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My Brother Sam Is Dead

My Brother Sam Is Dead


by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier


Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Letters are the emails of colonial America. Back in the day, people didn't have phones to call a friend. They didn't even have telegraphs to transmit messages. And they definitely didn't have owls delivering their mail. Nope, people relied on good old-fashioned letters to communicate across longer distances.

There are oodles of letters in My Brother Sam Is Dead. Here are the ones that popped out to us:

  • Those "business letters" Mr. Heron wants Tim to deliver to Fairfield (5.36). Well, they weren't actually "business letters" at all, were they? Nope, they were secret messages about the war.
  • The letter Tim tries to deliver between Mr. Heron and Mr. Burr. Sadly for Tim, Betsy stops him.
  • The letters Sam writes home. His father refuses to respond, but at least his mom writes back. 
  • Betsy and Sam write letters to each other. Now that's cute.

Did we miss any?

Letters, Letters, Everywhere

Sometimes, the letters in this book are all about keeping up relationships, despite the war at hand. Think about those letters Sam's mom sends him—just to show she's thinking of him. Or when Sam writes to Betsy, he can tell her when he'll be visiting Redding. Without letters, these relationships might not be as strong. Or as existent.

But some of the letters in this book cause serious spats. We're thinking about the letter Mr. Heron writes to Mr. Burr. Betsy is so intent on finding out what's inside the letter that she gets into a rumble with Tim. Yep, that's right, the two of them have a regular brawl on the road over that letter:

I hit her on the back but in that position I couldn't get much force. "Get off me, Betsy."

"Not until I get that letter," she said. She jerked at my shirt, trying to pull it up. I grabbed at her hands and twisted my body underneath her to turn over so I could be on top, but she pushed her whole weight down on me, grunting. So I slammed her as hard as I could on the side of her head. (6.98-99)

Check out how violent Tim and Betsy get over this letter. Apparently neither one has any qualms about punching a friend. Ouch. This letter is so important that it turns two friends into fighters. Did anyone ever tell them to use their words?

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