Study Guide

Johnny Tremain Setting

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Boston, Massachusetts and its Environs, July 1773-April 1775

Why Boston?

We can't talk about Colonial America without talking about Boston—this is the city that gave us so many of our Founding Fathers. (And yes, a lot of them show up in this book. See the "Characters" section.) It might be called the city that started the American Revolution, because oh, boy, did Britain have trouble with Massachusetts, even while a lot of its other colonies were behaving. Boston gave us the Boston Massacre and, of course, the Boston Tea Party (see Chapter 6 in the "Summary" section). If you want to write a story about the lead-up to the American Revolution, Boston is probably the best place to set it, because Boston was all up in that action.

What's Up With Boston?

You may have noticed the undercurrent of religious devotion that runs through the novel. First, we've got Mr. Lapham's piety, and Johnny's Sabbath breaking, which we know is super-illegal and will get him time in the stocks or in jail or at the very least, fined. There are also a lot of churches mentioned, including most notably, Christ Church, where Johnny tells the sexton to hang two lanterns. A lot of those churches aren't part of the Church of England—Massachusetts was settled in the seventeenth century by religious dissenters who didn't want to worship according to British law. Read: these are people who already have a proud tradition of not doing what Britain says.

What's Around Boston?

The same small towns that are around it today: Lexington, Concord, Cambridge. If you read the novel carefully—or look at a map—you'll realize that Boston sits out on its own little peninsula, and you have to either go by sea or by a tiny little strip of land to get away from it.

Only a few points in the novel are set outside Boston. First, Rab and Johnny attend a harvest dance in Lexington, and later, Johnny and Cilla leave Boston to close up the Lytes's country house in Milton. In the final chapter, Johnny hitches a ride on a British ship to get over to Charlestown, and from there he walks to Cambridge and Lexington, roughly following what today is known as Battle Road.

Notice that the war doesn't start in Boston. That's a historical fact, but Forbes easily could have ended her novel without ever having Johnny set foot outside the city. Johnny has identified so closely with Boston throughout the novel, though, that to take him outside it seems to say that the war is now about more than a single city, and so is the story.

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