“My Brother Sam is Dead” Study Questions

Objective Questions

These are fill-in-the-blank questions about My Brother Sam is Dead. Study questions like these should be fairly simple for you if you have read and understood the content of the novel.

1. Why did Sam get the death penalty?

Suggested response: Sam was convicted of stealing cattle, which in Revolutionary War days (and for decades afterward) was a capital crime. Cattle were an important part of people’s personal wealth, and stealing them was worse, in some ways, than stealing a person’s car would be today.

2. Betsy is suspicious about Mr. Heron’s envelope. What does she think is in there?

Suggested response: Betsy believes that Mr. Heron is secretly carrying around a love letter.

3. Who actually kidnapped Tim and Sam’s father?

Suggested response: Cowboys who actually steal cattle are the ones who kidnap Father, and they end up framing Sam for the cattle theft — this is why he gets the death penalty. The kidnappers end up killing Father.

4. What is Sam’s suggestion for Tim when the eight cows turn up?

Suggested response: Sam suggests that the family go ahead and slaughter the cattle, because they will bring nothing but trouble.

5. Where does Sam stay when he’s in Redding but wants to keep out of sight?

Suggested response: Tom Warrups’ hut is correct.

Short Answer Questions

These questions will help you prepare for questions which don’t require a full essay, but do require some more in-depth analysis than simple fill-in-the blank.

1. Why does Sam die, while Tim stays alive?

Answers may vary. However, once Sam dies, he stops being a complicated character. Tim has only the idealistic memories of his brother going forward. One of the main ideas of this novel is the dreadful nature of war, and how war devours the best and brightest men. Sam would not express this theme if he stayed alive.

2. Tim remains on the fence regarding the Patriot/Tory conflict throughout the novel. Which way do you think he is leaning at the end of the story?

The American rebels have a much more tragic effect on Tim’s life, as they are responsible for the deaths of his brother and father. However, he becomes physically sick at Ned’s execution by the British. At the story’s end, we see that Tim has realized one of the hardest lessons of war: neither side is completely clothed in the white garments of innocence, and both sides will do what it takes to win. His biggest passion is a desire for peace.

Essay Questions

These questions would require a full essay in response.

1. Tim’s father says, “In war, the dead pay the debts of the living.” What does this mean, in general terms, and how does this idea play a role in My Brother Sam is Dead?

2. Foreshadowing is a device involving clues that the author leaves in a story predicting bad events to come. In the novel, how does foreshadowing come into play with the deaths of Sam and Tim and Sam’s father?

3. It is difficult to relate to Tim’s story, because in our own time there have been no invasions of U.S. territory by military troops from another country. In what ways would this story be different if Tim owned a store in Manhattan, and his brother Sam had been in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001? In what ways would this story be the same?