Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 4 : The Rising Eye | Summary



Johnny starts the chapter feeling content: "He was no longer his own problem but Merchant Lyte's." He marches into the offices of Jonathan Lyte's counting house on the Long Wharf. Lyte greets him by saying, "Who let you in? What do you want, and who, for Heaven's sake, are you?" Johnny identifies himself by his full name: Jonathan Lyte Tremain. Lyte scoffs, mocking the idea that Johnny's mother "on her deathbed told you you were related to the rich Boston merchant." It's a trick that's been tried many times before. When Johnny declares he has proof of their kinship and describes the silver cup in detail, Lyte suddenly seems to warm to the boy, and he invites Johnny to his mansion that evening. "We'll kill the fatted calf," he says, "you long-lost whatever-you-are. ... Prodigal Son, what?"

When Johnny retrieves his cup from the Lapham shop, Mrs. Lapham says she has hired Mr. Tweedie to be the new silversmith. She also reminds Johnny that the old agreement by which he might marry Cilla is now void. Johnny says he wouldn't even consider marrying that "sniveling, goggle-eyed frog of a girl." Cilla watches him go, her eyes flashing green at him.

Johnny stops by the Boston Observer to visit Rab before going to meet Mr. Lyte. Rab tells Johnny that Lyte is dishonest and contemptible. He feels Lyte is worse than a Tory, or British loyalist; at least a Tory has principles, even if they stand in opposition to those of the Whigs, or patriots. Lyte, on the other hand, is one of those men "who care nothing for anything except themselves and their own fortune."

Rab lends Johnny a clean shirt and a smart jacket and gives him his first meal of the day. Johnny then heads to the Lyte mansion near Beacon Hill. Among the guests in attendance are an elderly aunt, who hates Johnny on sight, and Lavinia Lyte, Mr. Lyte's beautiful daughter, who has just returned from England. Mr. Lyte takes Johnny into another room with some of the guests and asks to see the silver cup. After examining the cup, Lyte says it is indeed from his collection and claims it was stolen from him. He turns to one of the guests and says, "Sheriff, I order you to arrest this boy for burglary." Johnny is hauled off to jail.

After a night in jail, Johnny is surprisingly upbeat. The night before, at his mother's grave, he had reached bottom. "No matter what happened, he could not help but now go up." Rab comes to see him, bringing food and books and word that Johnny will have the services of a formidable attorney, Josiah Quincy. But the trial will be a tough one. Lyte has already bribed the Laphams with a large order for silver goods, so they are refusing to speak in Johnny's defense. And Mr. Tweedie—still angry that Johnny called him a "squeak-pig"—has made Mrs. Lapham promise that Cilla will not be allowed to testify on Johnny's behalf.

The trial starts off poorly for Johnny, but when he sees Rab enter the courtroom with Cilla, his spirits rise. He testifies in his own defense: "He spoke simply and easily of his accident, his hunt for work, his despair—and arrest," and among the crowd "there was a murmur almost of applause." Johnny has convinced them he is not the scoundrel Lyte has painted him to be. Then Cilla testifies that Johnny showed her his silver cup a month before Lyte maintains it was stolen. When Isannah rushes into the courtroom to share the same story, the charges against Johnny are dismissed.


The story's events are related through the eyes of a naive 14-year-old boy, as readers are reminded in this section. When Rab tells Johnny he has found him an attorney, Josiah Quincy (1744–75), Johnny's only thought is that he can't afford an attorney. If he were wiser to the ways of the world, he'd be thrilled to know he is getting one of Boston's greatest attorneys.

Quincy demonstrated his brilliance in historic events that occurred before the start of the novel. On March 5, 1770, a mob of citizens protesting the occupation of Boston by British troops surrounded a small group of frightened soldiers. The soldiers fired upon the citizens, killing five people. The event became known as the Boston Massacre. The British soldiers' trial took place months later. Their legal team, led by Josiah Quincy and John Adams (1735–1826), won acquittal for all but two of the men. Those two were branded on the base of their thumbs as punishment for committing manslaughter.

In Johnny Tremain Quincy wins Johnny's case and then disappears from the story. The real-life Quincy became ill but nevertheless traveled to England to argue in vain for colonial rights. He died as his ship returned to Massachusetts.

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