My Brother Sam Is Dead Theme Essay

Questions for Chapters 1-5

Comprehension and Recall

1. Why has Sam left college?

To join the rebellion against English rule

2. What's the big dispute, or issue, between Sam and his father?

Sam sides with the colonists who want independence from England; his father is loyal to British rule.

3. Why does Sam steal his father's musket?

Sam needs a weapon to use against the British forces.

4. Why does Tim try to return the musket to his father?

Tim's afraid that the British soldiers will kill his dad unless he gives them the family's weapon.

5. What does Mr. Heron want Tim to do?

Carry a mysterious letter to Fairfield

Higher Level Thinking Skills

6. The citizens of Redding don't all agree about the colonist-British dispute. What are some of the conflicting ideas among the residents of Redding?

7. What does Tim admire about his brother? What does he dislike?

His achievements and escapades at college; his courage in fighting for his beliefs. He dislikes Sam's tendency to argue and fight with his father; his refusal to compromise.

Literary Elements

8. Point of View: Explain first-person point of view to students. Ask: From whose point of view is this story told? In the first-person point of view, whose feelings and thoughts do readers get to know best?

The story is told from Tim's point of view. In the first-person point of view, readers best get to know the narrator's [Tim's] thoughts and feelings.

9. External conflict: What conflict in the outside world are the citizens of Redding facing?  With whom is Tim in conflict?

The citizens of Redding face the conflict between opposing armies.Tim is in conflict with his brother and his father.

Personal Response

10. Tim's father has a violent temper. How does Tim cope with it? What do you think of Tim's way of coping with it?

11. Do you think Tim would really have shot his brother if Sam hadn't managed to get the gun back? Explain.


Questions for Chapters 6-9

Comprehension and Recall

1. Why does Betsy struggle to get the message Tim is carrying?

She thinks it contains information that will put Sam in danger.

2. What does the message really say?

“If this message is received, we will know that the messenger is reliable.”

3. Why do Tim and his father journey to Verplancks Point?

They drive their cattle there to sell.

4. What calamity happens as Tim and his father head home?

Mr. Meeker is captured and taken away by cow-boys.

Higher Level Thinking Skills

5. Why does Tim try to avoid Mr. Heron?

Tim is embarrassed about his failure as a messenger.

6. What is Tim's attitude toward lying? Why, in spite of his attitude, does Tim begin to lie to his father?

He thinks it's sinful.He wants some glory for himself; he wants to see Sam; he's getting confused about what's right and what's wrong in a setting of war and danger.

7. On the journey home, how does Tim avoid capture by the cow-boys?

He lies: he pretends that he thinks the cow-boys are members of a Committee of Safety that is out to capture these thieves. The cow-boys, alarmed, ride away.

Literary Elements

8. Suspense: What uncertainty or anxious feeling do you have as you finish reading Chapter 9? Why does this suspense make you want to read on?

Possible response: What will the cow-boys do to Tim's father? Students will want to read on to find out what has happened to Mr. Meeker and what Tim will do next.

9. Internal conflict: What contrasting ideas and values does Tim struggle with inside his mind?

Should I be loyal to my parents or to my brother? Should I side with the Revolution or be loyal to King George? Should I always tell the truth, or are there times when it's okay to lie?

Personal Response

10. Have you ever been in a highly dangerous situation? What actions did you take right away? Looking back, do you think these actions were effective? Explain.

11. Mr. Meeker says he doesn't care who — the British or the Revolutionaries — the beef-cattle finally end up with: he simply needs the money to support his family. What do you think of Mr. Meeker's viewpoint?

Questions for Chapters 10-Epilogue

Comprehension and Recall

1. Why do the British troops arrest Captain Betts, Mr. Rogers, and Jerry Sanford?

They are suspected of being sympathizers with the Rebels.

2. What awful event does Tim witness at Captain Starr's house?

The British troops' massacre of the people inside

3. Why is Sam allowed to come back to Redding?

His commanding officer needs Sam's home-town knowledge of Redding.

4. What has happened to Tim's father?

He has died of cholera on a British prison ship.

5. Who arrests Sam?  What is he accused of?

Sam's fellow Colonial soldiers arrest him for stealing cattle.

6. What finally happens to Sam?

He is executed by a colonial firing squad.

Higher Level Thinking Skills

7. Tim says that he “grows up” after his father's disappearance. In what ways does Tim show that he's grown up?

He takes on responsibility for running the farm and tavern; makes decisions on his own; dares to confront General Putnam to plead for Sam's life; bravely witnesses Sam's execution.

8. Tim remembers these words his father often said: “In war the dead pay the debts of the living.” How do you think these words apply to Tim?

Possible responses: The dead colonial soldiers have paid with their lives what Tim's family owes for living in a democracy. The dead soldiers have paid the price for their neighbors' inability to settle a conflict peaceably.

Literary Elements

9. Irony: Irony is the contrast between what one would expect to happen and what actually happens. What's ironic about Mr. Meeker dying on a British prison ship?  What's ironic about Sam's execution?

Mr. Meeker sympathized with the British. You wouldn't expect him to die in the hands of his allies!Sam was executed by his fellow-soldiers. If Sam had to die, you'd expect that he'd be killed by his enemies.

