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Faellie, in a follow up to her popular article "Dean Winchester Is A Feminist" gives her very thoughtful take on Sam.  This can also be found on her livejournal,  I request no reposting of this article.  Either link here or at Faellie's LJ site.  As usual, comments and debate are welcome!


What makes Sammy run?
Taken literally, the answer to this question seems to be "not much": since the Pilot when Sam and Dean both ran from the ghost-driven Impala (and dived over the side of the bridge to escape), and other early episodes such as Dead in the Water, where both Sam and Dean are running together, it's been Dean who puts in most of the work on the running front, notably at the start of No Rest for the Wicked and of Yellow Fever.  Sam just has a few short sprints, such as his unsuccessful run from a zombie in Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (Jared was of course nursing an untreated broken hand at the time).

In fact, the question comes from the title of a 1950's novel about an ambitious man in Hollywood, written by Budd Schulberg, who also wrote On The Waterfront.  The Sammy Glick of that novel is not our Sam Winchester - Sammy Glick runs over anyone who is in his way in order to achieve his ambitions only to find an empty success, but he doesn't have the excuse of being pushed by extraordinary circumstance while thinking the end result would be a general good, as our Sam has been, and he doesn't have a Season 5 in which to redeem himself.

There have been lots of great articles recently on Sam Winchester (notable recent examples have been Alice and Mae's articles on The Winchester Family Business).  I'm not trying here anything like a complete reading of Sam's character, just giving my take on some possible formative influences on Sam Winchester's education, ambitions and socialisation.

Early education

The first time Sam appears as a character with agency is in Something Wicked, and he is a six year old boy holed up in a motel room with Dean, apathetically watching cartoons on television, and although he asks where Dad is he gives up quickly on his questions.   The next time we see Sam is in A Very Supernatural Christmas: Sam is now eight, and there's been a change.  Sam is curious about the world around him, and asking persistent questions of Dean.  He asks Dean about John, he finds, reads and understands at least some of John's journal - no small task for an eight year old - and he pesters Dean until he gets answers to his questions (apart of course from his question about Mary, which Dean can't or won't answer).  (In All Hell Breaks Loose Part II, Dean remembers Sammy as being five when he asked these persistent questions, younger even than in Something Wicked, but this may be Dean misremembering: a nine year old boy being asked questions he can't allow himself to answer would likely perceive those questions as persistent whether they were or not.)   So what has happened to change Sam into this persistent enquirer after answers?  Well, he's grown up by a couple of years.   But it also seems that Bobby Singer has happened to Sam - Bobby gave Sam the amulet to give to John as a Christmas present, without either John or Dean knowing about it, so eight year old Sam has spent at least some time alone with Bobby.   Although on-screen, we've seen rather more of the interaction between Dean and Bobby than between Sam and Bobby, the relationship between Sam and Bobby is both long-standing and important: as Bobby says in When the Levee Breaks "I love that boy like a son".   And the fact that in All Hell Breaks Loose Part 1 both Sam and Bobby could identify the bell with the oak tree engraving as being in Cold Oak South Dakota demonstrates a little of the commo nality of their learning, put to very good use. 

By the age of 14 and After School Special, Sam is able to write an essay that gets an A, even though his teacher, Mr Wyatt, thought Sam's essay on a family summer spent were-wolf hunting was off-topic fiction, rather than fact.  Even given a starting point of high intelligence, literacy at that high level usually needs considerable personal ambition, good schooling, or family support or resources of some kind.  At the time of the essay, Sam's ambitions were limited by the thought that his only option was to go into "the family business".  Sam's schooling is likely to have been disrupted by frequent moves: in the After School Special flashbacks, Sam and Dean are on their third school of the academic year by November, and are expecting to be there for only two weeks.  There is no suggestion at this stage that either John or Dean, although neither is lacking in intelligence, are academically inclined.  And finally the Impala, although capacious, does not have unlimited space for books.  The Impala does carry some books, because we often see Sam (and sometimes see Dean) researching in them in diners and motel rooms.  But still, any bright and interested person with a background in the topics covered would know the contents of the books which could be carried in the Impala pretty well and pretty quickly, rather than constantly discovering completely new information in them, as we so often see.  And neither Sam nor Dean had any idea about John's lockup until Bad Day at Black Rock, so presumably that's not the answer.

