Study Guide

Johnny Tremain Language and Communication

By Esther Forbes

Language and Communication

What do language and communication have to do with rebellion? A lot, as we see in Johnny Tremain. Issues of language and communication appear in two major areas: personal literacy and the freedom it brings, and the use of words to incite and inspire people to do or believe what others want them to do or believe. In short, language is power. You know Shmoop can get behind that. Johnny's experience at the Boston Observer, a rebel newspaper, especially hits on the relationship between freedom of words (or, uh, of the press) and personal and national liberty.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. What role does the Boston Observer play in encouraging rebellion against England? Think of specific moments in the text.
  2. Some characters are literate, while others are not. What do we learn about a character through his or her level of personal literacy?
  3. Several characters give speeches against Great Britain. Which do you think would be more effective, spoken or printed sedition? Why?

Chew on This

Johnny's personal literacy is the primary tool that allows him to access to the new world of the Boston Observers and become involved in political movements.

Literacy is not especially important in a society in which most information can be communicated through images and word-of-mouth.