Johnny's burn. The narrator notes that not many years had passed since the days the old woman would have been hanged as a witch, another Puritan custom.

Mr. Lapham, something of a religious obsessive, shows another side to his character in this section. Although Johnny, along with the rest of the family, broke the rule about working on the Sabbath, Mr. Lapham forgives the boy and says he will honor Johnny's contract. While he says Johnny is welcome to stay, he gently suggests that Johnny begin looking for work elsewhere. But Mr. Lapham asks too much when he requests that Johnny "forgive Dove like a Christian" for giving him the cracked crucible. "You mean ... he did it on purpose?" Johnny asks incredulously. Readers are likely to side with Johnny when he refuses to forgive Dove.

Now Johnny has not only a character flaw—his arrogance and refusal to rely on others—but also an external flaw: the injury that puts an end to his future as a silversmith. He will have to overcome both as the novel progresses.

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