Study Guide

My Brother Sam Is Dead Quotes

  • Violence and Warfare

    "Have you ever seen a dear friend lying in the grass with the top of his skull off and his brains sliding out of them like wet oats? Have you ever looked into the eyes of a man with his throat cut and the blood pouring out between his fingers, knowing that there was nothing he could do, in five minutes he would be dead, yet still trying to beg for grace and not being able because his windpipe was cut in two? Have you ever heard a man shriek when he felt a bayonet go through the middle of his back? I have, Sam, I have." (1.156)

    Wow, Papa Meeker sure knows how to paint a gruesome picture. Sam's dad has some bad memories of the war, and he wants Sam to realize that war isn't just an abstract idea. It's got real consequences. And from what Mr. Meeker has seen, those consequences are seriously horrific.

    "What's the use of principles if you have to be dead to keep them? We're Englishmen, Timmy. Of course there are injustices, there are always injustices, that's the way of God's world. But you never get rid of injustices by fighting. Look at Europe, they've had one war after another for hundreds of years, and show me where anything ever got any better for them." (2.17)

    If Mr. Meeker has to take sides, he's definitely leaning towards the Tories (remember, this means he's pro-England). But here it sounds more like Mr. M is against wars, period. To him, fighting doesn't fix anything.

    "There are principles involved, Tim. Either you live up to your principles or you don't and maybe you have to take a chance on getting killed."

    "Who wants to get killed?"

    "Nobody wants to get killed," Sam said. But you should be willing to die for your principles."

    "That's right," Betsy said.

    "But Betsy, you don't have to take a chance on getting killed," I said.

    "I'd fight if I could," she said. (2.52-57)

    Betsy and Sam definitely believe in the Patriot cause. In fact, they're willing to die for it. Now that's some serious dedication. What do you think about their mindset? And why do you think they are so gung-ho to defend their principles?

    "Tim, please," he said calmly as he could. "It's dangerous. You think that because you're only a child they won't hurt you, but they will. They've been killing children in this war. They don't care. They'll throw you in a prison ship and let you rot. You know what happens to people on those prison ships? They don't last very long. Cholera gets them or consumption or something else, and they die. Tim, it isn't worth it." (5.64)

    Mr. Meeker makes it pretty stinkin' clear that he hates the war. And these prison ships do sound horrible. Keep an eye out for the couple of characters who end up dying on prison ships. Actually, maybe Mr. Meeker can see into the future, since the poor guy dies on a prison ship himself.

    "Rebel and Tory live almost in open warfare with each other."

    […]

    "I'm happy we haven't got to that point in Redding," Father said.

    "You're fortunate. People have been tarred and feathered here, houses have been burned and livestock slaughtered. Both sides are doing it—one side burns a house and the other side retaliates. It won't be long before they're hanging people. I tell you it's true, Life." (8.6, 8-9)

    Mr. Meeker and Mr. Platt are pretty concerned about the way the war is seeping into the towns. In New Salem, where the Platts live, everyone is getting involved in the violence. Check out the way Mr. Platt talks about the two "sides" in this war. Did you notice that he doesn't say which side does what? It sounds to us like both sides are so violent, you almost can't tell them apart.

    Mother figured that once Sam realized that his own side had captured or maybe even killed his father he'd come home and help manage things. "He should be tired of playing soldier boy by now," Mother said. "I should think that glory would have worn off." (10.6)

    Mrs. M thinks Sam's interest in the war is all about "glory." Does this jive with what we learn about Sam? Is he fighting in the war for glory? Or is it for something else?

    Winter came and winter went, and the war went on in the same distant way. Oh, the effects of it were real—the rising prices, the shortage of everything, the news that so-and-so had been killed in some faraway battle. But all the things you think of as belonging to a war, the battles and cannons firing and marching troops and dead and wounded—we hadn't seen any of it, expect for the messengers and commissary officers who came by. (10.19)

    For a long time, Tim doesn't see the more horrific effects of the war. Sadly for our main squeeze, he'll soon finds out that some things are definitely better left unseen. But for now, he's only seen a glimpse. What do you think about the way Tim talks about the war? What does it mean that the war is "distant" but also "real"? Can you relate at all?

    "Jerry? He's dead?"

    "Nobody understands it. They put him on a prison ship and he got sick and died in three weeks. It doesn't make any sense. You can understand why they took Mr. Rogers or Captain Betts, but why imprison a ten-year-old boy?"

    "What harm could he have done them? This war has turned men into animals," Mother said. (12.6-8)

    Mrs. Meeker definitely isn't a fan of the Revolutionary War. In fact, we'd say it's her least favorite thing in the whole wide world. And hearing that little Jerry died in a prison ship is the last straw. Check out the way Mrs. M calls the soldiers "animals." Do you agree?

    "There's a lot you don't understand. All of us have seen good friends killed. I had a friend bayoneted, and it took him six hours to die, screaming all the while. All we could do was hold his hand and wait. I saw a captain I loved blown in half by a cannon ball. He was the best officer we ever had, he worried about his men, he put them first. He never ate before we were fed, and I've seen him go without to give his portion to a sick man. The redcoat blew him in half, right into two pieces with his guts dangling out of both parts." He shivered. "After a few things like that you don't give a damn for anybody but your friends anymore. You kill Redcoats the way you butcher pigs." (12.41)

    Sam has gone from being ignorant of the horrors of war to being all too familiar. Does this story remind you of anyone else's? Yep, we're thinking of Mr. Meeker's cautionary tale about the war. He said it would be bloody and horrible, and sadly, he was right. But Sam doesn't only talk about the horrible ways his friends died. He says he'll treat the other side just as badly. We don't like this image of Sam as a "butcher" one bit.

