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Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 8 : A World to Come | Summary



As Mrs. Bessie warned, the Lytes were attacked at their country home in Milton. Now, their carriage, missing a wheel, drags up to the British gate on Boston Neck, and Jonathan Lyte and Lavinia get out. Lyte is ill, and Lavinia asks the soldiers to fetch Doctor Warren. Cilla is there and insists on returning to retrieve the silver they left behind. Doctor Warren arrives and reluctantly allows Johnny and Cilla to take his chaise to Milton.

The mansion in Milton was not ransacked by the mob, they learn. While Cilla collects the silver, Johnny discovers papers Lyte had been packing when the attack came. Johnny puts them in his pocket, then finds the family Bible. At first glance, the genealogy inscribed inside at first does not include anyone who might be Johnny's mother, but he notices a name scratched out that surely is hers. She and her husband, a doctor named Latour, died in France, where his mother always said Johnny was born. As he works back through the family tree, it appears to Johnny that he is in fact the merchant's grandnephew. He sees his cup but does not take it. Cilla wants to straighten things up, but Johnny tells her to shutter the windows. "They won't ever come back," he says.

Rab tries to buy a musket from a farmer, but the British discover the transaction and the farmer is tarred and feathered. Rab is angry to be dismissed as just a boy. Meanwhile, Cilla flirts with Johnny, but he still believes something is going on between her and Rab.

The Boston Observers hold their last meeting that fall. Sam Adams believes that the British are moving toward arresting all colonial troublemakers. James Otis (1725–83) shows up and asks if the men know what their revolution really means. Some say it is the fight against unfair taxes; others say it is to get the British out of Boston. No, says Otis. It is something larger. It is a fight against tyranny that will be taken up by oppressed people around the world. They are fighting, Otis says, "only [so] a man can stand up."


In the novel most members of the Boston Observers look upon James Otis as an old friend who is teetering on the edge of senility. In real life Otis was a hot-tempered man who suffered a head injury during a barroom fight with a customs commissioner; he then began suffering spells of madness and outbursts of rage. But he was also involved in the resistance movement from the beginning. As early as 1761 Otis espoused the idea of independence from England and was dubbed the patriot's Martin Luther (1483–1546), a reference to the German religious reformer whose actions led to division of Christianity between the Catholic Church and the Protestant sects. As a lawyer, Otis passionately objected to the British government's right to search residences and ships without a warrant. Hit on the head by a customs official during a barroom brawl in 1769, Otis began to go mad. He fired guns out his windows and threw rocks through the windows of government buildings.

While most of the Observers at the meeting are concerned about the immediate plans of the British, it takes Otis, their allegedly mad comrade, to force them to focus on what their real goal is. Many of the revolutionary leaders had no firm idea of where they were heading with their resistance. Indeed, it would take all of the colonial delegates in the Continental Congress another year and a half before they could put their goal down on paper in the form of the Declaration of Independence. But on this night, James Otis says their fight is against tyranny. He predicts, correctly, that the idea of every man being allowed to "stand up" will be a worldwide movement embraced up by peasants in France and Russia. Although his friends look at him as insane, he has given them a classic definition of freedom.

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