So how did Sam get his high level of literacy?  And where do all those books come from (and go to)?  I suggest a single answer to both questions: the Bobby Singer Lending Library.   It seems entirely possible that there has been a fairly constant circulation of books between the Impala and Bobby's house. I also suggest that this circulating library might have started with Sam, and at an early age: Sam has read Grimm's Fairy Tales, which he references in Bedtime Stories, whereas Dean hasn't.  Grimm's Fairy Tales is precisely the sort of book which Bobby might well have, and which might well be the most suitable book for a child he does have.   It's clear at the end of Fresh Blood, when Dean shows Sam how to take care of the Impala's carburettor, that Sam knows almost nothing about cars despite having been raised for 18 years by two expert mechanics.  What was Sam doing while Dean was trying to bond with John over the insides of the Impala?  What else but stretched out on the back seat, doing his homework and reading through the latest stack of books from Bobby?  


At 13 or 14, for the first time, Sam got ambition. His English teacher, Mr Wyatt, asks him whether he wants to go into the family business.  Sam's answer is "more than anything, no" but at that stage he didn't see any other possibility for himself.   But from Mr Wyatt Sam gets the idea that something else is possible, and Sam then spends the next 8 or 9 years of his life working towards that alternative.  When the Levee Breaks has 14 year old Sam returning in a hallucination to berate de-toxing Sam, saying "How could you do this to me?  I thought we were going to be normal"  and "It's all we ever wanted.  We were so close.  You got away from Dad, you quit hunting, you were going to become a lawyer and get married".

Stanford is one of the top American universities, and getting in takes high grades in school, a high SAT score and a good personal "story".  So Sam did exceptionally well in high school, despite the inevitable disruptions of the hunting lifestyle.  Sam's police record as read out in The Usual Suspects says he was a straight A student, and It seems that Sam also took an Advanced Placement science course in high school: when the boy in Bugs is referred to as taking AP science class, Dean says to Sam "You two are like peas in a pod."  Maintaining good grades throughout a degree course at Stanford (in Hookman Dean guesses straight As and Sam doesn't disagree) takes hard work, focus and good organisation.  Getting to Stanford Law School, one of the most difficult in the USA to get into, takes those good grades and an LSAT score of at least 168 to 172: Sam's LSAT, which he was celebrating at the start of the pilot and which is confirmed in TMATEOTB, is 174.  So from 13 or 14 onwards, Sam's ferocious intelligence and ambition were successfully focussed on the steps he needed to go through not just to become a lawyer, but to be at the top of the profession.  After all, there are easier and cheaper ways to get a degree and then a law degree than through Stanford.   

Since the age of 22 and the events of the Pilot, Sam has been just as ambitious and goal-orientated, it's just that his goals have changed - and in fact have changed a number of times.  Season 1 was all "find Dad, so we can find the thing which killed Mom and Jessica".  Season 2 is "stop the Yellow Eyed Demon".  Season 3 is "rescue Dean from his deal".   It's after this point that things start to fall apart: the failure to rescue Dean from his deal is is the first time (unless you count here Jessica's death) that Sam has tried but failed in reaching for one of his major life goals.  For someone who had previously been so successful in achieving what he sets out to do, this has to add to his problems when Dean dies.  But his main problem is of course the devastation of losing Dean.   From the Pilot onwards all Sam's goals have been linked to "the family business", and now both the other members of his family, John and Dean, have been taken away from him.  After the end of Season 3, Sam doesn't have family anymore, only business.

So now there's that pesky literary symmetry again, this time between Seasons 1 and 4.  At the start of Season 1 Jessica is killed, and Sam's obsession is to find and kill the demon that killed her.  At the end of Season 3 Dean dies and goes to hell, and Sam's obsession is to find and kill the demon that held his contract.  As with law school at Stanford, Sam is aiming for the top: he's looking to kill Lilith, Lucifer's First, the demon who holds all the contracts on humans, the biggest bad out there.  The difference is that the first time around Sam still had Dean to ground him in working towards his goals.   As Dean said when Sam's psychic abilities came to prominence in Nightmare "Long as I'm around, nothing bad's going to happen to you."   And as Sam himself said to Dean in Salvation "Even when I couldn't count on anyone, I could always count on you".   Of particular note is that twice, in Home and Salvation, Dean argued Sam out of sacrificing his own life in order to kill the Yellow Eyed Demon.   But by Season 4 Dean is no longer around, and Sam not only doesn't have Dean but he can't even stand being around Bobby who is also grieving.  Sam's only "support" is from the malevolent and conniving Ruby.   Without family, Sam's ambition tipped over into obsession, with Ruby he was pushed into a false sense of self-sacrifice.  With the two together, Sam was lost.


