Study Guide

Sam Meeker in My Brother Sam Is Dead

Sam Meeker

Sam is Tim's big bro and the oldest son in the Meeker family. And let's be honest: he causes his family a fair bit of grief. Most of the disagreements we see happening in the Meeker clan revolve around Sam. This kid is a troublemaker from the get-go. But even as a troublemaker, we can't help but root for him. Tim loves his brother like whoa, and that makes us love him just as much.

Sam, the Big Bro—and a Sweet One, Too

Even though Sam is the dude in the title, we actually don't hear a lot about him for huge chunks of the book. Sometimes years will go by without Tim getting to see his brother. This means we'll go pages and pages—or even chapters and chapters—without any Sam action. In fact, you might argue that Sam is a minor character in this book.

Even though we don't see much of Sam, he's still got a super important role in this novel: Tim's big brother. Even if we don't see him much, Tim just can't stop thinking about him:

Besides, it made me glad to have him come home, and I didn't want him to get into a big fight with Father and spoil it. I just wanted him to shut up until dinner was over and we could go up to the loft where we slept, and I could lie in the dark snuggled up next to him to keep warm and let him tell me stories about Yale and the pretty girls he knew in New Haven, and getting drunk with his friends and his triumphs in his debates. (1.54)

Clearly, Tim doesn't think his brother is perfect; Sam definitely has a bit of a temper on him. But what Tim cares about most are the brotherly times they get to spend together. How sweet is it that Sam spends time with his little bro, telling him about college? Answer: super sweet. Plus, Sam sounds like he must be quite the storyteller. This has us wondering if Tim picked up his tale-telling abilities from his big bro.

Sam, the Soldier: From Excitement to Horror

When Sam joins the war, he's as gung-ho as can be. He shows up at his house wearing his uniform. He's super excited to tell stories about Lexington and Concord. And he's definitely sure that he wants to fight for the colonies and against England.

Just check out the enthusiasm in the first words we hear Sam speak: "'We've beaten the British in Massachusetts,' he shouted" (1.4). Yep, Sam thinks he's ready to fight and he's raring to go. In fact, we'd even say he's pretty chipper about the war. He doesn't seem to be too concerned about the whole battles, violence, and dying thing.

But by the end of the book, Sam's outlook on being a soldier has changed. A lot. In fact, we almost wouldn't recognize Sam when he's talking about the war a few years in:

"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's time as a soldier has definitely exposed him to some horrific experiences. (To read more on the horrors of war, travel over to the "Warfare" theme.) Check out the way Sam talks about fighting the British once the war's been raging for a few years. It used to be that they'd "beaten the British." But now, he says they "kill Redcoats the way you butcher pigs." Seems like a huge change to us. With Sam shivering, he definitely isn't as optimistic as he used to be.

But even after seeing all these horrors of war, Sam still wants to stay in the military. In fact, when his mom asks him to leave the army, he refuses. What do you think about this commitment to the war? Why do you think Sam decides to stay in the army?