Study Guide

My Brother Sam Is Dead Themes

  • Violence and Warfare

    My Brother Sam Is Dead makes one thing crystal clear: war stinks. Big time. In the novel, the Revolutionary War leads to a whole bunch of deaths, many of which are seriously gruesome. We're talking the stuff of nightmares here. Kids, adults, and everyone in between is in danger. But remember, the violence comes from both sides of the conflict; it's almost as if the authors aren't quite taking a side… are they? And while we're at it, would you say the authors are even squarely in camp anti-war? All we know is that this is some genuinely complicated stuff.

    Questions About Violence and Warfare

    1. What are the consequences of the Revolutionary War in My Brother Sam Is Dead? What positive things come out of the war? How about the negative things?
    2. How do the women in this book participate in the war? Do the women take on similar or different roles than the men?
    3. Does the war affect kids differently than adults? How so?
    4. Is the violence in My Brother Sam Is Dead totally caused by the war?

    Chew on This

    Down with war! Mr. Meeker hates the war no matter who wins. In the end, the book argues that war isn't worth the cost.

    Let's go to war! Sam's dedication to the war means that he's willing to die for freedom, and the book says this is a good thing.

  • Family

    When it comes to family drama, the Meekers are the masters. Looking for a family with screaming political fights at the dinner table? Sam and Mr. M are here to deliver. Or perhaps you're in the mood for some shouting and storming off? All the Meeker family members get the chance to slam a door at one point or another. But even with all this fighting, the Meekers still love each other. Yep, we said it: there's a lot of love in My Brother Sam Is Dead. It's just sometimes you have to look deep down to find it.

    Questions About Family

    1. What makes a family strong? Are the Meekers a strong family? How so?
    2. Do the characters rely on their families a lot? How so? Or are most of the characters pretty independent?
    3. For Tim, what does it mean to support his brother? What about for Sam? Is he a supportive sibling?
    4. How does Betsy Read's family influence her politics? What about the Meekers: do they have a political influence on Sam?

    Chew on This

    Tim needs his family. The novel argues that Tim can't go it alone, so it's good that he keeps his family close.

    Sam gets along just fine on his own. The novel argues that family is nice, but not necessary.

  • Courage

    You know when you have to give a presentation in class or you have a band concert and you freak out a little before? Sometimes, day to day stuff can take a lot of courage. Now imagine how much truer that would have been during the Revolutionary War. Boatloads of scary situations crop up in My Brother Sam Is Dead, from creepy cowboys to violent battles. Sometimes, Tim and Sam are shaking in their boots, and other times, they show oodles of courage. In the end, the big test is: will the courage outweigh the fear? We're thinking definitely.

    Questions About Courage

    1. What makes a person brave in My Brother Sam Is Dead? Who is the bravest character in the book? And what makes this character so brave?
    2. Does Tim ever feel brave and scared at the same time? Which is his more dominant emotion?
    3. What are some of the subtler acts of courage in the novel? We're not talking big time battle-fighting stuff; just the day-to-day courage the Meekers might have to show.

    Chew on This

    Tim oozes courage when he needs to, and it helps him survive.

    It's okay to be scared. Tim is frightened a lot, but that doesn't stop him from having courage, too.

  • Lies and Deceit

    In My Brother Sam Is Dead, sometimes deceit just comes in the form of little white lies. Remember how Tim tells his dad he's helping Jerry when he's actually visiting Sam? That time, no one gets hurt. But sometimes they're big, huge, stab-your-fellow-soldier-in-the-back lies. When those two Continental soldiers say that Sam was the real cow-thief, that's quite a whopper. And it has really big consequences. There are all sorts of lies in this book, and all this deceit has Tim wondering: how does he figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth?

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. In My Brother Sam Is Dead, are there times where it's okay to lie? Can lying be a good thing? Or is it always bad?
    2. Are there any characters who don't tell lie throughout the course of the book?
    3. How does deceit affect family relationships? How do you think Tim's relationship with his father might have been different if he never lied? What about Sam's?

    Chew on This

    Lying is just plain wrong. The book argues that lying can get innocent people killed, so you should never ever do it.

    Sometimes lying is necessary. The book argues that there are times when you need to lie, and that's okay.