While growing up, Sam must so often have been the third person in the Impala, the youngest by 4 years (that's a big gap to a child), and on his own in the back seat with John driving and Dean in the front passenger seat.  Sam's focus on studying may have been the way in which the youngest of the family could carve out his own space and sense of self-worth.  John was a mechanic, a practical man, and Dean followed his father in this as in so much else.  There would have been no need for three Impala mechanics in the same family, so there was little scope for Sam to make a role for himself there.  Sam left for college at 18, so while he was still with John and Dean he was too young to be anything but the least strong and least experienced hunter of the three.  Being good at schoolwork and intellectual pursuits was Sam's opportunity to shine, rather than trailing along in third place.  (Possibly a piece of speculation too far is that Dean might at some level have deliberately left this space open for Sam: certainly Dean's reading habits have opened up since Sam left for Stanford, as is shown by his Vonnegut reference in TMATEOTB and his reference to The Odyssey in Sex and Violence.)

Sam managed to get a rounded high school experience while still being an academic high achiever: there are references both to drama (in Shadow, Dean says Sam was cute in Our Town) and to football (the football trophy in John's lockup).   This must have helped him settle in to new schools, as he probably had to do on a regular basis.  Sam badly wanted to fit in at school: in a flashback in After School Special Sam explains that he didn't use his fighting skills against a bully "because I don't want to be the freak for once, Dean.  I want to be normal."  At Stanford, Sam's life seems to have been more narrowly focussed, as in Route 666 he says "My life was so simple, just school, exams, papers on polycentric cultural norms".   In the Pilot Jessica has to work at getting him to leave his books to go to a Halloween Party, and even though Sam has particular reasons not to like Halloween the implication is that Sam rarely partied.   After all, in Provenance Sam explains his knowledge of art with "Art History course.  It's good for meeting girls", which cuts down on the need for extraneous socialising as well as being time-efficient.   We know from Skin that Sam has a circle of friends at Stanford as well as a long-term girlfriend, but he still says to Dean "Truth is, even at Stanford, deep down I never fit in."

Sam sustained a successful eighteen month relationship with Jessica while at Stanford.   Or perhaps it was Jessica who did the sustaining: it was Jessica who ensured that as a couple they had some sort of social life, and Jessica who baked cookies to welcome Sam home towards the end of the Pilot, so Jessica's "crash and burn" comment at the start of the Pilot may have had some truth behind it. Given that we are told in Devil's Trap that Sam had gone so far as to look at engagement rings (perhaps putting in place that other step in 14 year old Sam's life plan?) it is unfortunate that this was a relationship based on Sam not telling Jessica the truth about himself.  In Skin, Sam explains that his friends don't know about the family business, and Dean says "So you lie to them".  Sam then says "I just don't tell them everything" and Dean replies "Yeah, that's called lying."  Sam seems to have taken this point of view on board: in Route 666 he says to Dean "For a year and a half, I do nothing but lie to Jessica, and you go out with this chick in Ohio a couple of times and you tell her everything?"  Perhaps if Sam hadn't felt the need to lie to Jessica for so long and so thoroughly, he might have been more forthcoming about his premonition of her fiery death on the ceiling?

So Sammy's got a thing for the bad girl

Jessica's death hit Sam hard: she died at the beginning of November and it was June/July of the following year (Provenance) before he could think of even kissing another girl, and another year after that before his encounter with Madison in Heart.   But since Jessica's death there have been enough women in Sam's life for his "type" to become clear: beautiful, naturally, brunette, mostly, but also tending to be intelligent, independent-minded and able to stand up for themselves.  Unfortunately, this is Supernatural, so there is a tendency for Sam's natural liking of strong and independent women to tip over into his being interested in the monsters: Meg, Madison and Ruby.  Even Dr Cara in Sex and Violence was a possible suspect as the siren at the time Sam was having sex with her.

Sam slept with and then killed both Madison and Ruby.  Of course, both were monsters (although how monstrous Madison was, when all but one of her kills were men who harrassed, stalked and killed women, and the other was self-defence, might be open to question).  But if they were women while Sam was sleeping with them, then they were women enough for Sam subsequently killing them to be troublingly misogynistic.  Many men who kill women have had sex (or tried to have sex, or wanted to have sex) with the women they kill.   For Sam to kill one woman he's slept with is unfortunate, for him to kill two women he's slept with begins to look like carelessness.  

The outcome of Sam's most recent relationship will have devastated him.   He has been comprehensively outwitted by Ruby for a period of over a year, deceived into an addiction to demon blood and the use of his psychic powers, and pushed, pulled and cajoled into killing Lilith and freeing Lucifer from hell.   How can Sam trust his judgment of people again after such a complete betrayal, particularly his judgment of women?  Strong personal relationships are known to help recovering addicts, but Sam's not in any position, personally or professionally, to commit to another relationship.  It's going to make the coming year a tough one, as he deals with his personal issues without the support of a significant other, and against the backdrop of an apocalypse he himself will feel responsible for.