    But somehow, even fifty years later, I keep thinking that there might have been another way, beside the war, to achieve the same end. (Epilogue.5)

    In the end, Tim still has questions about the war. Could America have gained freedom without the war? Could all those lives have been spared? The truth is that there's no way for Tim to answer these quandaries. What do you think about Tim's attitude toward the war? How has this attitude changed from the beginning of the book? How is it the same?

  • Family

    When I woke up somebody was shouting. I sat up in bed. It was Father. I couldn't hear the words, but I could hear the sound—his heavy, hard voice going on and on. Then there was Sam's voice and he was shouting, too, and then Father again. (1.140)

    Tim's family is in for a rough ride. One of the first interactions we see between Sam and his dad is this gigantic fight about Sam joining the Continental Army. All this shouting doesn't bode well for Sam's relationship with his Pops.

    Then Betsy Read said, "Timmy are you on your father's side or Sam's?"

    I wished she hadn't asked me that question. I didn't want to answer it; in fact, I didn't know how to answer it. "I don't understand what it's all about," I said.

    "It's simple," Sam said. "Either we're going to be free or we're not."

    Betsy touched his arm. "It isn't that simple, Sam. There's more to it." (2.40-43)

    Tim really doesn't want to have to choose between his dad and his bro, and we can't blame him. This choice is extra tough for Tim because his family is now mixed up in politics. Keep an eye out for how Tim grapples with this choice throughout the novel.

    I still hadn't made up my mind which side I was on in the war, and I didn't care whether Sam was a Patriot or a Tory or what. All I could think about was snuggling up to him and listening to him talk about scoring telling points. (3.21)

    War doesn't matter to Tim when his brother is concerned. In fact, he'll happily chuck this whole war business out the window if it means he can have his big bro back, safe and sound. We can't lie, that's some seriously sweet stuff.

    He started to step toward me. "Stand back, Sam, or I'll shoot you in the stomach." Suddenly I began to cry, not just little tears but big sobs all mixed up with trying to get my breath. I felt ashamed of crying in front of Sam, and embarrassed, but it was all so terrible I couldn't stop. (4.32)

    Um, did Tim just pull a gun on his brother? Yep, this war is definitely making for some strained familial relationships. What do you think of this interaction? Why does Tim threaten his brother? And what do you make of Tim's tears?

    I remember being little and watching Sam milk Old Pru and admiring him and thinking how clever he was. And then it got to be my turn to learn how to milk Old Pru, and I found out that there wasn't any glory to it; it was just hard work and made your hands ache. So I guess that being a soldier probably didn't have much glory to it, either, that it was mostly just a lot of hard work. But still, I envied Sam, and I wished I were old enough to do something glorious, too. (5.7)

    Tim just loves his older brother. Check out how much he admires Sam. It doesn't matter if Sam is milking a cow or serving as a soldier, Tim wants to be just like his big bro.

    Mother and Father had a fight over the letters. When the first one came Mother decided to answer it. Father said no, she shouldn't encourage Sam in his recalcitrance. Mother argued with him, but he wouldn't give in: let Sam feel our disapproval until he comes his senses. (7.5)

    Sam's decision to join the war has his parents all riled up. And did you notice that the Meeker family disagreements are getting bigger all the time? Now Mama Meeker is fighting, too. We don't like where this is headed.

    We didn't say anything for a while. "If you go to be a soldier, which side would you fight on?" "The loyalist, I guess." But in my head I wasn't sure about that. Suppose one day we were fighting and I suddenly saw that it was Sam I was aiming my gun at? (8.27-28)

    Tim still doesn't know whether he should be on his dad's side or his brother's. And we can definitely understand his predicament. Pointing a gun at a sibling just isn't cool. But here's the crazy thing: Tim already has aimed his gun at Sam before. Remember back in Chapter 4 when Tim was trying to bring the Brown Bess back to their dad? He threatened his brother with a gun back then. This experience makes the idea of Tim "aiming my gun at" Sam all too real.

    And then Sam was coming up the aisle toward me. He looked older and raggedy too, and he hadn't shaved, either. He got to the door. For a moment we stared at each other. And then he put his arms around me and hugged me, and I hugged him back. "Timmy," he said. I couldn't say anything. It felt so good to hug him I began to cry. Then he began to cry, too, and we stood there in the church door hugging each other and crying all over ourselves. (11.63)

    And the award for sweetest scene of brotherly love goes to… Tim and Sam! These brothers have their disagreements, there's no doubt about it. But when it comes down to it, they sure do love each other.

    "Don't think I was happy about leaving. I felt terrible. I remember running down that road in the rain being mad and cursing him for what he did. But all the while I was cursing I kept remembering things like our trips over to Verplancks Point, and him taking me down to New Haven to get admitted to Yale, and buying me new clothes there, and everything else, and finally I stopped cursing and I just felt terrible and wished we hadn't fought. But it was too late." (11.90)

    Sam hates the way he and his dad fought. Take a look at all the memories Sam has with his Pops. It sounds like they had a good relationship before the war got in the way. What do you think of Sam's statement that "it was too late"? Do you agree with him? Or was there a way for him to patch things up with his dad?

    I didn't feel like his little brother so much anymore, I felt more like his equal. (11.152)

    From the start of the book, Tim wanted to be like his brother. And now he finally is. After all that time spent admiring Sam, it's a pretty big deal that Tim now feels "equal" to his big bro.

