Esther Forbes Dorothy H. Nelson - Essay

Dorothy H. Nelson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Johnny Tremain] is a natural for the Bicentennial year.

Students can identify with Johnny, for his was the arrogance of today. He plunged heart and soul into the rebellious spirit of his time. His quick temper and his cocksure air (for he was a clever boy) make him so human and alive that Johnny carries with him whole classrooms of youngsters who learn to feel and to experience that Spirit of '76. No other book about early America can cast the spell that Johnny Tremain does…. The thrill, the justice of the Revolutionary War, as felt by those early New Englanders, exudes from these absorbing pages. A sense of pride in the American cause shines through, as Johnny and his brave, inspiring friend, Rab, prepare to meet the enemy.

Probably it is the drama of James Otis which strikes the ultimate chord, as he talks with and to the Sons of Liberty….

In this day of sagging patriotism, America's two-hundredth anniversary offers a chance to rekindle the spirits of our young Americans. An indepth study of Johnny Tremain will reveal that it's not all speeches and flag waving. The romance of childhood sweethearts, the pathos of a crippling injury, the violence of a tar and feathering, the shock of the firing squad, the humor of a feather-bed disguise, the delight of the silversmith's perfection—they're all there in this Colonial epic to be lived through vicariously by the reader. Esther Forbes' masterpiece contains all the inspiration of the early American patriots. It's a Bicentennial MUST.

Dorothy H. Nelson, "'Johnny Tremain'—A Bicentennial Natural!" in Language Arts (copyright © 1976 by the National Council of Teachers of English), January, 1976, p. 45.