Johnny Tremain Character Analysis & Traits

Instructor: Shelley Vessels

Shelley has taught at the middle school level for 10 years and has a master's degree in teaching English.

The three major characters of 'Johnny Tremain' - Johnny, Cilla, and Rab - are both realistic and complex. Read the following lesson to learn more about these carefully crafted characters.

Who Are the Main Characters in Johnny Tremain?

In the world that Esther Forbes creates in Johnny Tremain, there are three young characters that feel especially real to readers. These characters are Johnny Tremain, Priscilla Lapham, and Rab Silsbee. They each have many layers, and at times can feel just like you or someone you know. In the following sections, you will learn about the characters' personal traits and the journeys they take during the novel.

Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain is the protagonist, which is what we call the main character that the readers cheer on throughout the story. In the beginning of the novel, he's a fourteen-year-old silversmith apprentice. Although he doesn't have much social standing because of his position as an apprentice, Johnny still has many qualities that others admire. He's bright, educated, and has talent in the world of his craft - and he knows it. Combine those positive qualities with the fact that he struggles with being an orphan, and Johnny has become an insecure young man with the ability to bully fellow apprentices without others questioning it.

However, Johnny's attitude and perspective changes dramatically when he becomes severely disfigured after a prank in the silversmith shop. Johnny becomes completely deflated and mopes around depressed for a long time. It is not until he meets and befriends Rab that he is able to gain confidence (healthy confidence this time!) and become someone whom others want to be around.

Priscilla Lapham

Priscilla Lapham, most commonly known as Cilla, meets Johnny when he is the apprentice is the Laphams' silversmith shop. Cilla gives Johnny some innocent teasing from time to time, but she is shown throughout the story to be kind, selfless, and loyal to a fault.

Cilla's youngest sister, Isannah, is a sickly, yet incredibly beautiful young lady. For a long time during Isannah's childhood, Cilla was Isannah's biggest protector and best caretaker, even more than their mother, Mrs. Lapham.

Late in the novel, beautiful Isannah is given up by her mother to Miss Lavinia Lyte, who wants to adopt Isannah as a sort of a 'pet.' Isannah agrees to go with Lavinia as long as Cilla joins her. So Cilla becomes a servant in the Lyte household while Isannah lives the high life as Lavinia's sidekick. Throughout it all, Cilla doesn't complain because she wants to be able to be there for Isannah if she needs her. At the end of the story, however, Isannah, leaves loyal, selfless Cilla without much of a second thought to go to England with the Lytes and live a privileged life. Cilla is left behind in poverty despite all that she has done for Isannah.

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