# elle2 2009-09-01 22:25
Another excellent look into the psyche of Sam Winchester. It is a wonder he managed to do all that he did academically, where did he get the drive? Certainly John was focused on revenge and Dean was shell-shocked and then trying to find some balance of being dad's little man (like we saw in The Pilot so briefly) Where and how did Sam create this niche for himself? I have no idea but I like the premise you build that Bobby was a constant and it makes canon sense. It's Sam who is exploring books at Bobby's in Devil's Trap while Dean is exchanging shots of whiskey. It's Sam who gets the gift from Bobby in AVSC and we know Dean didn't even try, nor presumabley did Bobby, so there is a deeper connection there.

Yet another layer of complexity for us to explore.

As for Sam's women...I have a little article I'm planning on how sex for Sam and Dean is far more about character exploration (or exposition) than it is about sex so I'll hold my thoughts for there. Needless to say, like recurring characters, or a Sera Gamble script, women who have sex with Sam should have their wills up to date.

Poor Sam...and the women who love him.
# Narcissus 2009-09-02 08:25
I so want a membership card for the Bobby Singer Lending Library :geek:

Compared to Dean, I always seem to have a harder time trying to read Sam. This is a very interesting and helpful perspective. The boy seems to have a serious case of tunnel vision, doesn't he? He'll just pick a target (being 'normal', the YED, Lillith), and throw himself right at it to the point of falling into obsession (oh wait, that kind of sounds like our fandom :|)
# Suze 2009-09-04 05:45
Good analysis, Faellie. This all rings very true apart from the misogeny part but as we had this out in another post I'll just agree to differ!

I suspect Bobby uses the Put-it-down-whe rever-there's-s pace-and-then-p ut-20-other-thi ngs-on-top-and- lose-it-for-6-m onths filing system ... I know it well. :lol:
# Deanna 2009-09-04 23:13
You POV on Sam kind of astounds me, especially the misogyny part we discussed in your last outlandish post. But I'm assuming you are once again married to your misconceptions, however frustrating they are to read. And now you're putting Sam down for not running as much as Dean? Seriously? If nothing else, are you forgetting "Dead in the Water?" And at most, how does that matter for a hill of beans?

I, rather, it's CLEAR: your bias is showing rather than your logic.
# Joanna 2009-09-04 23:26
I don't think you're actually trying to imply that strong women can be conflated with monsters, though you do seem to be making Sam's attraction to strong women to be connected to his misfortune to sleep with monsters. Which, is just a little weird to me.

I also don't see how we can compare Sam's situation in killing Madison and Ruby with the run of the mill killing. Just because there is a general pattern does not mean that Sam falls into it--the circumstances are hugely different and one look at Sam sobbing at the end of "Heart" sort of makes it hard for me to buy into anything resembling misogyny on his part. Misogyny implies a hatred of women. Sam didn't hate women in either of those contexts, so linking it to misogyny seems to be a stretch. He never hated Madison and he ended up hating Ruby because, as you point out, she manipulated him over the course of a year. I see no way in which that is misogyny.

And calling it careless just seems perplexing. It's tragic, but careless? I guess I don't know what you're implying here.

Which I think is my feeling on this article overall. I don't know exactly what you're trying to say about Sam. I get the vague sense that this is mostly about Sam's failures and weaknesses--and much less about who he really is and how he came to be this way. I know you say you're not trying to do a major overview, and the experiences explored here just don't seem to pull together to any kind of real conclusion.
# Faellie 2009-09-05 03:08
Thanks to all for reading, and for your comments.

elle2, I'm looking forward to that character exposition. "women who have sex with Sam should have their wills up to date" Hee.

Narcissus, Mae, Suze, thanks, and yes of course you get membership privileges (hey, if I can name it, I can give access to it).

Deanna, I wasn't actually trying to put Sam down for not running, it's just a point I noted in passing, which linked to the title and which I think is (intentionally? ) another possible character indicator. Dean was panicking when he ran in No Rest for the Wicked and Yellow Fever, which isn't exactly flattering, but was an excellent way to set the character's frame of mind for each episode. In contrast to Dean I don't remember Sam panicking at all.

Joanna, no I don't think strong women are monsters, and I'd hate it if anyone thought that was the case. Strong female characters on the show are often monsters, though, so they're the ones Sam comes across - which is not his fault, as I did hope to imply. "Careless" is an Oscar Wilde allusion, so sorry if it's a cultural reference that hasn't travelled well.

