Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Symbols


The Hand

Johnny Tremain's injured hand is a measure of his growth throughout the novel. As the story begins, Johnny is an arrogant teenage apprentice who dreams of becoming a master silversmith. But after he seriously burns his hand in an accident, silversmithing is no longer an option: Johnny must look for work elsewhere. At first he tries to hide his bad hand from sight and says, "my friends don't want me to touch them with my dreadful hand." But as he matures and opens himself up to others and to the world, he finds it easier to live with his infirmity. He learns to ride a horse and gets a new job. He takes part in the Boston Tea Party and acts as a spy for the Sons of Liberty. He often doesn't think about his hand at all.

When the Revolutionary War begins, Johnny's best friend, Rab Silsbee, is an early casualty. Johnny takes possession of his fallen friend's musket. At the same time, Doctor Joseph Warren tells Johnny that he can fix his damaged hand. With two good hands, Johnny will be able to handle the musket and join the coming battle.

The Silver Cup

The silver cup symbolizes the failure of wealth and valuables to protect people from misfortune. Johnny Tremain owns the silver cup, which has a family crest on it. His mother—who died when Johnny was 11 years old—told him to view the cup as insurance against personal difficulties. She said that if Johnny took the cup to Jonathan Lyte, a wealthy merchant, Lyte would see it as proof that he and Johnny are related. When Johnny loses his livelihood, he takes the cup to Lyte, but the merchant accuses Johnny of stealing it and has him arrested, making Johnny's situation even worse than before. Johnny is later vindicated, and the silver cup is returned to him. But when he tries to sell the cup to Lyte, the merchant steals it, and Johnny barely escapes being kidnapped and forced to work on one of Lyte's ships. To Johnny, the cup must seem cursed.

When the Lytes are driven from their country home, Johnny accompanies Cilla Lapham to close up the empty house and sees the cup. Although he is within his rights to take it, Johnny wisely leaves it, telling Cilla, "We've moved on to other things."

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