Sam Winchester: A Room of His Own
A Tumblr conversation with Vennstiel on Sam Winchester and why even Dean doesn’t understand him.
Dean’s walking down the hallway in the bunker one day and glances into Sam’s room. He halts dead in his tracks. For a moment, he thinks Sam has packed up and moved out, and his heart skips a beat. But, no, Sam’s shaving kit is on the bureau, and there’s a book beside the bed. Other than that, it’s a bare as any motel room they’ve ever stayed in. Sam always wanted a home, but now that he could settle in a little he hasn’t.
It nags at Dean all day. For awhile he considers fixing up Sam’s room for him. Dean has his vinyl and weapons and photo of Mom, but he can’t think of a thing to put in Sam’s room besides books, and the bunker is filled with those. He realizes with a heavy heart that maybe Sam doesn’t either.
This is probably why Sam doesn’t have a room. Why we never even see him settling in enough to take off his clothes, put on a robe, and brush his teeth in the bathroom. He may be the Man of Letters, but Dean is the one making himself home. It’s like Sam’s not planning to stay. For all the talk of a normal life, he’s the one not settling down. Even when he left Amelia after a year and a house, all he had to take with him was a backpack. Even the Impala wasn’t his. And the photo Dean has of their mom has him in it. There’s no picture of Mary with Sam. No evidence that Sam ever had a past with a family other than Dean.
But where did Dean suddenly get a record collection? Why was he driving around with vinyl and no turntable?
That’s what got me thinking. I don’t think Sam has any personal belongings other than his clothes and weapons. We’ve no reason to think so, but worse than that, I can’t even think of what he might want to surround himself with. My head canon is that when Sam first started researching at the bunker Dean stopped and bought records and a stereo while on that trip to check up on Kevin and Garth. If Sam had the same opportunity, I still don’t know what he’d buy.
It’s as you say with Amelia, and I’m guessing it was the same with Jess, he lets those around him define the space because he has no idea how to do that. He has no real sense of what it is to express himself through his surroundings, and what’s worse is I don’t know that Dean even knows Sam well enough to “nest” for him. We know all about the kinds of things Dean likes from music to porn to books, but what specifics do we know about Sam?
That’s because Sam is possibly the least developed character on the show, despite being one of the two principals. We might actually know more about Cas at this point. I still stand by my assertion that Sam is the female lead, and I need to flesh that out. I know…I know… I suck at being your side man. I’m no back-up at all. I just throw crap into the middle of the ring and then bolt. I’m a bitch. But ANYWAY…
In no way are Sam and Dean greater opposites than they are in regard to how they react to trauma — especially the trauma of their childhood. Dean really is the nester. He’s the one who actively seeks community and bonds with others. He’s the one who makes friends. He’s the one who likes kids and food and routine and desperately wants to settle down and love people and experience all the good things life has to offer to the fullest. He may be a hunter at heart, but he really wants to be a family man. Loss only makes him cling tighter, feel deeper, try harder, want more. He’s incredibly resilient that way. He’s almost a glutton for punishment (sub!dean, anyone?). You can’t beat the love and relateability and desire for roots out of Dean. He’s just stubborn in his assuredness in who he is and what defines him, and he constantly collects people and things that serve as extensions of his personality. I agree with you about him buying those albums. They moved into that bunker, he saw the turntable, and he stopped at the next record store he saw and went nuts like a kid at Christmas. In lieu of having other personal items, Dean emptied his weapons out of the trunk of the Impala — he moved out of the Impala first chance he got — and hung them on the wall like a fan hangs posters of pop stars. He even has his club from purgatory up there — he brought a souvenir back from purgatory. Who does that? Dean feels like he belongs everyplace he goes — even hell and purgatory — and he wants to remember that all those places, everything he’s experienced is a part of him.
By contrast, Sam is a ghost. Like you’ve mentioned, he’s made himself the chameleon. He never told Jess or Amelia about who he really is. Just insinuated himself into their lives and friendships instead of building his own network — and with Amelia he didn’t build a network at all. He’s so damaged that he can neither reach out nor let others in. He’s just a part of the scenery — a backdrop in other people’s lives. He goes along with the flow and has no identity of his own. He’s not part of the experience, and the experiences either don’t touch him, or they’re incredibly traumatic, and all he absorbs is the trauma. He didn’t belong in hell. He didn’t enjoy the pain and torture that Dean did. He never got to mete it out — he was only on the receiving end. And the only souvenir he got was a head full of Lucifer that almost killed him. Can’t hang that on a wall. As sad as it is, Sam has none of the zest for life that Dean had. The one place we see him being happy and at ease is in heaven — a heaven full of other people’s places. But still, he’s happier dead than he ever is alive. Sam doesn’t flesh out his life with people and things, because Sam doesn’t feel alive. He probably usually wishes he wasn’t. For all the talk he talks about normal and safe and lights at the end of the tunnel, Sam is the essential pessimist. He only talks that game to drown out the truth being shouted in his head — the truth that he can’t wait to die so it can all be over and he can just finally be as alone as he feels in his own skin.
Well, that was pretty fucking bleak, and I sadly have to agree for the most part except … Sam is occasionally happy. There is someone who truly gives him joy sometimes and with whom he shares laughter and companionable silence, and that is with Dean. I can’t think of anyone else on the show that Sam has ever really laughed with, but when he does, it is with his brother. No, they don’t get to enjoy each others company often, but that is a side effect of their dangerous, terrifying lifestyle, not their relationship.
Sam’s inability to truly engage with most people and have a zest for life is a result never having any control over his life, the realization that he really was the freak that he’d always felt he was. Dean is the only one who with his own powerful lust for life is able to break through that ennui and make Sam feel alive. Dean’s the one who knows Sam for what he really is and has done and loves him anyway.
Wanna know the truly sad and terrifying part? That was the brightened-up version of what I originally wrote. I edited it to let a little light and air in before I posted. You want bleak and dark, come see me. My deep, dark nothing is really kind of bottomless. But I digress…
You are spot on with the fact that the only thing that gives Sam flashes of happiness being Dean, but I want to add that in doing so, Dean is also what makes Sam most miserable. It is indeed a side effect of their dangerous, terrifying lifestyle — the lifestyle that keeps taking the only person in his life and only source of happiness from him repeatedly and horribly and constantly threatens to do it again in bloody fashion. And in the meantime, it robs him of the ability and opportunity to just be with Dean and enjoy him. He’s never really able to just relax and revel in his brother. It’s why he fights so hard against Dean’s goofiness and contagious joie de vivre. He doesn’t dare get caught up in it and enjoy Dean, because it will only make inevitably losing Dean and being alone even harder. It’s easier to throw the bitchfaces and keep his precious brother at arm’s length. He can’t even settle in and nest in that relationship, because he knows its temporary. If he doesn’t allow himself to experience Dean’s lust for life, he thinks he’ll never miss it. Too bad he already knows that’s a lie.
Yisssss! Absolutely. I am forever baffled by fans who think that Sam doesn’t love Dean as much as Dean loves him. How can they not see it?
Because some people can’t read between the lines? Because some people suck at subtext when it’s not about shipping? Because some people relate exclusively to Dean and feel that he feels unloved by Sam from his own point of view? Because Sam’s a tough nut to crack?
Yeah, a deep little son of a bitch, as Bobby said.