  • Courage

    I couldn't take my eyes off him; he looked so brave. He was wearing a scarlet coat with silver buttons and a white vest and black leggings halfway up to his knees. Oh, I envied him. (1.7)

    Tim thinks his brother Sam looks sharp in his new soldier get-up. In fact, Tim sure does pay a lot of attention to what his brother is wearing. Do you think these clothes are what make Sam look brave? Or is he actually brave on the inside? Or is it both?

    "Captain Arnold says it's all right to be scared; the true brave man is always scared. At least that's what the sergeant said he said." (1.103)

    Sam is probably scared about fighting in a war. Good thing his Captain thinks being scared is a part of being brave. What do you think about this statement? You could argue that being scared is the opposite of being brave, right? So why do you think being a brave person might also mean being a bit of a scaredy-cat?

    "I think you're a coward," I said. I didn't really think that—anybody who joined the army to fight couldn't be a coward, but I was still angry at him.

    "No, I'm not," he said.

    To tell the truth, it was me who was being the coward. Now that I'd got calmed down a little, I was afraid of what I might find when I went home. (4.62-64)

    What does it mean to be a coward? Does it mean being scared? Or is it something more? For Tim, being a coward means being too afraid to take action. Well, he may be scared right now, but keep an eye out for how Tim proves himself to be a seriously brave guy by the end of the book.

    He seemed so brave and grown-up, and I wished that I could be brave and grown-up like him, too. (5.7)

    This quote makes us think of the first time Tim sees Sam in his uniform. He uses the word "brave" to describe his brother there, too. What do you think makes Sam brave? And how does Tim try to be brave like his big bro?

    Why should he have all the glory? Why shouldn't I have some, too? I wanted him to respect me and be proud of me and not think of me as just his little brother anymore. I couldn't score telling points in debates the way he did, but I could be just as brave as he was and do daring things, too. (5.54)

    For Tim, sometimes being brave is about being "daring." What do you think of this definition? Is bravery about doing "daring things" like Tim says? And what types of "daring things" does Tim do to make himself brave anyway?

    I could see him gesturing—pointing up the road and then out to me as he explained something to the men. I wondered if he was scared. He seemed so calm and cool with the cow-boys, but I wondered if down underneath he was really scared. I knew I was scared. (7.61)

    Sometimes being brave means pretending you're not scared. Tim realizes that even though his father doesn't look scared, he might still be afraid inside. And you know what? It sounds like he admires his papa for keeping it cool.

    But if the cow-boys saw me running, they could easily catch me in the open fields, and ride me down if they wanted. I didn't know if I was brave enough to take the chance. The cow-boys were still looking down at Father. I turned and began to run across the field. (7.64)

    Tim may not know how brave he is, but his actions sure do say a lot. He takes a chance and starts running for help, even though he knows he could get caught by the cowboys. Now that's some serious bravery.

    I was scared, that was the truth. It felt so lonely to be by myself with Father gone and maybe dead and nobody but myself to do—to do whatever had to be done. I was too scared even to cry; I just felt frozen and unable to move or think of what I should do next. But finally I told myself that I had to stop being scared, I had to stop just standing there in the middle of the road. To get myself shaken awake I jumped up and down a few times and clapped my hands. That unfroze me a little and I began to think. (9.19-20).

    Tim kicks himself from fear into action. Take a look at what he does to get rid of his nervousness. Some hopping around and clapping his hands does the trick. Now that's what we call courage.

    I was thinking about the wine when I saw the cow-boys. They were sitting on horseback in the middle of the road about twenty yards ahead of me—three black figures stock still in the night. The sight of those unmoving figures shocked me, and I almost ran. But I didn't. Instead I slapped the oxen on their rumps as if I hadn't any worries about who was standing in the middle of the road. (9.28)

    It's a good thing Sam knows how to keep his cool like his dad. These cowboys are seriously scary. Tim knows they've probably taken his dad and now he has to face them alone. We don't blame him for wanting to run, but we definitely give him credit for sticking it out.

    Colonel Read shook his head sadly. "I know, Tim," he said. "I know. War is never fair. Who chooses which men get killed and which ones don't?" He touched my shoulder. "You have to accept it now. Be brave, and help your mother to bear up. She needs somebody now."

    But I didn't feel brave nor like bearing up. All I felt was angry and bitter and ready to kill somebody. (14.3-4)

    Tim is really upset that Sam is going to be killed. So much so, in fact, that he talks to General Putnam and tries to rescue Sam in the middle of the night. Poor Tim has wanted to be brave his whole life, and now that he finally is, all he feels is anger.

  • Lies and Deceit

    "Tim, did Sam say anything to you about going to the war?"

    I didn't want to lie to Father, but I didn't want to give Sam away, either. "Well, he said he was, but I thought he was probably just boasting." (2.9-10)

    Tim hates having to choose whether to lie to his dad or protect his brother. Let's be honest: that's a tough decision. What do you think about Tim's response to his dad? Does he lie here? Or is he telling the truth? Or is it something in between?

    I stood there confused and mixed up inside. I didn't say anything.

    "Are you going to tell?" Sam said again.

    "Sam, please don't take it." I knew I was about to cry. "Please, Sam."

    "I have to have it, Tim."

    "Timmy," Betsy said. You don't want Sam to get killed, do you?"

    "Please, Sam."

    "Are you going to tell?" Sam said.

