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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Colliers' novel focuses on the conflict between ideological issues and personal relationships; forced to choose Jacket for My Brother Sam Is Dead between political convictions and family loyalties, the Meekers are exposed to potential tragedy on both private and public fronts. My Brother Sam Is Dead portrays the Revolutionary War as a civil war that divides families and communities. The authors show that war unleashes forces that result in unpredictable outcomes, and claims as its victims both those who fall in battle and those whose lives are torn apart by the physical and emotional upheaval.

Sam Meeker, a sixteen-year-old student at Yale University, believes that the rebel cause is just. Like many Yale students, he wants to join the militia. Yet Sam fails to live up to the nobility of his ideals; lazy and fond of drinking and cursing, Sam dishonors the family—at least in his brother's eyes—with his conduct. The boys' father, Life Meeker, owns a tavern and a general store. He proudly fought in the French and Indian War but does not wish to engage in rebellion against England. Argumentative and headstrong like Sam, he devoutly loves his family and England. Fourteen-year-old Tim Meeker idolizes both his brother and his father. Tim narrates the story, and this perspective allows the reader to observe his initial innocence and his eventual perception of reality. Torn between his love for Sam and his loyalty to Life, Tim resists choosing sides. His desire to attend to the everyday concerns of his family, even during wartime, makes him highly believable. His character changes with time, especially as he recognizes that his youth does not make him inferior to his older brother. Tim quickly grows to maturity by taking charge of family responsibilities, unlike...

(The entire section is 446 words.)