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Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain

by Esther Forbes

Analysis: Tone

Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?

Objective, Calm, Fair

For a book written in the middle of the patriotic fervor of World War II, Johnny Tremain views its characters and its situation through a remarkably objective lens. The Founding Fathers are neither idolized nor idealized, the British are not presented as villains, and even the Tories are viewed with sympathy.

The narrator seems to have taken a page out of Rab Silsbee's book, in that the narrator never becomes ruffled or upset. Instead, the narrator presents the facts of startling or upsetting situations, and lets the reader draw his or her own conclusions. Check out the description of Pumpkin's execution, for example:

A blue smock, a mop of orange hair. So they had caught Pumpkin. He was not to die in the handsome uniform of the King's Own Regiment which he had disgraced, but in the farm clothes Johnny had procured for him.

The boy gritted his teeth, but he was trapped among the hurdles. He could not get away. Standing at attention, eyes straight ahead, were one or two thousand men in front of him and behind him the firing squad. And the river. The drummers in their high bearskin caps stood with lifted sticks, waiting. The sound of the volley and the roll of the drums came together. What had happened behind his back he saw reflected in the stony eyes, the white and sweating faces before him. (9.5.7-8)

The narrator is always fair to the characters, presenting both their positive and their negative qualities. The narrator never forces the reader to view some characters as bad and others as good, and is always clear and reliable in discussion of events or character.

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