    Then I couldn't hold back anymore and I began to cry. "No, I won't tell," I whispered. (2.78-85)

    Sam has stolen their dad's gun, which is a serious problem. Now Tim has to lie to his dad if he asks where the gun is. And check out how upset he gets—why does this get to him so much? What's up with the tears?

    The officer looked at Father, considering. Finally he said, "I don't believe you." He raised the sword. I gasped and the officer whipped the flat side of the blade across Father's face." (4.16)

    The Rebels want Mr. Meeker's gun, and they just won't believe him that Sam has it. Doesn't it stink when you're telling the truth but no one will believe you? Well Mr. M ends up with a sword injury because of the whole thing. Watch out—looks like any suspicion of lying could mean paying a high price in colonial America.

    "What do you mean you're not supposed to be here?"

    "I'm supposed to be in Danbury buying cattle. They sent me down from Cambridge with Captain Champion, the commissary officer because I'm from around here."

    "Did you run away?"

    "I didn't desert, I just came home for a couple of days. Captain Champion had to go over to Waterbury for something so I decided to slip home for a day or so."

    […]

    "Won't you get in trouble?"

    "They won't catch me," Sam said. "[…] If they come around looking for you, one of your friends says you sprained your ankle and you're coming along behind." (4.42-45, 48-49)

    Sam wanted to visit Redding (and Betsy in particular), so he took a little mini-vacation from the army. He figures it'll be okay because his fellow soldiers will lie for him. Sam doesn't think this is a big deal, but it has us thinking about the end of the book when some of the soldiers tell lies and end up getting Sam killed. Maybe lying is a bigger deal than Sam realizes.

    "Aha," he said. "Your father changed his mind, did he?"

    "Yes, sir," I said. "He said it would be all right so long as he didn't know anything about it. If I just went and didn't tell him anything, he said he wouldn't object."

    Mr. Heron put his hand on my arm and gave me a little squeeze. "That's a lie, isn't it, Timothy?"

    I got hot and blushed. "I guess so, sir." (6.6-9)

    Liars beware: Mr. Heron is a human lie detector. He knows immediately that Tim is being deceitful. How do you think Mr. Heron can tell?

    So that night I asked Father if I could go fishing again. And he said yes. I felt sort of bad about it; it was lying and lying was a sin, and so was going against your father. And even if it hadn't been a sin I would have felt badly about it, because Father trusted me and I was being dishonorable. (6.21)

    When Tim lies to his dad, it makes him feel guilty. Of course, that guilt isn't enough to make Tim stop all this lying business. He knows what he's doing is wrong, but he's going to do it anyway.

    "I'm going fishing," I said.

    "Fishing? On the Fairfield Road?"

    "There are shad in the millstream."

    "Well you're going in the wrong direction," she said.

    "Oh. Well I know that, I was up there already, but there weren't any shad so I'm going someplace else now." I was blushing from telling so many lies. Lying is a sin. (6.36-40)

    Don't try to pull a fast one on Betsy. She can tell that Tim is lying, and she's going to catch him soon enough. Check out the way all these lies make Tim blush. What do you think about this? Is he ashamed? Embarrassed? Worried?

    "He figured you'd be here an hour ago. That's why I was so worried. He told me not to worry, but I couldn't help it. He said that when the shooting started to fall flat and I'd be all right." I paused. "I thought there'd be more of you, though. Father said there'd be at least a half dozen men in the escort. He said just fall flat when the shooting started."

    "There was silence and then one of the others said, "I don't like this. It sounds like an ambush." (9.36-37)

    When Tim meets some cowboys on the road, he's prepared with a clever story. And get this: the cowboys get scared off. How 'bout them apples? Tim's father never told him to expect an escort, so Tim's story is entirely made-up. Good thing he's able to think up this lie since it probably saved his life.

    "Why should they believe me? I'm his mother, I'd certainly lie to save him." (13.40)

    When Mrs. Meeker tries to convince General Putnam that Sam is innocent, he just won't believe her. Mama Meeker thinks it's because any mom would lie to save her kid, but Mrs. M isn't lying. She's actually telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Mrs. Meeker is in quite the pickle.

    "Here's the problem. Those soldiers Sam caught with the cattle are scared to death Putnam will simply decide to hang them all as an example. They're prepared to tell any kind of lie about Sam to get themselves off." (13.45)

    Poor Sam. If those soldiers would just tell the truth, then everyone would know he's innocent. What do you think about the soldiers' lies? Do they have a right to lie to save their lives? Or should they fess up since their lie means someone else will get killed?

  • Patriotism

    "They say that the whole colony of Massachusetts is ready to fight and if Massachusetts fights, Connecticut will fight, too."

    Finally my father lost his temper and slammed his hand down on the table, making the plates jump. "I will not have treason spoken in my house, Sam."

    "Father, that isn't treas—" (2.36-38)

    Sam has come back from college with some new-fangled ideas. He wants the American colonies to be free, and he's ready to join the fight. Check out how he thinks tons of other people will be just as patriotic as him. But clearly Mr. Meeker disagrees; what Sam calls patriotism, his papa calls "treason." What do you think of this distinction?

    I still hadn't made up my mind which side I was on in the war, and I didn't care whether Sam was a Patriot or a Tory or what. All I could think about was snuggling up to him and listening to him talk about scoring telling points. (3.21)

    So the contest goes like this: patriotism vs. Sam. And who does Tim choose? Sam, of course. To Tim, this is a no brainer. Sam may be all caught up in being a Patriot, but Tim just wants his brother to be home again.

