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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 103

The novel begins in Boston in 1773, the year of the Boston Tea Party. At the beginning of the story, Johnny is serving as an apprentice to a silversmith, and many of the early chapters describe the smith's home and shop. When Johnny is forced to seek work elsewhere, the setting changes to Hancock's Wharf and some of the businesses located there. After Johnny becomes a rider for the Boston Observer newspaper, the narrative follows him to the homes of some of Boston's most affluent and prominent citizens. The story ends after the 1775 Battle of Lexington, which marked the beginning of the American Revolution.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 307

Johnny Tremain combines believable characters, historical events, drama, humor, and sharp images to create an appealing and meaningful novel. Innumerable descriptive details convey a strong sense of life in eighteenthcentury Boston. These details lend realism to the story as Forbes depicts characters performing daily tasks such as fetching water and feeding livestock. By portraying everyday life in the colonies, Forbes shows how history affects ordinary people and how, likewise, these people's valiant efforts can change history. Forbes's technique of basing her lively fictional narrative on carefully researched historical facts lends authenticity to the story.

Vivid images invigorate the narrative. For instance, the description of British soldiers on the street following the Battle of Lexington conveys how overwhelmed Johnny is by the escalating violence: "The narrow course of Tremont Street was filled to the brim and overflowing with the waiting scarlet-coated men. Like a river of blood." One of the most striking symbols appears when Johnny witnesses the activities of the firing squad and is terrified by the "round eye of death at the end of a musket."

The scene where Johnny spends some of his silver coins on a feast reveals Forbes's use of authentic detail, apt metaphors, and humor. She describes Johnny's meal, typical colonial Boston fare, in detail: five squabs, pastries, a wreath of jellied eels, a "tipsy parson— white bread tied into little knots, buttered and baked," and a pot each of coffee and chocolate. Before Johnny eats, Forbes uses the metaphor of a gnawing kitten in his stomach to describe Johnny's hunger pangs. Once he has overfilled his stomach, Forbes adds a humorous twist to the kitten metaphor: 'The kitten was no longer gnawing inside him, trying to get out. In fact, it was no longer a kitten. 'I feel as if I had swallowed a Newfoundland dog and it died on me."

Social Sensitivity

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 172

Since Johnny Tremain concerns the Revolutionary War, it necessarily deals with death. The story focuses on events leading up to the war, but conflicts between the Tories and the rebels sometimes turn violent. One Tory falls victim to the revolutionaries and is tarred and feathered. Later, rumors circulate that the Lyte family will be run out of Boston on rails. But through most of the book, Johnny never witnesses any violence; he just hears stories about it.

By the end of the story, the violence is no longer detached and distant. Pumpkin, a pleasant young British recruit whose only desire is to have his own farm, falls victim to the firing squad. Johnny, intruding on this scene, is profoundly affected by the death and begins to doubt his own courage. Then, Rab is seriously wounded. Although he does not die in the story, the wound is clearly fatal. Forbes presents the violence inherent in the story with sensitivity. She does not depict war as glamorous and exciting but as dangerous and deadly.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 120

Forbes, Esther. "The Newbery Medal Acceptance." Horn Book 20 (July-August 1944): 261-267. Forbes describes how she came to write Johnny Tremain.

Gemme, Francis. Forbes's "Johnny Tremain". New York: Monarch Press, 1966. This analysis offers in-depth information about the historical events and the characters described in the novel. The book also includes a detailed summary of the novel.

Horn Book Papers. Vol. 1. Boston: Horn Book, 1955. This work offers a critical evaluation of the novel and includes biographical data about Forbes.

Jordan, Alice M. "Esther Forbes, Newbery Winner." Horn Book 20 (July- August 1944): 268-270. This article provides biographical data about Forbes.

Lippman, Bertram. "Johnny Tremain": A Critical Commentary. New York: American R.D.M., 1966. This commentary analyzes plot and character, and includes biographical information about Forbes.

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