I feel I understand Sam a bit better now, but I think Dean hides himself in plain sight whereas I find Sam more enigmatic. There's room for a lot more thought on both on them.
# Joanna 2009-09-05 10:39
I guess the fact that it's not Sam's fault makes me wonder why it is brought up at all--which is sort of what I feel of the entire misogyny implication. Either you're saying Sam's a misogynist or he's not, and while you strongly hint at it, you don't quite say it, making the entire section seem a little misplaced.

Even with understanding the cultural reference, your idea of carelessness has much the same implication. Either it's Sam's fault or it's not and while I think you actually think it is, I feel like you shied away from saying it for fear of receiving criticism. I could be wrong of course, but that's how it feels.
# Tigershire 2009-09-05 12:24
A very interesting read. However....

With Madison, Sam wasn't attracted to her knowing she was a werewolf. He thought he was protecting her from the monster no knowing she was the monster. He only had sex with her after they all though they "cured" her. And then, he only killed her at her request. Technically you could say that is murder but to me I see it more like what we are allowed to do for our pets, ensure they don't suffer when we realize their quality of life is diminished or eliminated. He didn't want to kill her, symbolism relating to his own inner monster aside.

As for the people Madison killed, yes her boss and her exboyfriend were pushy jerks (really, did either of these fellows kill women?? I don't remember that from the episode) but what about the poor policeman she offed? We don't know what kind of man he was. He was just sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time. And we know nothing about anybody else she may have killed. The only other deaths we got any information on were the ones her neighbour had killed, all of them being "ladies of the evening". And while their choice of business may not be in the Forbes top 100, I don't think they deserved to die.

And with Ruby, well Sam didn't kill her. Dean did. Sam helped by holding her but at that point the blindfold of where she had led him had come off and since Ruby's body was technically dead already.....

As for Sam's attraction to brunettes, I see something else here. Mary was blond and Jessica was blond, this seems to fit the saying that men have a tendency to choose women who remind them of their mothers. So even though Sam didn't know his mother personally, he knew what she looked like. Then, after Jessica died, every girl he was attracted to was NOT blond. And he didn't have sex with Ruby until after she was in the brunette body. Is he subconsciously picking women who are nothing like Jessica so as not to betray her memory? Or is it just a funny quirk of casting with no intention of Kripke and the writers at all?

This was a lovely post Faellie, it really made me think.
# alysha 2009-09-05 21:56
Excellent! I agree that Sam is very goal oriented and driven (perhaps you can say obsessed). His goals were once socially acceptable (college), but became supernatural... kill Lillith!
# Faellie 2009-09-06 04:44
Joanna, Sam and Dean both have the same rather skewed dating choices, but within those limits Dean hasn't been interested in the monsters, and Sam has been, and certain consequences have flowed from that. I think Sam's choices since Jessica's death have been consistent enough to be psychologically interesting, rather than just one-offs.

I do find the consequences of Sam's choices troubling from a feminist point of view, but because of the supernatural element can't really label those actions as misogyny. So you're right that I have a degree of ambivalence there. And yes, who likes criticism?

Tigershire I like your suggestion that Sam's attraction to brunettes is a reaction to Jessica's death. Perhaps similar factors also apply to his attraction to the monsters - with the implication that this might change back in the future? In the first three Seasons Sam saw Jessica, Sam and Dean die and was himself killed and brought back from the dead, all while fighting a dangerous and stressful war against the supernatural and being the subject of an FBI manhunt. [Post-]traumati c stress disorder would seem a reasonable diagnosis.

As to Madison, normal human legal and moral standards are distorted by the supernatural situations, which is a problem Dean and Sam constantly have to deal with. In a werewolf context, Madison as a pet asking to be put down might be OK, in a human context a woman who is "owned", and who is "asking for it", is not. It's Sam sleeping with Madison which for me puts her uncomfortably into the second context, rather than the first, and it's this which makes Heart one more case for Dean and Sam where there is no good answer. Damn Kripke!

Thank you for your comments.
# trina 2009-09-06 10:19
Madison and Ruby played two very different roles for Sam. Madison was a woman who Sam actually was attracted to. She wasn't a monster in Sam's eyes. Sam pulled the trigger, but it was her decision, and in the end it was the only decision she could make within the context of the show. To take that away from her and make it Sam's "fault" is to take away the character's ability to decide her own fate.

Ruby wasn't a love interest for Sam. She was a symptom of his downward spiral into darkness.

Anyway, other than that misogyny issue, I really liked the reat of the article.