    I wondered, if I went for a soldier, which army would I join? The British had the best uniforms and the shiny new guns, but there was something exciting about the Patriots—being underdogs and fighting off the mighty British army. (5.8)

    Patriotism isn't an easy peasy decision for Tim. He's not sure which side he should support. But instead of focusing on big issues like taxation, Tim focuses on, well, something else. He's more interested in uniforms or excitement. Is Tim taking this decision seriously? Or is he too young to make this decision at all?

    "I do, though." I didn't—I mean I didn't have any opinion either way—but I thought it would help if he believed that I was a strong Loyalist. (6.11-13)

    Sometimes, Tim is willing to take either side, just so he can be part of the action. When he tells Mr. Heron that he's a Loyalist, he's not telling the whole truth. Here's the deal: Tim can't decide which side he's on. Keep an eye out for how his opinion about the war develops throughout the book.

    "Sam's fighting for the rebels, did you know that?"

    "We heard that," Ezekiel said. "Father got into a rage. He said that Sam was too smart a boy to be fooled by sedition." (8.20-21)

    Sometimes when Tim talks about the Continentals, he calls them "Patriots," and sometimes he calls them "rebels." What's the difference between these two terms? And while we're on the subject, what Sam calls fighting for his country, Mr. Meeker and Mr. Platt call "treason" and "sedition." What do you think the difference is between sedition and patriotism?

    "The way Sam explains it, it sounds right to be a Rebel. And when Father explains it, it sounds right to be a Loyalist. Although if you want to know the truth, I don't think Father really cares. He's just against wars."

    We didn't say anything for a while. "If you go to be a soldier, which side would you fight on?"

    "The loyalist, I guess." But in my head I wasn't sure about that. Suppose one day we were fighting and I suddenly saw that it was Sam I was aiming my gun at? (8.26-28)

    Tim doesn't know which side he'd choose. As he says, you can argue it both ways. Plus, the whole thing just gets more complicated because of his family. The decision for Tim to be patriotic isn't just a political one—it's personal, too.

    Colonel Read had been head of a whole regiment of militia, but he'd quit the job. He said it was because he was too old, but everybody knew that was just an excuse: he'd quit because he was against the war and didn't want to fight in it. He was a Patriot, but he didn't approve of the war. (10.6)

    Colonel Read is a complex fellow. On the one hand, he's a "Patriot." This means that he supports the American Colonies and wants them to gain freedom from England. But on the other hand, he's against the war. This means that even though he wants American freedom, he doesn't think fighting is the right way to get there. What do you think about Colonel Read's position? Can he both be a Patriot and be against the war?

    "How is it yer not afroid of us, you tykes?"

    "We're mostly Tories here." Suddenly I realized that I was. Father's capture had done that. (10.41-42)

    Alert the media: Tim has finally picked a side! Looks like Tim is going to show his patriotism for England instead of the American Colonies. This is a huge revelation for our guy, since he's been struggling with this question the whole book. But don't get too comfy—Tim doesn't quite stick to his guns.

    I didn't feel much like being a Tory anymore. (10.64)

    After he's seen the British army commit a lot of violent acts, Tim changes his mind. Again. What do you think of the change? Does Tim change his mind for good reason? Or is he being too indecisive?

    Captain Betts looked grim and hard. […] "Tim, go over and ring the church bell. Get cracking."

    I didn't want to get into it, but I had to obey. I started toward the door, but my mother grabbed my collar. "No, no," she said. "Not my boy. You don't involve any more Meekers in this terrible war. Send your own child out to play soldier if you want, Stephen Betts, but no more of mine."

    Betts stared at Mother. "Where's your patriotism, woman?"

    "Bah, patriotism. Your patriotism has got my husband in prison and one of my children out there in the rain and the muck shooting people and likely to be dead any minute and my business half ruined. Go sell your patriotism elsewhere, I've had enough of it." (11.21-24)

    Mrs. Meeker doesn't care for this abstract idea of "patriotism." She looks at the facts: she's missing two family members, and her business is going under. Patriotism hasn't done any favors for Mrs. M, so she figures she doesn't owe it a thing.

  • Coming of Age

    Of course Sam was almost a grownup himself. He was sixteen; he'd been away at college for almost a year, so you couldn't really call him a child anymore. I guess that was part of the trouble; he thought he was a grownup, and he didn't want anybody to tell him what to do. Except I could tell that he was still afraid of Father. (1.52)

    Sam is old enough not to be a child, but not quite mature enough to be an adult. Did you notice how Tim never says that Sam is actually a grownup? He says Sam is "almost" there or that Sam "thought he was a grownup." Does this mean it's all in Sam's head?

    "You can't order me anymore, Father. I'm a man."

    "A man? You're a boy, Sam, a boy dressed up in a gaudy soldier's suit." (1.160-161)

    Sam's Father makes his feelings crystal clear: Sam is "a boy" playing dress up. According to Papa Meeker, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We're thinking this is going to be a sticking point between father and son.

    He seemed so brave and grown-up, and I wished that I could be brave and grown-up like him, too. (5.7)

    All Tim wants is to be like his brother. Check out how we have a particular phrase repeated twice here: "brave and grown-up." Tim seems to think being brave and growing up are one and the same. What do you think about this pairing?

    "The boy has to learn a lesson, he's far too headstrong."

    "He isn't a boy anymore," Mother said.

    "He's sixteen years old, that's a boy, Susannah."

    "He's seventeen, Life. How old were you when you left home?"

