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My Brother Sam Is Dead

My Brother Sam Is Dead


by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

The Brown Bess

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Call us crazy, but the Brown Bess sounds more like the name for a cow than for a gun. But whatever, we're going to roll with it.

Back in the Revolutionary War, people called a certain type of musket a "Brown Bess."

In My Brother Sam Is Dead, this gun gets some serious attention. Tim's dad has one, and he uses Bessie a ton. Oh, and then Sam steals it. To top it all off, a bunch of Continental soldiers come by the Meeker house to collect the Brown Bess, and when it isn't there, some serious hoo-ha ensues. One thing's for sure: this gun is in high demand.

So what might the gun represent? Let's start by breaking down the name into its two parts:

  • Brown: Well, the gun is brown so… maybe this isn't the most creative name ever?
  • Bess: According to Tim, Bess is Queen Elizabeth's nickname, and the gun is named after her (1.126). Queen Liz ruled England back in the 1500s.

That's right. This gun is named after a lady who ruled over England. And now it's being used by rebel soldiers to fight against England. That's some serious role reversal right there. It's like the Continental Army is using England's own tools against them. Talk about rebellious.

Family Matters

The gun causes lots of trouble even within Tim's family. Check out what Tim has to say about Sam stealing his dad's gun:

It was one thing for Sam to say he was going to fight the British; they were a long way from here. But to take Father's gun was pretty bad; Father was right here and he seemed a lot more real to me than the British did. (1.126)

To Tim, taking the gun is even worse than Sam fighting the British—it's pretty much the worst thing he could do. And it sure does cause some family tensions once he's made off with the musket. The way we see it, the gun might be an indication that the war is so powerful that it can even mess with the bonds of family. What do you think?

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