Study Guide

Johnny Tremain Family

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What was it his mother had said so long ago? If there was nothing left and God Himself had turned away his face, then, and only then, Johnny was to go to Mr. Lyte. In his ears rang his mother's sweet remembered accents. Surely for one second, between sleeping and waking, he had seen her dear face, loving, gentle, intelligent, floating toward him through the moonlight on Copp's Hill.

He sat a long time with his arms hugging his knees. Now he knew what to do. This very day he would go to Merchant Lyte. When at last he lay down, he slept heavily, without a dream and without a worry. (3.5.7-8)

Sob. This is a rare moment of vulnerability for Johnny. He's hit rock bottom and then believes he's found the answer to his troubles, but we know Merchant Lyte is just another problem. Do you think Johnny's mother really believed Merchant Lyte would help her son or was it just wishful thinking?

It was past dawn when he woke, his feeling of contentment still in him. He was no longer his own problem but Merchant Lyte's. Tomorrow at this time what would he be calling him? "Uncle Jonathan?" "Cousin Lyte?" Perhaps "Grandpa," and he laughed out loud. (4.1.1)

Here, Johnny is letting his imagination run away with him as he thinks positive thoughts about his reception by Merchant Lyte. How does this compare to the scene in which Johnny discovers his true relationship to Merchant Lyte?

The front hall was very large. From it rose a flight of stairs, taking their time in rising, taking all the space they needed. Along the walls were portraits: Merchant Lyte in his handsome, healthy youth; Lavinia, painted long before in London, as regal a child as now she was a young woman. Time blackened old things, already a hundred years old. Was it their long dried blood which now ran red and living in Johnny's veins? (4.3.3)

We get a little ghostly shiver when the narrator talks about the Lytes. They're a very old and very wealthy Boston family, and the only place in the book where the narrator introduces gothic elements (creepy staircases, portraits that seem to be watching, ghostly footsteps) is when Johnny is in one of the Lytes's houses. What does this say about the role the Lytes play in the book, in Johnny's life, and in history?

It was easy for him to love, and he loved the baby. He would have died before he would have let anyone guess he was so simple, but Aunt Lorne knew. Sometimes she would come into the kitchen quietly and hear Johnny holding long, one-sided conversations with Rabbit. When she came into the room where he was with the child, he would merely say scornfully, "Aunt Lorne, I think it is wet," and pretend to be lost in his book.

Then she would feel so fond of the lonely boy, who never knew he was lonely, and so amused at his pretense of scorn for something he in his heart loved, she could not help but kiss him.


Johnny thought Rab was lucky to have an aunt like that. (5.2.35-37)

In this passage, we see that Johnny has trouble expressing emotion toward people he loves. Does the Lorne family's acceptance of Johnny help him with that? Does it get easier for him as the novel progresses?

Now Johnny no longer kept half of the money he and Goblin earned carrying letters. He charged the British officers such a figure (and they never complained), he was bringing in a considerable sum and he gave it all to Aunt Lorne to buy food for her family, of which he was one. At first she wouldn't take it, then she cried and kissed him on the little peak of hair that turned down upon his forehead, and did take it. (7.2.1)

Boston Harbor is bottled up, which has destroyed Boston's economy and driven the price of food sky high. Johnny gives all his earnings to Aunt Lorne to buy food. What does this say about how Johnny and Aunt Lorne view his place in the Lorne family?

Other books were scattered on the floor. Johnny picked up a heavy Bible, hoping that this, too, would prove to be a box. He put it on the desk and opened it. There were sheets of paper between the Old and New Testaments. Here a man might write his genealogy.


Scratched out in such a way he had at first thought it was a mere decoration on the elaborately written page, there was another name. It was Lavinia Lyte. He held the lantern closer. Born 1740. Married to Doctor Charles Latour, both of whom had died of plague in Marseilles shortly before his own birth. His mother had told him he had been born in France and that his father had died before his own birth. But why Doctor Charles Latour? And why had his mother's name been scratched off the family record? But nevertheless, this was the spot—the very spot where he might hang his own few meager leaves to the Lyte tree.

Although in his day-dreaming he had often pictured himself a nephew, grandnephew, or even a grandson, of Merchant Lyte, he had never once believed the relationship was that close. Now he checked over the generations. His grandfather, Roger Lyte (dead now for twenty years and builder of this very house), had been the younger brother of Jonathan Lyte. Johnny himself was the merchant's grandnephew. (8.2.10, 12-13)

Whew, talk about shocking revelations—Johnny had no idea he and Merchant Lyte were so closely related. Does this sort of add insult to injury with the way the Lytes have treated Johnny so far, or does it make no difference?

He put his two hands on the mantelpiece and his forehead on his hands. He stood like that a long time. His grandfather had built this great house. His mother had played on the floor of this kitchen. Was it here his father had come—his father, the French doctor?...Doctor Latour the Bible had it. Here was mystery surely. Why not Doctor Tremain? And why had the Bible said both he and Lavinia Lyte died of plague in Marseilles: 1758—three months before he himself had been born? Does it matter? Does it—or doesn't it? No. He answered his own question aloud, and took from his pocket the heavy pages he had cut from the Bible, all written over with the names of his genealogy. He could not think now why he had ever cut them out. Slowly, tearing each sheet to ribbons, he fed them to the fire upon the hearth. (8.2.28)

Wow, so Johnny takes the pages that prove his relationship to the Lyte family (to himself if not to them) and destroys them. Why does he do that? To prove to himself that he doesn't need the Lytes? To take away the chance that he'll ever be tempted to go to them again? Because he's happy with his life and doesn't want it to change now?

"My grandfather built this house…"

"My mother knew and loved it…"

"My father dead before ever I was born…"

Now, for as long as it stood, this would be a haunted house. He felt the ghosts waiting in the darkness until he and Cilla were gone before they stepped forth to take possession. Merchant Lyte—soon enough he too would be back here. Miss Lavinia? She might live to be a hundred, but the time would come when, wilt she or not, she must return to this house. This haunted house, with its thin wreath of wraiths and his mother's among them. (8.2.30-33)

Here we have the Lytes getting gothic on us again. Why is the house haunted now? Was it not haunted before? Does Johnny believe that the house is haunted by literal ghosts or is the narrator referring to memories? Also, why is this house so important all of a sudden? We've only heard it referred to as the Lytes's country house, so why is it now the place all good (or bad) Lytes go when they die?

The young woman sat at last and murmured, more to herself than to Johnny: "I must talk to you, Jonathan Lyte Tremain."

Johnny raised his eyes in amazement. (11.4.38-39)

This is the first time anyone but Johnny himself has used all three of his names. Given everything that has happened so far, how might Johnny feel about Lavinia Lyte's use of his full name?

"What relationship are you to me? What ought I to call you?"

She laughed out loud. "Mercy, I don't know. What am I? Why, I suppose I'm sort of a cousin—but you'd better call me Aunt. Aunt Lavinia."

He said it tentatively.

"Aunt Lavinia?"

You couldn't even secretly have a romantic passion for an aunt. The queer hold she had had on him for a year snapped.

She went to Johnny, stretched out a hand, and touched the widow's peak—all that he had ever got from the beautiful Vinny Lyte. Then she was gone. (11.4.64-69)

Lavinia Lyte is finally taking Johnny seriously, and then he finds out they really are related. Okay, so it was cool to marry your cousins in the eighteenth century, but an aunt? The narrator plays it cool, but we're pretty sure Johnny is just kind of grossed out right about now.

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