    "That was different," he growled. (7.5-9)

    Even Sam's parents disagree about what it means to be a man. According to Sam's father, age makes someone a man. To him, Sam is too young to be an adult, so that makes him a kiddo. But Mama Meeker sees things differently. She figures that Sam has left home, and that makes him a man. Which parent do you agree with?

    It seemed pretty exciting when we passed a house, especially if there were some people there. A couple of times there were children staring out the windows as we went by. It made me feel proud of myself for being a man while they were still children, and I shouted at the oxen and smacked them on their rumps with my stick, just to show off how casual and easy I was with oxen and how used I was to managing them. (7.30)

    Check out Tim—he's quite the performer. But with all this showing off, we're wondering if Tim really knows what it means to be an adult. Do you think Tim is really a grownup here? Or is he just pretending to be one?

    Ever since I had got the wagon home by myself I hadn't felt like a boy anymore. You don't think that things really happen overnight, but this one did. Of course I was dead tired when I went to bed that night, and Mother let me sleep late in the morning. And when I woke up I was different. I noticed it first at breakfast. Usually I sat there over my porridge moaning to myself about the chores I had to do or having to go to school or something, and trying to think of some way to get out of whatever it was. […]

    But that morning after the terrible trip home, right from the first moment we got finished saying grace, I began planning the things I had to do—which things had to be done first and what was the best way to get them done. It was funny: it didn't even cross my mind to stall or try to get out of the work. (10.14-15)

    Talk about pulling a 180. Tim goes from feeling like a kid to feeling like a grownup literally overnight. Well, that was a pretty harrowing experience he had with those cowboys. What do you think of this sudden change? Can anyone really grow up that fast?

    We discussed it all, and about halfway through breakfast I began to realize that I had changed. I wasn't acting my usual self, I was acting more like a grownup. You couldn't say that I was really an adult, but I wasn't a child anymore, that was certain. […] But even though it was nice to feel more grown-up and act that way, too, I missed Father. Especially toward the end of the day, when I was tired and cold and hungry and there was still wood to be brought up and the barn to be cleaned and Old Pru to be milked, I'd begin feeling sorry for myself and wishing that Father was back. (10.17-18)

    It's rough on Tim to be stuck between childhood and adulthood. If he's not "really an adult" and he's not a child, what is he? Well, today we'd call Timmy a teenager, but they didn't use that word back in the colonial days. At least being more grown-up means no one orders Tim around.

    "You've changed, Tim."

    "I'm more of a grownup, now."

    "I can see that. Has it been hard on you and Mother?" (11.76-78)

    Tim finally gets to show Sam how much he's grown. We bet this is a proud moment for Tim. He's finally coming into being a grownup, just like his big bro.

    He grinned. "Do I look different?"

    "Dirtier," she said.

    He laughed. "Is that all?"

    "No, older," she said. "You've gotten older."

    "Tim has too. I hardly recognized him."

    "He's had to grow up fast," Mother said. "He didn't have much choice." (11.112-117)

    Sam and his mom agree: both Tim and Sam look older. According to Mama Meeker, Tim was forced to grow up. What about Sam? Was he forced to grow up quickly or was it his choice?

    I didn't feel like his little brother so much anymore, I felt more like his equal. (11.152)

    After spending most of the book wanting to be more grownup like his big bro, Tim now feels totally differently. Finally, our little Tim is so grownup that he feels like Sam's "equal." That's a pretty huge accomplishment for Tim, so we'll give our favorite little bro a pat on the back.

  • Duty

    "God meant man to obey. He meant children to obey their fathers, he meant men to obey their kings." (1.46)

    Mr. Beach, the Redding minister, is definitely on the Tory side. He thinks everyone should do their duty to their country, and that's that. Check out how Mr. Beach uses the same sentence structure to talk about obeying fathers and obeying kings. It's almost like fathers and kings are two different kinds of rulers.

    I guess he was right, children are supposed to keep quiet and not say anything, even when they know the grownups are wrong, but sometimes it's hard. Sometimes I have trouble keeping quiet myself, although not near as much trouble as Sam. (1.51)

    Tim knows that he has an obligation to listen to his parents. But what happens when that duty conflicts with the truth? Sam likes to speak his mind and point out when adults are wrong. Tim, on the other hand, tries to "keep quiet." We're thinking this might be something that changes about Tim as he grows up.

    Mr. Beach made it the subject of his sermon. He really got wound up on it, too. He said that our first duty was to God but that our Lord Jesus Christ had said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" and that meant we were supposed to be loyal Englishmen. He said that hot-tempered young men who listened not to the voices of their elders would bring a wrathy God down on their own heads. (2.19)

    Mr. Beach has a lot to say about duty. For him, duty isn't just about obeying your parents or even being loyal to your country. Mr. Beach says duty is also about God. In fact, all this talk of a "wrathy God" has Tim nervous about Sam, since his idea of duty has nothing to do with being loyal to England.

    So the summer went along and I lived my ordinary life, which was mostly chores all day long. Having a father who was a tavern-keeper was a lot better than being a farmer's son, like most boys. […] But still, it isn't as much fun as people like Jerry Sanford think. […] He doesn't realize that there's an awful lot of wood to cut to keep the fireplaces going for cooking and a lot of water to come up from the well and if there isn't anything else to do, there's scrubbing the floors and washing the windows and keeping everything clean generally. (3.6)

    Sometimes, Tim's duties aren't all that much fun to perform—chores, anyone? Tim's obligation to help his family's business means he spends a lot of time cleaning and chopping wood. We're tired just thinking about it. But even though Tim complains about his duties, at least he does his part.

