Study Guide

Johnny Tremain Pride

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His ability made him semi-sacred. He knew his power and reveled in it. (1.1.36)

Johnny is the boss of all things in the Lapham household, and it has gone to his head. Of course, as we find out, Johnny is the one whose ability and work ethic keep them all from starving, so maybe his pride is partly justified. In what ways could he use his natural pride to improve relationships with his fellow apprentices?

"There goes that wonderful Johnny Tremain."

Isannah took her cue, already so excited she was jumping up and down.

"Johnny worth-his-weight-in-gold Tremain."

"If you don't think he is wonderful—ask him, Isannah."

"Oh, just how wonderful are you, Johnny?

Johnny said nothing, stood there and grinned.

The two youngest Laphams were always insulting him, not only about how smart he was, but how smart he thought he was. (1.1.41-47)

Cilla and Isannah are playfully insulting Johnny, but this is one of those cases of it's-funny-cause-it's-true. Cilla totally has Johnny's number and works on not letting Johnny get too big for his britches. Does her teasing make you like Johnny more or less?

Mr. Lapham was always telling him to give God thanks who had seen fit to make him so good an artisan—not to take it out in lording it over the other boys. That was one of the things Johnny "did not let bother him much." (1.1.56)

Johnny doesn't really listen to his master's thoughts on much, and we can't say we blame him since Mr. Lapham appears to have voluntarily checked out of the world. Why does Johnny lord his ability over the others? Or does he? What do you think of his behavior toward Dove and Dusty?

"Now close the book. Stand up and expound to us all the meaning of God's Word."

Johnny stood up. His skin was thin and he could feel himself flush. So the old gentleman was after him for his pride again, was he?

"It is all another way of saying—God's way of saying—that pride goeth before a fall."

"Yes, and why?"

"Because God doesn't like pride." Johnny sounded sulky.

"Do you think God would like you?"

"Not especially." (1.2.23-29)

Johnny has just read aloud a load of Bible verses about the sin of pride, and Mr. Lapham has called him out at breakfast in front of the entire household. What does Johnny's response say about his own feelings about pride? Does he really believe "pride goeth before a fall"?

"You're getting above yourself—like I tried to point out to you. God is going to send you a dire punishment for your pride." (2.2.21)

Foreshadowing much? Mr. Lapham interprets Johnny's accident as God's judgment. What is the effect of Mr. Lapham's interpretation on the reader's interpretation? What are other ways we might interpret and make meaning of the accident? How does Johnny himself interpret it?

Since his accident he had unconsciously taken to wearing his hat at a rakish angle. This, and the way he always kept his right hand thrust into his breeches pocket, gave him a slightly arrogant air. The arrogance had always been there, but formerly it had come out as pride in his work—not in the way he wore his hat and walked. (3.3.2)

Johnny is prickly as a porcupine at this point in the novel. Before his accident, he took pride in being a good silversmith. What is he taking pride in now? Does the pride have anywhere to go?

He liked to make a handsome entrance. Even if he and Goblin had dawdled a bit on country roads, they both liked arriving at the inns at a gallop. […]

He also enjoyed the showy, queer beauty of his horse. When people on the streets or at the taverns complimented him on his mount, there would come the same fatuous expression on his face he had often ridiculed on Cilla's when people stopped her and said how angelic Isannah was, but he did not know it. (5.2.25-26)

Johnny is now taking pride in something other than himself. We think it's funny that he's acting about Goblin the way Cilla does about Isannah. Johnny isn't always especially self-aware.

The pen stopped scratching. Doctor Warren had stopped writing, and, although his back was to him, Johnny knew those clean, clear blue eyes were staring at him. They were staring at his crippled hand.

Instantly Johnny thrust it back into his breeches pocket. He straightened himself unconsciously, preparing to be either sullen or arrogant. (6.2.21-22)

Why is the arrogance coming out now? Doctor Warren knows Johnny pretty well at this point, and he's always been a good guy. How does this scene compare to later scenes where Doctor Warren offers his professional opinion on Johnny's hand?

Johnny took off his spurs and showed the silversmith a broken rowel. "I want you to fix that for me, this afternoon—Mr. Silversmith."

"Yes, sir…yes, indeed." Once Johnny was a patron, the past was forgiven him. "If you'll take a chair, it shall be mended in fifteen minutes."

Johnny couldn't help it. He said proudly, "In ten minutes, Mr. Silversmith." (7.4.8-10)

This is one of those scenes where we partly shake our heads at Johnny and we partly don't blame him in the least. Mr. Tweedie was ready to see him hang, after all, so seeing him humbled is satisfying. It's interesting, though, that Johnny is able to show so little respect for a practitioner of the trade he formerly worshipped.

So Johnny stalked off down Beacon Hill with the proper martial strut. The littler they are, he thought, the more they strut. The physical act of strutting lifted his spirits. Made him feel bigger than he was. Of course that was why the little fellows do it. (11.5.43)

Wearing Pumpkin's uniform, Johnny imitates the swagger of a British foot soldier. How is this pride different from other types of pride he shows earlier in the novel? Is it for show or for real?

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