An arrogant apprentice that loses it all during a horrific accident has a change of heart when he realizes what is truly important in life. In the book Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes, Johnny, good-natured yet haughty, is a character who develops greatly throughout the novel. Set during the American Revolution, his character starts out vain, but soon changes. Dialogue and the narration gives us big hints about his new and improved character.
The book starts out with Johnny as a big deal in the Lapham household. Everyone – including himself – knew he was one of the best silversmiths in Hancock’s entire Harbor. Looking at his appearance – skinny and frail – you wouldn’t expect such a conceited attitude; however, never judge a book by its cover. Mr. Lapham was not afraid to express his feelings towards Johnny, “ ‘One trouble with you is you haven’t been up against any boys as good as yourself… You think you’re the best one in the world” (Forbes 34). Even others could tell, he clearly thought he was someone of great talent; however, Mr. Lapham was always very supportive and nurturing to Johnny, the whole family was. That is until he burnt his hand horribly and was unable to be a silversmith. He became invaluable and a bother to everyone apart from the head of the family. Alone and desperate, Johnny goes door to door, anywhere he could, trying to find someone who would take him in as an apprentice.
As the book progresses, Johnny turns to a new leaf, he matures and learns from Rab. Because Rab and his family took him in, they taught him to become a better person. After Johnny goes to court with Mr. Lyte, he realizes who his real friends are – Cilla, Issanah, and Rab. Cilla and Issanah fought for him in court. Since Johnny was an “expansive, easily influenced” (108) character, Rab effortlessly taught him to count to ten before speaking his mind, so he wouldn’t say anything he would regret. Johnny accepts the job as the delivery boy for the Boston Observer and becomes a great horseback rider. A British medical officer offers Johnny the job of being the delivery boy for them, and Johnny acts as a spy for the Sons of Liberty. The youngest Lapham daughters become servants for the Lytes, and all these events react significantly on Johnny’s character. Learning a great deal about life, Johnny’s view of the war complicates: “But we are still fighting for ‘English liberty’ and don’t you forget it… Only English colonies are allowed to taste the forbidden fruit of liberty––we who grew up under England… Upholding the torch of liberty–which had been lighted on the fires of England” (236). Johnny realizes that the ideas that fuel the rebels to fight for liberty come from the British. Their successes are due to the moderate English government. Even under the British, they had some freedom of speech and had weaponry.
Johnny Tremain’s characterization in this story is something to admire. He changes for the better, and in the end becomes a mature, selfless man. He realizes men should not fight for the pleasure of power, but for individual independence, the right to “stand up on their feet like men” (266). We all have a lot to learn from Johnny and Rab.