My Brother Sam is Dead

by: Christopher Collier & James Lincoln Collier

Motif

Foretelling Death

Foreshadowing is used frequently in this novel. Often, one character warns another of a very specific threat of war and winds up being the one facing that threat and losing to it. Sam professes that one should die for one's cause, and he dies for his cause. He predicts a problem with cattle thieves, and he turns out to be framed for that problem. Father warns Tim of diseases on prison ships, and he himself is the one to die of disease. This works to show that no preparation or wisdom can protect a person during terror-filled and chaotic wartimes. Even careful observation and prediction cannot act as a shield, and Tim himself, the most inexperienced of all and the recipient of so many of these ironic warnings, is the one who actually cannot foretell, yet lives.

Weather

The most significant events in this story work in a concert with the weather. Spring, traditionally a time of youth and hope, also sets up spring-lovers for disappointment, for inevitably winter will come. It is April when Sam first delights Tim by returning from college, then fights with Father and leaves for good. Spring the next year gives Tim a chance for some glory of his own in the letter-delivery, but it fails, and he feels puzzled and left out of the war once again. A year later, also in April, the British troops come through, giving Tim an initial feeling of camaraderie with one side. Eventually, though, the troops horrify Tim with their unnecessary cruelty, and later that day, Sam returns. In this novel, spring events are most disappointing because they hold out hope and then dash that hope to the ground.