Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Quotes


I can't stand men like Lyte, who care nothing for anything except themselves and their own fortune.

Rab Silsbee, Chapter 4

Rab says he "can stomach some of the Tories"—those who "honestly think we're better off to take anything from the British parliament" because they believe the colonies are too weak to survive on their own. But Rab has nothing but contempt for unprincipled Tories such as Jonathan Lyte, who will play "both ends against the middle" to achieve their own ends.


Counting ten had its rewards.

Johnny Tremain, Chapter 5

Heeding Rab's advice to be less brash and outspoken, Johnny learns that people trust him more when he thinks before speaking. Doors are opened rather than shut in his face. This quote helps to illuminate Johnny's growth as a character.


I believe I owe you eight shillings.

Paul Revere, Chapter 6

Johnny must use a code to summon the Observers to a meeting at eight o'clock that evening. He tells members that they owe "eight shillings for their newspaper subscription." When he reaches the Revere house, Paul Revere teases him about the code words.


They are to gather ... carrying such disguises as they can think of, and each armed.

Sam Adams, Chapter 6

Before the Boston Tea Party, Sam Adams directs Rab to recruit young men who will board the merchant ships and empty crates of tea into the harbor. They will be disguised as "Indians," not to convince any onlookers that they are Native Americans but rather to show they are Americans, not British subjects. Today, we would recognize that the patriots are appropriating Native American culture.


We're all one people, you know.

British army medical officer, Chapter 7

After a British officer knocks Rab unconscious for touching a stack of muskets, a British medical officer tends to him. The officer tells Johnny he would rather be back in Britain and says that he—like many other British people—has no quarrel with the colonials. The quotation expresses one of the novel's themes: humane behavior can be seen on both sides of a conflict.


In a way he had died ... The bright little silversmith's apprentice was no more.

Johnny Tremain, Chapter 7

In Chapter 7, when Johnny returns to visit the Lapham house, he is a changed person. He thinks about the immature boy he was when he lay in the "birth and death" room after burning his hand, and he realizes something changed in him then. The transformation wouldn't become apparent for some time; Johnny still had a way to go before he dropped his arrogance and learned to care about things outside himself—but the seeds were planted then. And now Johnny is a changed person; he has grown from boy to man.


If there were Daughters of Liberty, I'd be one.

Mrs. Bessie, Chapter 7

The Lytes' cook, Mrs. Bessie, has grown disgusted by the way the Lytes treat Isannah and Cilla. She warns Johnny that the Lytes will be attacked when they go to their country mansion. She also confesses that she has been a confederate of Sam Adams and his crowd for years. She is one of the novel's examples of a woman taking an active role in the coming revolution.


A man can stand up to anything with a good weapon in his hands.

Rab Silsbee, Chapter 8

Rab, always a model of confidence and strength for Johnny, reveals his frustration that he has no gun of his own. When he tries to buy a musket from a farmer, the two are caught. The farmer is tarred and feathered, but Rab is dismissed by the British as just a boy. Considering the role Rab will play in the lead-up to the revolution, the episode is rich in dramatic irony.


They are telling us, 'Pick off the officers first, then the sergeants.'

Rab Silsbee, Chapter 8

Rab is increasingly angry about not having a gun, and he thinks about shooting at British troops. This disturbs Johnny, who knows and likes several British officers he has met. Throughout the novel, Esther Forbes is careful to show that there is good on both sides of a conflict, and Johnny has learned that lesson repeatedly. It's very hard for him to think of the British simply as targets to be "picked off."


You know you have to marry someone whose last name goes with your first.

Cilla Lapham, Chapter 8

Cilla teases Johnny, who is convinced she has fallen in love with Rab. She spends a lot of time with Rab, but she tells Johnny she doesn't think "Cilla Silsbee" is a good match. "Priscilla Tremain," on the other hand, "is a fine name," she says. This puzzles Johnny, who has a lot to learn about women.


I hardly think they would hang the whole club, sir. Only you and Mr. Hancock.

Johnny Tremain, Chapter 8

Speaking with Sam Adams, who wonders aloud if the British soldiers might arrest all of the Observers, Johnny tries to pay him a compliment by pointing out that Adams and John Hancock are the most important club members and therefore most likely to be hanged. Adams, however, is "more startled than pleased."


We fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.

James Otis, Chapter 8

James Otis, an early proponent of individual liberties, speaks at the Boston Observers' last meeting. Moving the discussion beyond fighting unfair taxes, he says that the coming revolution is about more than Boston or the colonies. It is a fight against tyranny around the world. Johnny Tremain was published in 1943, as America was embroiled in World War II, and Esther Forbes undoubtedly meant to evoke a spirit of patriotism for the coming fight against fascism.


Men went to war and women wept. All was as it should be.

Johnny Tremain, Chapter 11

Johnny watches the British troops marching out of Boston, and Madge Lapham weeps to see the man she hopes to marry, a British sergeant, among them. "Women wept" is not the lot of all the novel's female characters, however; some women play more active roles in the story.


A boy in time of peace and a man in time of war.

Johnny Tremain, Chapter 11

Johnny has decided to don a British uniform so that he can sneak onto the battlefield in Lexington and look for Doctor Warren and Rab. Before he goes, Mrs. Bessie asks him how old he is. Johnny replies, "Sixteen," and Mrs. Bessie asks, "And what's that—a boy or a man?" Johnny says he is a man now that the colonists are at war with the British. In fact, he has been becoming a grown-up ever since he injured his hand and began to learn humility and selflessness.


So fair a day now drawing to its close. Green with spring, dreaming of the future yet wet with blood.

Johnny Tremain, Chapter 12

Johnny is on the Lexington Green, where the American Revolution has begun. The militia is marching by, and there is no turning back. Bloodshed looms. At the same time, the phrase "green with spring, dreaming of the future" hints at hope as the novel comes to a close.

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