My Brother Sam is Dead
Chapter Fourteen & Epilogue
General Putnam refuses to consider Sam's case again. Sam is to be executed with other convicted criminals on Tuesday, February 16. Tim weeps when he hears the news and fury wells up inside him. The Sunday before the execution, the entire town is required to go to a church service praying for the souls about to be executed. Mrs. Meeker refuses to go. Tim goes but leaves in tears in the middle of it. That night the Meekers close the tavern early because they have no customers, and Mrs. Meeker says she wants to close it forever. She has sunk into deep depression. When Tim pulls his father's bayonet off the mantel and begins to sharpen it, Mrs. Meeker says in a soft voice that he would get himself killed, and that he might as well, so that both her sons could go at once.
Tim leaves the house without a plan, and without feeling cold or sad or anything other than a simple determination to help Sam. Tim wonders whether prisoners about to die worry about keeping warm, and concludes that they probably do. At the encampment, the guard is asleep. Tim considers killing the sleeping guard and unlocking the prison doors. He thinks to himself that if Sam can kill people, so can he, but when he has a clear shot, Tim is unable to take a life, and without thinking he runs. The prison guard wakes and shoots him, grazing his shoulder. Tim calls for his brother and hurls the bayonet into the air, hoping it will land on the side of the wall where Sam awaits his execution. After running away, Tim realizes that Sam is no longer in the stockade. He returns home quietly, hides his bloody shirt, cleans his wound, and goes to sleep.
Tim attends the execution, although his mother does not. It is set on a hill near the encampment, and Tim watches as the prisoners are brought up in front of the watching public. Sam gives Tim a small grin as he passes. Tim watches the hangings, and then Sam's turn comes. A bag is placed over his head and he is led in front of the gallows, several feet away from the soldiers who were about to shoot him. When the muskets are poised for fire, Tim cries out, "Don't shoot him!" Shots ring out, and Sam writhes on the ground, jerking, on fire from the shots and still alive. Quickly, one of the soldiers shoots again and Sam stops moving.
Tim records the date of the story he has written. It is now fifty years after the Unites States was founded and forty-seven years after Sam was shot. Tim says he has had a happy life and a wonderful family of his own, after moving to Pennsylvania with his mother and opening up a new tavern there. Mrs. Meeker never got over Sam's death, and until she died of old age, she spoke of his headstrong ways to her grandchildren. Tim wonders whether his great and prospering nation could have been formed without the loss of so many lives.
Chapter Fourteen consists of two parts. The first is Tim's response to the news of Sam's execution date, a reaction first of sadness and then of anger and determination to fight against the sentence, even at the risk of his own life. Tim acts coldly and bravely but without any plan, and his plans fall flat when he cannot bring himself to shoot the soldier or find Sam's prison. Sam is the fighter, not Tim, and even when Sam's life is at stake, Tim knows that it is not within his human capacity to kill a person—perhaps because he feels so keenly the tragedy of knowing that one he loves dearly is about to die. Tim vaguely believes that he can still save Sam and acts boldly but without reason, and with a certain warlike passion, in contrast to his mother's pessimistic stoicism.
The second part of this chapter begins when Tim returns home, cleans his wound, and goes to bed, realizing that there is nothing more he can do. Sam's death is going to happen, and Tim accepts this, then falls asleep without further plans or contemplation. On the day of the execution, Tim observes without emotion or judgment. With a matter-of-fact description, Tim reports what he sees: Sam's head covered by a sack and the guns' distance from his body, and finally, the sound, the fire, and Sam's jerking body. Tim ends the chapter with the simple observation, "Then he stopped jerking." Tim has prepared himself for this and faces it without tears or drama, as if he too has hardened himself to the effects of the war. Tim allows his love for his brother to gain hold one time, breaking his silence with his last hopeful cry not to shoot.
In the epilogue, Tim summarizes the rest of his life, which has been a long, happy, and peaceful one. Tim admires and appreciates American independence, and does not venture to judge whose time was better spent: Sam's, which he spent fighting for this freedom but not living to enjoy it, or his own, which he spent skirting the fighting but reaping the benefits of the fighting. Sam's effect on Tim's life has not been forgotten, as we know through his mother's nostalgic stories about her oldest son. The ending note of the novel is appreciative of a long good life but rueful and speculative, as Tim wonders whether the loss of life was worth independence.
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