  • Patriotism

    Patriotism just means loving your country. Seems simple enough, right? Well, in My Brother Sam Is Dead, it couldn't be more complicated. See, Sam loves America, and he wants to fight for his country. In fact, he's even willing to die for his country. But Sam also thinks of himself as a Patriot with a capital P—that's the term that supporters of freedom for the American Colonies called themselves. But what about the Loyalists who supported England? Can they be patriotic too? They may not be Patriots, but they can definitely be patriotic. See what we mean? Patriotism isn't always as simple as Sam thinks.

    Questions About Patriotism

    1. What's the difference between a patriot and a traitor in My Brother Sam Is Dead?
    2. What are the ways our characters show their patriotism? Are there certain actions that are patriotic? Or speeches? Or is it all about attitude?
    3. What's the difference between having patriotism and being a Patriot? Can the Loyalists be patriotic, too? How so?

    Chew on This

    Patriotism is a good thing in this book. Sam is willing to die for his country, and the authors want us to respect that.

    My Brother Sam Is Dead argues that patriotism corrupts innocent young minds. All you need to do is look at what happened to Sam: being a patriot didn't work out so well for him.

  • Coming of Age

    Wouldn't it be nice if Sam and Tim got to grow up in a pretty green pasture with butterflies and unicorns? Yeah, that's not happening for our Meeker brothers. Instead, they get to grow up during the Revolutionary War. And there's one thing we know for sure: the war makes these boys grow up quickly. For Sam, growing up means making his own decisions and running away from home. For Tim, it means helping his mom out around the tavern. Both brothers have plenty of struggles to mature. By the end of My Brother Sam Is Dead, do you think either one succeeds?

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. How does the Revolutionary War affect the process of growing up? Are all of the effects negative? Or are there some positive effects, too?
    2. Do Tim and Sam grow up in different ways? How do their separate experiences affect the way they become adults?
    3. Are there any young characters that don't grow up? Or are there any adult characters who act like kids?

    Chew on This

    Tim should have held on to his childhood. The book argues that the war makes Tim grow up way too quickly.

    Tim becomes an adult just in the nick of time. The book supports Tim's growth, even if it is because of the war.

  • Duty

    Duties come in all shapes and sizes in My Brother Sam Is Dead. For Tim, sometimes his duties mean obeying his parents or doing his chores. No big deal, right? But sometimes it's about making tough decisions. Does Tim want to put his responsibilities to his family first? Or should he be like Sam and prioritize his duty to serve his country? Sorry, Tim—those aren't going to be easy decisions to make. You can't please everyone, and by the end of the book, Tim is going to find this out for himself.

    Questions About Duty

    1. What does it mean to be dutiful in My Brother Sam Is Dead? How do the characters show that they have a sense of duty? Is it something they perform? Or is it something they feel inside?
    2. Should Sam show more duty to his country or to his family? Why do you think so? And what about Tim? Should he make the same decision as Sam?
    3. Are there any characters that don't show any duty at all? Is it good or bad to be so disobedient?

    Chew on This

    Nation is number one. Sam chooses to defend his country, even if it means putting his family second, and that's the way it should be.

    Family comes first. Tim puts his family over his country, and that's the right decision.

  • Visions of America

    What's the first thing you think of when it comes to Colonial America? Perhaps it's funny little bonnets. Or maybe churning butter. Well, we don't get many bonnets or much butter in My Brother Sam Is Dead, but we're right in the thick of Colonial America. It might be pretty (like, really pretty), but it's definitely a ton of work—we're talking serious back-breaking oxen-herding work here. And of course, we're looking at a war-ridden area here. So despite that quaint picture we have in our heads of Colonial New England, we have to remember that it wasn't just rainbows and butterflies.

    Questions About Visions of America

    1. What is Tim's favorite part about the colonies? What does he find beautiful? And what does he find disappointing?
    2. How does Tim characterize work in the colonies? Is all the work hard, or are there easy tasks too? And is hard work a bad thing or a good thing?
    3. What is it like for Tim to travel to different colonies? How does it make him feel about his own colony of Connecticut?
    4. What's the difference between thinking of America as colonies instead of a country?

    Chew on This

    America rocks. Tim loves how pretty America is so he's totally sold that it's a great place to live.

    America is too much hard work. Seriously, there's a lot of work to do in these colonies and Tim isn't sure he likes it.