Study Guide

Johnny Tremain/Jonathan Lyte Tremain in Johnny Tremain

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Johnny Tremain/Jonathan Lyte Tremain

Obvs, Johnny is the most important character in the novel. And while the book is named after him, Johnny does a pretty good job of summing up his all-star status by himself: "The two youngest Laphams were always insulting him, not only about how smart he was, but how smart he thought he was. He didn't care" (1.1.47). Haters gonna hate, right?

The Silversmith's Apprentice

When we meet Johnny, his entire identity is wrapped up in being the best silversmith ever. You could say he's career driven since he's only an apprentice, but he's running his master's shop. This leads to some significant arrogance, though unlike some other arrogant apprentices we could name (looking at you, Fantasia!), Johnny is actually really good at his job.

He has everything under control but his pride, and it's this career-related pride that gets him in the end. He insists on working on Sunday to finish a job, and his bullying and bossiness lead Dove to hand him a cracked crucible. Check out Chapter 2 in the "Summary" section to see how that goes down. But let's not leave here without asking an important question: is Johnny working so hard to get ahead in his own career, or because he's basically supporting nine people by himself and he knows it?

Look at what he says to Paul Revere when Revere offers him a better position: "I couldn't leave the Laphams, sir… If it wasn't for me, nothing would ever get done. They'd just about starve" (2.1.27).

The Ardent Whig

His pride battered but not broken after the accident, Johnny becomes deeply involved in the revolutionary (read: seditious) activities of the Boston Whigs.

Johnny's natural arrogance will always be his downfall, but he slowly learns to control it, along with his naturally quick temper. From believing that he knows it all, he comes to realize how much he doesn't know, and this turns him into a sort of political sponge. He begins soaking up knowledge—from Uncle Lorne's library, from Rab, from the Boston Observers, and even from the British troops.

"It was as if Johnny had been starved before and never known it… It was a world of which he never had guessed while living with the Laphams." (5.2.33)

Johnny's naturally inquisitive side comes out as he discovers that he's interested in a ton of things that aren't made of precious metal.

The True Friend

The ultimate contradiction in Johnny's character is that, even at his most prideful point before his accident, he's a really good friend to people he cares about. He helps Cilla take care of Isannah and helps her learn to read, and when he gets some money he buys presents for the girls instead of spending it all on himself. Later, he puts himself in danger to illegally acquire a musket for Rab, even though he knows he'll never be able to shoot it himself.

As an orphan, and later when he is cast out of the Lapham household, Johnny is very much alone. He's constantly looking for connections with other people—and this search is at the heart of his character—so when he feels a connection with someone, it's very important to him and he does all he can to feed it.

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