My Brother Sam is Dead
Tim racks his brain to think of an excuse to get away so he can visit Sam. As he chops wood, Tim sees a troop of Rebel soldiers clad in blue uniform, approaching the tavern on horseback. Tim follows them to the tavern, cracking open the door to see his mother held up at gunpoint and his father trying to wrestle his way out of the grip of several soldiers who are holding him and demanding his gun. Father tells them that Sam took it. The Rebel soldiers threaten to kill him if he does not give them the gun. Father argues vehemently, which makes Tim think that he understands where Sam got his rebelliousness. When a soldier loses his temper with Father and slashes him across the cheek with a sword, Tim realizes that he must act quickly. He dashes out of the kitchen and runs to Tom Warrups' teepee, where he knows Sam is hiding.
Tim finds Sam sleeping with the Brown Bess in his arms. Knowing Sam to be a heavy sleeper, Tim carefully moves Sam's arms, gets the gun, and sneaks away. Sam wakes and chases Tim, catching Tim and demanding the gun back. Tim surprises himself and his brother by turning around and aiming the gun as steadily as he can, threatening to shoot if Sam comes any closer. Sam stares at him, Tim begins to cry, and Sam lunges at the gun, slicing both his finger and Tim's as he takes back the gun. Tim explains the situation and begs Sam to run home with him to check on Father. Sam resists at first, but reacts when Tim accuses him of cowardice. Sam loads the gun, and Tim pauses to admire his brother's casual ease with the Brown Bess. When Tim and Sam arrive at home, the soldiers have left. Sam and Father face each other. Father calls, "Come back, Sam," and Sam runs out of the yard and is gone.
By January of 1776, Tim has yet to see any actual fighting, but the effects of the war are becoming visible. Food and guns disappear quickly, and soldiers steal cattle all across the countryside, desperate to feed themselves and their troops. Tim says the worst part of the war is missing Sam, worrying about him, as envying him his glory. Tim realizes that in the eyes of a younger brother, everything an older brother does seems brave and grown-up, even milking the cow. Tim acknowledges that cow-milking was hardly glorious when his own turn came, and he wonders whether fighting in the war really is as glorious as it seems. Tim imagines himself on the battlefield and wonders which side he would defend.
One April day, Mr. Heron and Tom Warrups visit the Meeker tavern. Mr. Heron asks Mr. Meeker whether Tim would run an errand carrying some business letters for him. Mr. Meeker is immediately skeptical, but Tim volunteers enthusiastically, hoping for an ounce of his own glory so he can boast to Sam. Mr. Heron says everybody must make sacrifices for the war. Father says no, adding that he has already lost one son and refuses to lose another. When Mr. Herons, Father says that Mr. Heron is an ambiguous, shadowy political figure and that Tim ought not to get involved with him. Tim obeys, but for the next day he feels envious of Sam's glory and angry at Father for holding him back. He confronts Father and demands a chance to participate in the war effort and help either side—he doesn't even care which. Father says no and stands angrily, and suddenly he stops. Tim knows this is because Father drove Sam from the house by shouting, and does not want to drive Tim away too. Instead of shouting, Father asks Tim to stay uninvolved, and warns him of the prison ships into which the soldiers often throw children. Two weeks later, Tim and Jerry Sanford go fishing, and Tim plans to use fishing as an excuse to sneak away and run Mr. Heron's errands.
When he hears that Sam is home, Tim tries to find a clever way to escape Father in order to visit Sam. Soon, however, Tim's domestic worries shift and he must concern himself with more dangerous problems. He must concentrate on finding the best way to help Father escape the fury of the Rebel soldiers. He ultimately does this by running to Sam. When the Rebel soldiers enter the tavern, Tim fears for his father, who talks back to the soldiers, as he always fears for Sam, who talks back to Father. The might of Tim's father suddenly seems unimpressive in contrast to the might of the Rebel army. This diminishment of Father is a significant change in Tim's untested view of the world. Tim's loyalty to Sam does not stand in the way of his determination to fetch the gun and save Father from death or capture. Tim begins to see his father differently, seeing Father's fallibility and determining to protect him, even at the risk of upsetting Sam.
The Rebel army becomes a less sympathetic force than it was in Sam's description. In person, the Rebels do not seem like the sympathetic underdog characters fighting the mighty British army. Rather, they are threatening, untrusting, and unforgiving. Still, Tim excuses their behavior, understanding that with Redding's reputation as a Tory town, it makes sense that the Rebel soldiers would storm through and disarm the citizens in order to mitigate their own weapon shortage and prevent the Tories from rising on their own to fight.
One of the most significant passages in the novel appears Chapter Four, when Tim uses his intimate knowledge of Sam to disarm him. Tim knows exactly how to handle his sleeping brother. Tim and Sam are bound by brotherhood, and it is disquieting to see that bond used by one brother to disarm the other. The authors seem to be pointing out that war forces brothers to turn against each other in desperation. Tim also plays on his brotherly knowledge of Sam to press the exact button—Sam's unwillingness to be thought a coward—that will coerce Sam into returning home to ensure that Father is left alive by the soldiers.
In Chapter Five, cattle thieving becomes common. Tim becomes aware of the illegal and dangerous possibilities surrounding him, but he does not yet apply these scenarios to the people in his own life. Father checks himself, having learned through his painful experience with Sam the consequences of losing his temper with a son. Father controls himself in a rare instance of self-policing, emphasizing his own wisdom and vulnerability, but not curbing Tim's persistent desire to do something that will sound adventurous when he recounts it to Sam. For the first time in the story, Tim has a sense of control over his Father, something that feeds his confidence and desire to prove himself.
Tim's desperation to participate demonstrates the depth to which he makes decisions based on whether they will win Sam's attention and respect. Tim is conscious of his own need to please Sam. He thinks about the nature of younger brothers' admiration for their older brothers. This thinking is uniquely Tim's, because it comes from his own experience, not Sam's or Father's. Although Tim fears and usually obeys Father, he still adores Sam, and this adoration is the reason why Tim ultimately decides to sneak out against his father's will. Mr. Heron, recorded both in history and in this story as a shady figure, offers adventure to Tim. Tim decides he wants to set aside his own skepticism and forge ahead, Sam-like, and try to contribute.
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