My Brother Sam is Dead

by: Christopher Collier & James Lincoln Collier

Themes

The Illusion of Glory

Tim recognizes that Sam is remaining in the war for the glory and camaraderie rather than for the principle of it, and after several of his own attempts at glory and adventure, Tim senses that glory is overrated. The sacrifices and risks are too great, as they are in the delivery of Mr. Heron's letter or the trip to Verplancks Point. The so-called glory of adventure has taken away Father and many others, and Tim avoids it, partly because he is younger and must tend the house, and partly because he sees its effects on Sam. In the end, Tim learns that glorying in battle can lead to early death, and avoiding the glory of war can lead to a long, happy life.

The Degeneration of Values During War

Mother repeats many times how war turns men into beasts. She says this, for example, when she hears of Jerry Sanford's death, or of Sam himself stealing cattle to feed his men. She is correct in saying this, and not only in the sense of human cruelty. As the war wears on, the entire source of the conflict fades and everybody becomes an enemy to everyone else. Tim finds solace in neither the Rebels nor the Tories; neither stick to principles or any sort of noble idea other than desperate and efficient murder. Tim never chooses a side, and this is extremely important to the novel in demonstrating that to an unbiased and observant young boy, neither side has stuck to any set of values or done anything particularly admirable that would warrant loyalty. By the end of the story, Tim points out that nobody really cares who wins as long as the war ends soon.

The Clashing Influence of Father and Brother

With the experienced, conservative influence of Father working on one side and the excitable, curious influence of Sam working on the other, Tim spends much of this novel trying to come to terms with their points of view and to find his own point of view through them. This is one of the reasons why the Verplancks trip is so important; it shows the thought process Tim undergoes when he is completely alone, away from these two strong and omnipotent influences. Alone, he considers which person would handle the situation in what way, and how he as his own man ought to handle it.