Paul Revere and the World He Lived In Critical Context - Essay

Esther Forbes

Critical Context

Although eclipsed in the field of young adult literature by her novel Johnny Tremain, it is probably the case that this novel, which takes place in revolutionary Boston, could not have been written without Paul Revere and the World He Lived In. Forbes’s intimacy with eighteenth century Boston came from her research on Revere’s biography. That research led to her winning of the Pulitzer Prize and contributed to this work’s reputation as a classic biography. Published in 1942, it has yet to be supplanted not only as a chronicle of Revere but also as a chronicle of Boston before and after the American Revolution.

Underlying Forbes’s analysis is a celebration of patriotism and a denunciation of tyranny. Yet, she condemns the modern excesses of war. Even as the British followed Revere’s revolutionary activities, he could know that his family was absolutely safe in British-held Boston. Forbes asks if a modern dissenter could say the same. Forbes’s analysis holds implicitly that the dangers that Revere endured, the deaths that he witnessed, and the suffering of a starving population were all worth the struggle for freedom. Revere becomes, then, the ordinary person—not the firebrand rebel—who stands firmly in the belief that liberty is worth dying for. While post-Vietnam generations may question that belief, it remains assumed in this biography. As such, the book poses questions absolutely central to a young adult readership.