Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 5 : The Boston Observer | Summary



Johnny still needs money, and he believes he can sell his silver cup. He again visits Lyte and offers to sell the cup for 20 pounds. Lyte seizes the cup and threatens to have Johnny kidnapped and forced aboard one of his ships, where he will have to serve on the crew. Johnny escapes Lyte's clutches, leaving the cup behind, and goes to the Boston Observer office, where he accepts the job Rab mentioned to him earlier. He'll deliver newspapers by horseback throughout Boston and the surrounding countryside. Johnny becomes proficient at riding his horse, Goblin. He cares for the horse in the stables of the Afric Queen tavern, where many British officers are billeted, or housed.

Johnny now lives upstairs from the Boston Observer offices with Rab. Johnny feels he doesn't know much more about Rab than he did when they first met; still, Johnny "admired him more and more all the time." Rab never criticizes Johnny, but he does ask him why he acts as he does—for example, "why he went about calling people 'squeak-pigs' and things like that." Johnny doesn't know why. But he listens when Rab suggests he learn to hold his temper and "count ten" before opening his mouth.

The upstairs is also the meeting place of the Boston Observers—a secret club of influential men who meet to debate ways to resist British authority. Johnny finds his new habit of silence can bring him closer to people such as Sam Adams, the leader of the Boston Observers. One day when Johnny delivers a paper to Adams's house, the girl washing dishes in Adams's kitchen pours dishwater out the window, accidentally soaking Johnny. Instead of insulting her, as he would have done in the past, Johnny holds his tongue, and the girl apologizes and invites him in for pie. While he's there, he sees Sam Adams, who "watched him, noted him, marked him, said little." After that day, Adams invites Johnny into the house whenever he comes by, and he even asks Johnny and Goblin to do express riding for the Boston Committee of Correspondence—a secret group organized by the patriots to share information about British activities.

Johnny also goes to a country dance in Lexington and meets Rab's family, the Silsbees. There he also sees a less reserved side of Rab, who dances happily with the ladies. And amazingly enough, Johnny manages to forget about his mangled hand during the dance. None of the girls he dances with seem to mind it at all.

A few days later Rab and Johnny take revenge on the butcher's family for tormenting two boys and their cat. Rab rescues the cat and the boys from the situation, and then he and Johnny fight the family. Johnny is astonished to learn that Rab is "a born fighter, ferocious, utterly fearless, quick and powerful." But he fights rarely and barely speaks of it afterward.


Johnny's stubborn nature persists in Chapter 5, almost costing him his liberty as he confronts Lyte again over the silver cup. He loses his cup and barely escapes being forced to serve with the crew of one of Lyte's merchant ships.

It is Rab who turns Johnny's life around. Rab tells his uncle Johnny will make a good delivery boy. He assures Mr. Lorne that Johnny can ride a horse, even a horse as skittish as Goblin. With Rab's support, Johnny does indeed discover he can ride.

For the first time in the story, Johnny begins to grow, and it is primarily because he tries to model his behavior on Rab. Rab has a quiet confidence about him and tries to instill this quality in Johnny. Johnny finds that his new command over his emotions opens doors for him; he even catches the eye of Sam Adams.

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