Theme of Johnny Tremain

Instructor: Shelley Vessels

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

In 'Johnny Tremain', there are three major themes that help shape the novel and add depth to the story of a young boy during the American Revolution. Read the following lesson for a rundown of these three important themes.

What Is a Theme?

The theme of a book is the hidden message that the story is telling you through its events. A theme isn't something that an author explains to the reader directly; it is something that a reader needs to piece together as they go along.

Themes of Johnny Tremain

While you were reading about Johnny and the events of the American Revolution through his eyes, you may have noticed the following themes. Let's take a look together at the three major themes in the book Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.


In the beginning, the readers are introduced to a young Johnny who nearly everyone admires for his good looks, intellect, and talents. The attention Johnny receives go to his head, and he is cruel to those around him, especially the other apprentices. Because of his attitude, Mr. Lapham tries to teach him humility by asking him to read Bible scriptures in front of others, but the lesson does not stick.

Johnny's humility (or, at first, lack thereof) is shown throughout the story, ebbing and flowing. When Johnny acts too prideful, something will snap him back. For example, Johnny consistently orders fellow apprentices around and belittles them. Then shortly afterwards, one plays a prank on Johnny with the silversmith tools, and Johnny ends up severely injuring his hand with hot liquid silver. After that, Johnny begins to see the world differently, treat people a little more kindly, and not act so boastful.

However, humility is still something that Johnny struggles with throughout the novel. For example, when Johnny believes he's related to Merchant Lyte, he thinks about all the riches he will enjoy being his relative and his humility begins to slip again. Then Johnny is denied by Merchant Lyte and accused of stealing the silver family cup. Johnny once again is forced back from being prideful into being more humble.

Johnny finally changes for good when Rab, a mentor, stresses the importance of not being too prideful through conversation and his own actions. After that, Johnny never returns to the attitude he once had.

Coming of Age

Johnny Tremain is a coming of age novel since Johnny, the main character, is shown transitioning from a boy into a man. Johnny grows tremendously, from a boy in an arrangement set up by his dying mother to a young man who is respected by the most of influential Whigs in Boston. Through his choices and efforts, Johnny finds his own way, makes a name for himself, and plays an important part in the American Revolution.

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