Personal Response

10. How would you describe Tim's feelings in the Epilogue? Do you think his feelings are natural, or strange? Explain.

11. Suppose you could write a “happy ending” to this story. What would happen in your happy ending? What would the story tide be? Would your ending be realistic and historically accurate? Explain.

My Brother Sam Is Dead Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier.

The team of James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier won thousands of readers and multiple awards in the 60s and 70s for their fiction and nonfiction works. James Collier, trained as a journalist, shaped stories such as the Newberry honorable mention My Brother Sam Is Dead (1974) while his brother Christopher Collier, a trained historian, supplied realistic and comprehensive information on matters like the US revolutionary war.

My Brother Sam Is Dead is one of their most famous collaborations. It follows a teenaged Tim as he chooses whether to align himself with the British (whom his father supports) or the revolutionaries (supported by his brother, Sam).

Its enduring themes include heated father-son relationships, the inhumanity of war, and the illogical cruelty of dogmatic political positions.

The story is told in first person from the point of view of Tim Meeker. One rainy April day, Tim describes his brother coming to the family’s place of business, a tavern, announcing that the rebels have won against the British in Massachusetts. Sam is wearing the rebel uniform that Tim cannot help but admire; he also admires all the facts and theories he picked up as a college student at Yale.

Sam’s rebel sentiments quickly earn a rebuke from his father. His father cannot understand why his son would turn against the King. Despite his father’s protests, Sam explains to everyone at the tavern that the Minutemen (local soldiers) surprised the lobsterbacks (a mocking name for British soldiers) at the Battle of Lexington. Sam enjoys the attention his news receives. His father asks who fired the first shot, and Sam admits he doesn’t know.

The farmers and the minister, Mr. Beach, take Sam’s father’s side and say fewer deaths are worth higher taxes. Sam says it is the principle of British overreach that keeps him fighting. His father bangs on the table until everyone is silent.

Once everyone has eaten, Tim visits Old Pru, the family’s cow. After some prodding from their mother, Sam agrees to help milk the cow, even though his uniform may get dirty.

Nonchalantly, Tim asks about girls, alcohol, and Sam’s true feelings on the war. Sam says he has only returned home to steal his father’s gun nicknamed, Brown Bess. Tim keeps his promise not to reveal this intention to their father.

Late at night, Tim wakes up to Sam and his father arguing. His father says he does not want his son to suffer the fate he did serving in previous wars, and orders him to give up the rebel cause or leave the house. Sam leaves the house, and his father weeps privately.

The next morning, Tim talks about the religious life in Redding. The town is Anglican and thus considered to be loyalists. Tim does not know which side to choose. He finds Sam hiding in a hut and tries to talk him out of going to the war. Sam is with his girlfriend, Betsy Read. When she asks which side Tim supports, he is silent and unsure.

Several months pass until Betsy tells Tim that his brother is back in town. Soon after, Rebel soldiers enter the Meeker home. They demand the father’s gun, which the father cannot supply because Sam took it; Tim promises to get it and runs to Sam’s hideout. He meets Sam, and the two return home to find that their parents, though shaken, are not dead.

Months later, Mr. Heron asks Tim to deliver a package of letters. Tim’s father forbids it but Tim, craving adventure, does it anyway. Clandestinely, he walks through town when Betsy Read sees him. She steals and opens a letter, thinking it has intelligence on Sam; she is disappointed when it does not.

In the summer of 1776, Tim joins his father on a business trip to Verplancks Point. He meets his cousins, whom he likes, but father and son are harassed by a gang of cowboys. They pay them off, but then are kidnapped by other Rebel cowboys further along the trail. Tim is able to outwit them and bring the merchandise back home, but he is shaken to his core. With this trip, he has suddenly become the man of the house.

In the spring of 1777, Tim is horrified when British soldiers murder hundreds of people in Redding, including some of his friends. Despite this, Tim does not know where he stands: the British are looting his town but the rebels have kidnapped his father. Tim reunites with Sam after the British troops leave Redding. Sam tells him that he has chosen to reenlist.

In June of 1777, Tim learns that his father died as a prisoner on a ship. Tim steps up his management of the tavern, taking the lead on trading decisions and maintaining financial ledgers. He dislikes the dogmatic nature of both sides.

Tim and his mother discuss what to do with eight cows they have received through business transactions. Tim wants to make a profit from them, but Sam advises him to kill the cows and hide the meat to prevent cattle theft, a major problem with the military.

While Tim deliberates, two men break into the barn to steal the cows. Sam stops them, but the men arrest him and frame him for the theft. General Putnam is fed up with cattle thefts and is set on making an example of somebody — anybody. He is mute to Tim and his mother’s testimonies of Sam’s innocence. Tim tries, but fails, to enter Sam’s holding cell to save him. In February 1779, Tim yells, “don’t shoot him,” as a squad fires at Sam’s bagged head.

In the epilogue, it is forty-seven years after Sam’s death. Tim reports that he is happy with his family in Pennsylvania. After Sam was shot, Tim moved, along with his mother, to open another tavern. She died of old age, and told all her grandchildren about Sam’s bravery and fortitude.

Tim still questions whether the US had to be founded on so much bloodshed.


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