    Then it came to me that even though rescuing Father was the daring thing to do, it wasn't the smartest thing. So I asked myself another question: what would Father do? And the answer that came pretty quickly was that he'd get the oxen and the wagon and the load of goods back home if he could so we'd have something to run the store and the tavern on through the winter. When I thought about it for a minute more I could see that it was the right answer. Maybe Father would get away; the cow-boys might even let him go after a while. One way or another he would be counting on me to get the wagon home—that was for certain (9.22)

    Now that Mr. Meeker has been taken by cowboys, Tim has to rethink his duties. Now, his first responsibility has to be to his family, and that means getting the goods back home so the Meekers can survive the winter. With his Pops gone, Tim is going to have to make even more tough decisions about his responsibilities.

    Usually I sat there over my porridge moaning to myself about the chores I had to do or having to go to school or something, and trying to think of some way to get out of whatever it was. Or when Mother turned her head I'd scoop up a fingerful of molasses from the jar and stir it into my milk. Or I'd eat breakfast slowly so I could stall off going to work.

    But that morning after the terrible trip home, right from the first moment we got finished saying grace, I began planning the things I had to do—which things had to be done first and what was the best way to get them done. It was funny: it didn't even cross my mind to stall or try to get out of the work. (10.14-15)

    With Mr. Meeker gone, Tim has new responsibilities around the house. Remember how much Tim hated doing chores when he was younger? Well look at him now. He's not only doing his chores without complaint, but he's also planning ahead. Looks like Tim is taking these new responsibilities to his family really seriously.

    Captain Betts looked grim and hard. […] "Tim, go over and ring the church bell. Get cracking."

    I didn't want to get into it, but I had to obey. I started toward the door, but my mother grabbed my collar. "No, no," she said. "Not my boy. You don't involve any more Meekers in this terrible war. Send your own child out to play soldier if you want, Stephen Betts, but no more of mine." (11.21-22)

    Tim is used to obeying the orders adults give him. Sometimes this means he'll do what a Tory says, and sometimes this means he'll do what a Patriot says. Here, we see that there's only one thing that can stop Tim from obeying an adult: his duty to his mom. Watch out Betts, Mrs. Meeker is going to have the last word here.

    "When is your enlistment up, Sam?"

    He frowned. "In two months. But I'm going to reenlist."

    "No, Sam. You have to come home."

    […]

    "God, Mother," he said, "I came to pay a visit and first Tim badgered me about Father and now you're badgering me about coming home. I can't come home until it's over. It's my duty to stay and fight."

    "You have a duty to your family, too."

    "My duty to my country comes first." (11.131-133, 136-138)

    Sam makes his priorities clear: duty to country comes above duty to family. We're thinking this doesn't make Mrs. Meeker feel too great. But since Sam has disobeyed his father plenty in the past, we're also not that surprised that he puts country as number one on his priority list.

    But this time I knew he was wrong. He was staying in the army because he wanted to stay in the army, not because of duty or anything else. He liked the excitement of it. Oh I guessed he was miserable a lot of the time when he was cold and hungry and maybe being shot at, but still, he was part of something big, he thought that what he was doing was important. It felt good to be part of it, and I knew that was the real reason why he didn't want to come home. (11.151)

    Sam says he's staying in the army because he has a duty to fight for his country. But here's the thing: Tim disagrees. Are we supposed to trust what Tim says about Sam's feelings? After all, he even admits that he "guessed" at some of this stuff. And what do you think Sam would say to this?

    "They've taken him to the encampment, and it'll be up to General Putnam to do what he wants. I'd get out there in a hurry, though. The General is determined to make an example of somebody. It could go hard with Sam. General Putnam is a great and dedicated patriot and he does not take defection from duty lightly." (13.21)

    According to Colonel Parsons, Sam is in real trouble. It's obvious to us that Sam didn't steal those cows. How could anyone think such a thing? But to General Putnam, Sam was supposed to be on duty with Parsons and he wasn't. It seems crazy to us that such a small breach of duty would lead to execution, but that's exactly what happens. In times of war, doing your duty is no laughing matter.

  • Visions of America

    So the summer went along and I lived my ordinary life, which was mostly chores all day long. Having a father who was a tavern-keeper was a lot better than being a farmer's son, like most boys. Running a farm is terrible hard work—plowing and hoeing and milking cows and such and being out in the fields all by yourself with nobody to talk to all day long. Being around a tavern is a lot more fun. There are people coming and going, and a lot of them have been to the big towns like Hartford or New Haven or even New York or Boston, and they have stories to tell. But still, it isn't as much fun as people like Jerry Sanford think. […] He doesn't realize that there's an awful lot of wood to cut to keep the fireplaces going for cooking and a lot of water to come up from the well and if there isn't anything else to do, there's scrubbing the floors and washing the windows and keeping everything clean generally. (3.6)

    Sounds like living in Colonial America is a lot of work. Whether you're a farmer's son or a tavern-keeper's son, you're probably going to be working long hours to help out your family business. Keep an eye out for the times when Tim talks about the work he does in keeping his family's tavern/shop business afloat.

