Johnny Tremain: Chapter 12
Chapter XII. A Man Can Stand Up
Johnny makes his way to the wharf in North Boston. He is glad that he put on Pumpkin’s uniform, as no civilians are allowed near the boats. He realizes that the uniform is too clean, so he does his best to make it seem that he has recently returned from battle. Johnny watches several boats, loaded with wounded men, approach the wharf. He is appalled when he sees a British officer strike a wounded man for screaming. He reflects on James Otis’s words and thinks that the patriots are fighting to abolish just such actions. He sees Colonel Smith, who is injured, arrive. He also sees the wounded Lieutenant Stranger arrive. Johnny longs to help Stranger, but he realizes that doing so would be dangerous. Johnny ponders the fact that war can make enemies of former friends.
Johnny attempts to convince two British soldiers to row him to Charlestown by telling them that he has an urgent message for Major Percy. An officer approaches and when Johnny repeats his story, the officer commands the soldiers to row him across the river.
Once across the river, Johnny slips out of Pumpkin’s uniform. The people of Charlestown are in a panic, but Johnny visits an inn, whose proprietor is a Son of Liberty. The innkeeper gives Johnny details about the British march on Concord. When Johnny inquires about Dr. Warren, the innkeeper informs him that Warren fought well and was almost seriously injured. Johnny then inquires about the men injured in Lexington, but the innkeeper doesn’t know their names.
The next morning Johnny makes his way toward Cambridge. Along the way he sees evidence of the British retreat. He watches a group of men attempting to free a horse, which is stuck in mud; he recognizes the horse as belonging to Colonel Smith. A short time later he comes upon a burial party. Johnny stops at a tavern; inside a number of men are boasting about their exploits in the battle. Here Johnny is informed that Dr. Warren is in Cambridge. As Johnny walks about Cambridge, he finds hundreds of Minute Men, all of whom seem to have rushed off to battle bringing little but their guns and the clothes on their backs. Johnny wonders what they will all do now.
Johnny locates Paul Revere, and Revere informs him that Dr. Warren left for Lexington. Johnny is excited about having a reason to travel to Lexington, since this is where he believes Rab is.
As Johnny walks to Lexington, he sees evidence of the battle and comes across another burial party. When he arrives in Lexington, he stops for a drink of water and asks a local girl about the men killed in the opening battle. She has memorized their names and recites them to Johnny, who is relieved that she doesn’t speak Rab’s name. He asks how Rab’s family, the Silsbees, fared, and she informs him that the women and children fled. All of the men, except for Grandsire Silsbee, went into battle. Grandsire Silsbee, who refused to leave with the women and children, remained in the family home.
In the afternoon, Johnny reaches the area in Lexington where the small group of patriots first faced the British army. Johnny is touched by their bravery. He recognizes Dr. Warren’s chaise in front of Jonathan Harrington’s house, and as he approaches the house, he sees Dr. Warren, surrounded by a group of women who are grieving over the recent death of Mr. Harrington. Johnny delivers a note to Dr. Warren, informing Warren of the information he has gathered. Johnny asks Warren about Rab, and the doctor informs him of Rab’s actions. Rab had been part of the initial action at Lexington and had acted very bravely. However, he was seriously wounded in the first volley. Warren tells Johnny that he was just about to check on Rab, who is resting at a nearby tavern. He invites Johnny to come along but notes that Johnny must face Rab like a man.
As Johnny enters Rab’s room, he considers that he never really got to know Rob, at least not as well as he knew someone like Dove. Rab is propped up in a chair, and at first he doesn’t seem to be seriously wounded. Rab asks how Boston faired, and Johnny informs him that the British were greatly angered at having been so soundly beaten. As they converse, Johnny begins to see that Rab is gravely injured. Rab asks Johnny to fetch his musket and tells him how he has made a number of improvements to the weapon. Rab laments the fact that he never got a chance to fire the gun in battle. Rab gives the musket to Johnny, and Johnny promises to take good care of it. He then asks Johnny to go to Silsbee’s Cove to check on the women and Grandsire Silsbee. Johnny agrees and leaves Rab in the care of Dr. Warren.
When Johnny arrives at Silsbee’s Cove, it seems to be deserted. He enters the house and finds that it is empty. Even Grandsire’s chair is empty. As he feeds the Silsbees’ cats and dogs, a notion strikes him. He looks above the hearth and finds that Grandsire Silsbee’s gun and powder horn are missing.
When Johnny returns to the tavern, he sees Dr. Warren and inquires about Rab. The doctor gently informs him that Rab has died. Johnny notes that Rab must have sent him away because he knew he was going to die, and Warren agrees. Warren tells Johnny that there’s no need for him to go back upstairs to see Rab. He then asks if Johnny remembers the night that James Otis attended the last meeting of the Observers. Warren notes how Otis said that some men would have to die “so other men can stand up on their feet like men.” He notes how men always have and always will die for this reason and adds how he hopes that there will always be men, like Rab, who are willing to die for such a cause.
The day’s events have stunned Johnny. Rab’s death doesn’t seem to phase him now, but he knows it will hit him later. As Dr. Warren eats, Johnny picks up Rab’s gun. Warren notices Johnny’s hand and asks Johnny to show it to him. After a brief examination, Warren informs Johnny that his hand may not be as badly damaged as Johnny thinks. Warren tells Johnny that, with a little surgery, he can probably restore enough function that Johnny could fire a musket. Johnny immediately consents, and Warren tells him to go for a short walk while he prepares his surgical instruments.
As Johnny walks about the area where the first skirmish of the war took place, he realizes that the people around him now are “his” people and this is “his” land. In the distance he hears the sounds of “Yankee Doodle” being played in a rather rough manner. Johnny watches as tired, but determined, Minute Men return to the town. He also sees a chaise following the men; in it is Grandsire Silsbee. Johnny starts to run after him to tell him that Rab is dead, but Johnny knows that the old man won’t be able to stop because he needs to lead the men on to Cambridge and then to Boston.
In the closing lines, Johnny looks about, contemplates Rab’s death and the others that will also die, and understands James Otis’s assertion that the war must be fought so that “a man can stand up.”
In the final chapter Johnny’s maturity is demonstrated in several ways. For example, though Johnny longs to help the wounded Lieutenant Stranger, he understands that in time of war one’s former friend may become an enemy. In addition, he is able to face his dying friend as a “man.” This is a clear contrast to the young man who, only a short time ago, couldn’t face Rab as he left for Lexington. Johnny has also matured socially, for he comes to think of his fellow patriots as his true family. While he waits for Dr. Warren to operate on his hand, he looks about Lexington and believes that “This [is] his land and these his people.”
Johnny’s consent to allow Dr. Warren to operate on his hand suggests that Johnny is now willing to take up a weapon and join the fight.
The “rough” playing of “Yankee Doodle” that Johnny hears symbolizes the ill-equipped nature of the Minute Men, yet it also asserts that it isn’t their training or equipment that will win the war, but their unbreakable determination.
In the closing lines, Johnny understands that death is a part of the quest for freedom and that the reason they are fighting, so that “a man can stand up,” is something both worthy and enduring.