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My Brother Sam is Dead

Christopher Collier & James Lincoln Collier


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

"Stop complaining," I said. "I have to do this every night while you're down at Yale scoring telling points and getting drunk with those girls." "You know I wouldn't do anything like that, Tim. Drunkenness is a sin." I giggled. "So is—what's that word for girls? Lasviciousness?" "Lasciviousness, stupid, not lasviciousness. I have a new song about girls, but it's too lasvicious for you."

This dialogue is a prime example of the dynamic between Sam and Tim. Both boys have heard many times from their parents that certain behavior should be avoided as sinful, and their ability to laugh about this shows their similar view of the use of religion. Tim's recollection of his brother's college stories show how avidly he listens when Sam speaks. Tim's giggle betrays the pleasure he takes in hearing that Sam does things of which their parents would not approve. Tim's stumble over the word "lasciviousness" demonstrates his own youth and inexperience in contrast with his brother. Sam's humoring of this mispronunciation and withholding of the song shows his relative power over his brother, his ability to dispense information at his desire to a listener who will no doubt find it fascinating.

I let go of the gun and took my hand out from underneath the blanket, trying to think what to do next. Sam was pretty tired, and being a good sleeper, I figured I might be able to move his arm without waking him up.

This quotation shows the betrayal of friends and brothers that war can necessitate. Tim needs to take the Brown Bess, his father's gun, back home, and when he finds Sam sleeping with it, he uses the intimate information he has of his brother's sleeping habits to decide he will take a risk and slide the gun away from Sam. Even though Tim has no intention of hurting Sam, this passage portrays a trespass of sorts, and demonstrates how in war, men must use any resource they can find to survive.

I asked myself what Sam would do if it were him…he'd do something daring. The most daring thing to do would be to track down Father…Then it came to me that even though rescuing Father was the daring thing to do, it wasn't the smartest thing. So I asked myself another question: what would Father do?

For the entirety of the story, Tim is caught between the opinions of his father and the opinions of Sam. He finds qualities of both in himself, yet he is never old enough or clever enough to compete with either, and he does not feel entirely similar to either. Much of the plot follows Tim's growth from being an observer of actions to being an actor himself. In this quotation we see the working of Tim's mind as he confronts a situation that he does not know how to handle. His mind jumps first to what Sam would have done, since Sam is the closest figure to Tim and the object of Tim's most immediate admiration. However, although Sam's decisions are usually glorious, they are rarely safe or wise. Father, on the other hand, is a very practical-minded man about a great many things, and Tim considers his actions as well. Finally he decides on a plan which contains all the courage of Sam, all the practicality of Father, and an ingenuity that is Tim's own.

In war the dead pay the debts for the living.

Tim's mother quotes Father as saying this, and notes that he himself never expected to have to pay. This is perhaps one of the wisest lines in the novel, and it repeatedly shows itself to be true. Both young Jerry Sanford and young Tim Meeker have gotten involved in the war to a dangerous extent, and it is simply a matter of timing and circumstance that Tim lives through the story and Jerry does not. Father took his own chances during involvement in a war before Tim and Sam were born, but he does not have to pay his debt for years. He dies during Sam's war, a time when he believed himself safe and uninvolved. Sam notes at the beginning of the novel that one ought to die for one's cause, and he understands at the end that his turn to pay has come. This quotation marks the unfairness of war, in which many are involved, but not everyone involved dies. The unlucky ones die on behalf of all those involved. People like Time and his mother are left behind, alive but empty from so many personal losses.

I knew he was wrong. He was staying in the army because he wanted to stay in the army, not because of duty or anything else…[k]nowing that about Sam gave me a funny feeling. I didn't feel like his little brother so much anymore, I felt more like his equal.

Tim speaks these words after Sam comes home and refuses his mother's plea for him to stay home. For as long as he can remember, Tim has fallen short of Sam's strength, courage, intelligence and experience. Tim's idolatry of Sam remains constant through much of the story. Even when Tim becomes the man of the tavern, performing adult tasks and making important decisions, he still looks forward to the moment when he can show off his new knowledge to Sam. This quotation marks the first time when Tim deeply disagrees with Sam. Tim has discovered a fundamental truth about Sam: once Sam has become part of a group that might achieve glory, no amount of arguing or persuasion could rip him from the group. Usually Tim argues just to act as a foil for Sam, but this time he sincerely believes that his brother's decision is wrong. Having learned this, Tim is finally able to understand that his own rationale is as sound, if not sounder, than that of his older brother. This realization shapes his developing adult personality.

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