Study Guide

Johnny Tremain Friendship

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He could have easily made friends with stupid Dove, for Dove was lonely and admired Johnny as well as envied him. Johnny preferred to bully him. (1.1.36)

Johnny can be kind of a jerk, especially before his accident. Knowing that Dove didn't mean to seriously injure Johnny, it seems problematic to blame him too much when the prank he intends to be harmless goes awry.

There was not a boy on the wharf Johnny did not know. He had made friends with some and enemies of others, and had played or fought with all of them. […] Seemingly in one month he had become a stranger, an outcast on Hancock's wharf. He was maimed and they were whole. (2.4.36)

At the point in the novel where Johnny needs friends the most, he doesn't have any. Well, he still has Cilla, but he's pushing her away, too. It's dark days.

Although the boy had nodded casually as Johnny came in, he did not speak to him until after the woman was gone and he had set up the few lines of type. There was nothing rude about this seeming neglect. It was almost as if they were friends of long standing. (3.1.29)

One of our favorite things about good friends is that we don't have to talk to them 24/7 when we hang out. Good friends don't have to talk all the time to know they're friends. Also, check out the foreshadowing here—it seems like Rab and Johnny are friends, and then bam—they are.

It wasn't the food alone that so raised Johnny's hopes. It was Rab himself; an ease and confidence flowed out and supported those around him. The marketwoman had felt better about losing her Myra after she had talked with Rab. He was the first person to whom Johnny Tremain had confided his own story. (3.1.65)

Johnny totally spills his guts to Rab the first time they meet, and here we have the beginning of a classic bromance. Rab is exactly what Johnny needs—someone to give him a reality check on his pride, his emotional outbursts, and his tendency toward drama, which is exactly what Rab continues to do the whole time Johnny knows him—right up to the end.

Cilla was a little shabby. The sight of her touched Johnny's heart. He pitied her—and yet he wished she had not come. Now it seemed years ago, not months, that he had lived at the Laphams', and then surely Cilla and Isannah were the only friends he had. But he had on going to the Observer entered a new, vast, and exciting world. He had made new friends. (6.2.4)

Remember when we said Johnny could be a bit of a jerk? Sometimes he means to be—like with Dove, but sometimes it's through carelessness—like with Cilla. Now he thinks he's too cool for school because he's hanging out with the Founding Fathers (not that he thinks of them like that). At this point, Johnny's having trouble reconciling his new world with his old world, and for a while his friendship with Cilla gets caught in the crossfire.

Cilla, waiting and waiting for him at North Square—and then he got there only about when it pleased him. He loved Cilla. She and Rab were the best friends he had ever had. Why was he mean to her? He couldn't think. (6.4.15)

Johnny is mean to Cilla because Esther Forbes portrays the way fifteen-year-old boys act toward their crushes way more accurately than those authors who act like they buy flowers and compose love poems. (We don't mean to stereotype: if you're a fifteen-year-old boy who composes love poems, keep on keeping on. We wish we'd known you in high school.) Cilla is a real blind spot for Johnny. He totally likes her, and he totally can't admit to himself that she's anything special. What is your problem, Johnny Tremain?

Priscilla Lapham. Ever since Rab had taken her home and left Johnny to eat six fried eggs by himself, he had felt differently about Cilla. She had been his best friend during the years he worked at the Laphams'. And then for some months she had been a drag on him. He had not bothered much with her. Overnight that had changed. He was always looking forward to Thursdays and the seed cakes and the half-hour sitting out under the fruit trees with Cilla. (7.4.3)

So Johnny and Rab and Cilla are all friends, and maybe there's kinda sorta also a half-hearted love triangle going on here. We don't know because the three of them don't seem to know, but we get the sense that Rab pays attention to Cilla because another guy hanging out with her is the only thing that will alert Johnny to his feelings for Cilla. Rab is a good friend like that. This passage gives us the feeling that Johnny would like to be more than friends with Cilla, but now they have that old I'd like to try dating, but I don't want to ruin our friendship, which is based on our previously arranged marriage thing going on. Awkward.

Even in the old days of the Lapham shop Dove would have been Johnny's friend if Johnny would have had it. The enmity between them was the younger, and smarter, boy's fault. As soon as Johnny began to cultivate Dove, he was surprised at the response. Dove had always been lonely and he still was. […] But Johnny's feelings toward Dove had changed. Dove was garrulous, indolent, complaining, and boastful, but it hurt Johnny when the other boys bullied him and his masters beat him. He was like a man who owns a dull, mean dog. He may punish it himself, but resents it if anyone else punishes it. For better or worse Dove was now his own private property. (9.2.1)

Dove crosses Johnny's path again in the stables at the Afric Queen, where Dove is a horse boy for the British officers. Johnny befriends Dove in order to get him to give up pertinent information, but he also ends up taking Dove under his wing a bit. Is it us, or is this a big change from when Johnny was threatening Dove's life after the accident? What caused this change?

"And there's not one reason why I can't leave for Lexington too, except you don't want me."

He knew this was not true, but he could not help badgering Rab, trying to make him say, "I'll miss you as much as you'll miss me." (10.2.11-12)

This makes us think of all those scenes in Harry Potter where Harry and Ron are fighting and then they make up. Johnny and Rab are saying goodbye before Rab leaves Boston to join the militia in Lexington. They are coming to the end of living together at the newspaper office, one way or another, but neither of them can express their feelings about this, so they end up snapping at each other. Why can't they just say they'll miss each other? Does Rab understand why Johnny picks a fight with him? Does Johnny understand why Rab doesn't respond in the way he wants?

Then Rab began to smile. Everything he had never put into words was in that smile. (12.4.26)

Hang on while we go through this box of tissues. Rab, a true Silsbee, has never been given to expressions of emotion. He's telling Johnny everything he never was able to express, through a single smile. As he's dying. What is Rab telling Johnny? What was he never able to say? Why must you toy with our hearts like this, Esther Forbes?

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