    Verplancks Point was on the Hudson River, just south of a town called Peekskill. Boats from New York City and Albany stopped there for trading. The idea of our trip was to drive cattle to Verplancks Point where we could sell them, and then use the money to buy supplies we needed for the tavern and the store—rum, cloth, pots and pans, needles and thread and all sorts of things. The traders brought these things up the river from New York and sold them to merchants at towns along the way, like Verplancks Point. And of course the merchants there wanted cattle to ship down to New York where there was a need for beef. (7.19)

    We like to think of these trading towns as the shopping malls of colonial America. Plus, did you notice that Tim likes to give us mini-economics lessons in the midst of his story? Well here's another one. Looks like the economy in the colonies exists around the river. Rivers are an easy way to transport goods, so trading post would crop up along them.

    Father was right about the thieves who people called cow-boys. We'd heard all kinds of stories from travelers about them. All of that part of Westchester county, from the Connecticut border over to the Hudson River, had gotten to be a kind of no man's land, with roving bands wandering around plundering people on the excuse that they were part of the war. (7.26)

    Cowboys are an iconic piece of American history. When you think of a cowboy, what normally comes to mind? We're thinking lassos, spurs, maybe a hearty root beer. But the cowboys in this book are just downright mean. They aren't herding animals as law-abiding citizens. Instead, they're just thieves.

    We waited there again until they got us another escort to take us farther along the way, and we crossed over into New York, the first time I'd ever been in a colony besides Connecticut. It disappointed me. It didn't look any different and I didn't feel any different, either. Here I was in a foreign country, and it was just like being at home. (7.71)

    Tim wants an adventure into a new colony. Instead, he feels like he's getting the same old stuff. Tim doesn't know it yet, but this is all about to change. His first impression of New York may be ho-hum, but pretty soon he's going to love this new colony and its landscape.

    My North Salem cousins lived in a clapboard farmhouse just off the Ridgefield Road. Their name was Platt and there were a lot of them—four girls and two boys and the parents and their aunt who lived with them, too. The house wasn't really big enough for them. The four girls slept in one room with the aunt—three girls in one bed and the biggest girl and the aunt in another. The boys slept out in the barn except during the coldest weather, when they made up pallets on the floor in front of the kitchen fireplace. When I saw how crowded they were I realized that I was lucky not to have been raised on a farm: there was usually plenty of room in the tavern for me and Sam. (8.1)

    Want to know what it's like to have a big family back in the colonial days? Then here you go. As Tim travels around the colonies, he gets to see what life is like outside of Redding. Some of the things are similar to his home, like how the kids share rooms. But there are also some big differences, like how many kids get crammed into each room. Well Tim, sometimes it takes a journey to a new place to make you appreciate having your own bed.

    In the morning another escort took us to Peekskill. It was a pretty big town—hundreds of people lived there. It was on the edge of the Hudson River, and as we rolled down the hill into the town we suddenly could see the water. I couldn't believe it—it was the biggest river I'd ever seen. Across the other side were beautiful hills, some of them craggy and rocky, dropping straight down to the water's edge. It was so beautiful I could hardly keep my eyes off it. (8.30)

    Looks like Tim has changed his opinion of New York. Check out how he repeats the word "beautiful" more than once. We're thinking he may just want to stay in this new colony.

    The escort left us in Peekskill. We turned south, following a road that went along the river. Oh, it was exciting to me. There were all kinds of boats going up and down or moored offshore. Scattered along the river bank were docks and wharves with skiffs and rowboats tied up to them. Men and boys were fishing from the docks, and sometimes we could see people out in boats seining. It seemed like fun, a lot more fun than being a tavern-keeper.

    "I wished we lived here, Father," I said.

    […]

    "Oh, the river's pretty," he said, "but fishing's hard work. You try hauling one of those seines up from the bottom sometime and you'll find out." (8.32-33, 36)

    Remember how Tim didn't really care about New York when they first arrived? Well, it looks like he's seriously changed his tune. Now this town is so ideal to him, it may as well be an island paradise. All he can focus on are the pretty boats and what fun it must be to fish all day. Good thing dad is around to remind him that fishing can be hard work, too.

    It was a good wagonload: two hogshead of rum, a half dozen big sacks of salt, a couple of barrels of molasses; a large chest of tea, a sack of coffee beans, a dozen brass kettles and some tin pots; a chest of breeches and some brass buckles; some drills, knives, files, axes and spades; and small boxes of pepper, allspice, cinnamon, and white powdered sugar." (8.44)

    This wagon is like a regular superstore. Looking to pick up some salt sacs? They've got 'em. In the mood for some sweet treats? Then once all these goods arrive in Redding, head on over to the Meeker store for a barrel of molasses. We're thinking this looks like everything you need to survive in colonial America. In fact, nothing says colonial America like a "chest of breeches and some brass buckles."

    When I woke up in the morning it had stopped snowing and the sun was shining. Water was running in small streams off the roof. It was pretty—everything a foot deep in snow and the sun sparkling off the fields. But even though it was pretty I didn't like it. Plowing through snow a foot deep with the oxcart all the way back to Redding was going to be miserable work. (9.1)

    America is nothing if not beautiful and filled with hard work. We see this combo all over this book. It's almost as if in America you can't have beauty without the hard work. What do you think of this combination?

    To keep my mind off my troubles I began trying to name all the countries in the world, which I was supposed to know because I'd learned them in geography. Some were easy to name: England, France, Sweden, Russia. […] It took me a while to decide if I should count America or not. If the Rebels won the war then we would be a country; but Father was sure they were going to lose, so I decided not to count us. (9.10)

    Tim doesn't just think about the American Colonies in isolation. He also considers America as part of a big huge world that has lots of other countries. This means Tim gets to predict whether America will become a country or not. Well, sorry Mr. Meeker, but turns out you were wrong on this one.