But I digress, what I’m attempting to posit is that perhaps Sam’s choices were not the choices of the selfish brother, but those of the younger brother.
I’m an oldest sibling in my household, granted there’s considerable age difference between Aidan and I, but I can see many parallels in our relationship, because Sam and Dean actually do follow very prototypical brotherly roles: they don’t get along, they spend time torturing each other with teasing, they don’t know how to deal with what went wrong between them, and they never ever really apologize. When Sam and Dean were put into a “normal” situation as they were in “What Is and What Should Never Be” it became especially noticeable.
Older siblings are the ones that all the hopes are pinned on, the ones expected to follow in their parents' footsteps, to carry on the family name. The younger sibling may feel pressure, immense pressure, following a successful older sibling as Sam certainly did in the wake of Dean who listened to everything his father said (or so we think), but at the same time, a pressure is lifted. A successful older sibling allows younger siblings to strike out on their own, to make their own path.
Sam did this by going to Stanford, it was either that or live constantly in Dean’s shadow, never measuring up according to John. A younger sibling can certainly still be a favorite— hell they’re the babies of the family, of course there’s going to be some preferential treatment—and still not measure up in a parent’s eyes. In fact, when a favorite child doesn’t measure up to the oldest child, it can often have painful consequences for everybody.
John expected more from Sam than he expected from Dean as a result of that favoritism. This son could burn to even brighter astronomical heights, in his mind. Or so I believe of John. But Sam couldn’t. He didn’t want any part of that, probably especially because Sam never saw it as a competition for his father’s affection, he simply assumed Dean got it because it was always Dean who got praised.
So we’ve established that Sam had to get away from his father’s view of Dean. What we haven’t yet considered is that this method of Sam’s has historical applications. Certainly in early modern England (the period between 1300 to 1650 or so) there were laws of Primogeniture that actually forced younger sons to strike out on their own. Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were both second sons who left as a result of such laws.
Sam can have no part of the legacy of the older brother, for it is the older brother’s alone, instead he must depart from the family ancestral manor and its ways (in this case an impala and a tradition of demon killing), and become an explorer, an explorer of the world of college and "normality" or as Sam protested in the pilot "safe" (which may be selfish, to say I can't watch you die, Dean) John might’ve been angry that Sam didn’t want any part of what he decided it meant to be a Winchester, but that doesn’t mean he still couldn’t be proud of what Sam achieved on his own.
On a completely different note, to say that Sam ignored all of Dean’s years of sacrifice is ridiculous. Dean certainly wasn’t a blithe martyr at the hands of the evil marauding Sam. He was resentful. He left to go play video games when he shouldn’t have just like a normal kid. To assume that Dean never fought with John and simply acquiesced to all of John’s orders is not admirable or human. It’s brainless and would state that Dean simply has no personality developed independently of John. I’m sure this is not what Dean girls want to say. And using the whole if A then B method, I determine that Dean was not the perfect son. He was the good son for sure, but not the perfect son.
We older siblings know that part of being older is taking care of the younger sibling. We don’t expect anything in return for it. Younger siblings are never going to be able to pay us back. They will never be in a situation where the roles are sufficiently reversed to make such a thing equitable. Older siblings should not expect payment. The fact of the matter is that occasionally little brothers and sisters can be brats, and you can tout that whole “look at all I’ve done for you, and now you’re throwing it back into my face” thing, but it’s never going to work. Little siblings aren’t aware of the sacrifices we make for them, in fact, they see their lives as being more difficult than ours. This doesn’t make them selfish, perhaps a little delusional, because I’ve never figured out where younger siblings get these ideas, but it does seem to be universal of younger siblings.
Dean clearly went above and beyond the call of duty, but who’s to say that Sam was never there for him. People state that Dean is the care-giver and that Sam is the…well, Sam is the thing on freakishly long legs. This seems to be a misinterpretation of his character. Sam is the emotionally available brother, the one who tries to make people feel better, the one who cares. This perception seems to have very little to do with sibling relationships, but is instead a personal trait. Dean cared for Sam, he’ll do anything for him. That is not the same as being a care-giver in a relationship with someone or with other people in general. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a care-giver just because I’ve done stuff for my younger siblings. Dean even states over and over himself (think Tall Tales) that Sam is always trying to be there for people and fix them and listen to their problems.
That is the sign of the care-giver.
It’s clear that Sam knows how to read Dean like a book. My younger siblings don’t have the same ability, probably because we weren’t forced into a car together all around the United States as youths, but at the same time, a knowledge of Dean suggests a willingness to get to know him. I can totally see Dean being upset over X, Y, or Z and Sam coming to comfort him, perhaps not in the right way, perhaps in a way that it only made Dean more upset, because our dearest can’t stand addressing his emotions, but I still feel that Sam, once he was old enough, could and would attempt to be his brother’s support. Just because he’ll never be able to give Dean what Dean gave him, does not suggest that there isn’t the same depth of feeling between them. Nor does it suggest self-preoccupation.
Also, a firm desire to save lives is not the same as being a care-giver. Dean saves lives, but it’s not like he takes a particular interest in the lives that he saves. Not wanting people to die and genuinely wanting and hoping for them to be happy are too completely different sets of desires. It’s Sam who gets emotionally involved with the people they save, who reaches out to Charlie, who can’t get over the tragedy of Max despite the killer he became, and who refuses to let Dean end Gordon. Care-givers don’t see things in black and white in the way that heroes do. They can’t. They feel for people. Using Due South as a metaphor I would say that Fraser is the care-giver and Kowalski is the life saver. Can we not also see the parallels between Dean and Sam and those two characters?
Looking again at “What Is and What Should Never Be,” we can notice further details about the Sam and Dean relationship that suggest that Dean was not always a wonderful brother, that he probably couldn’t have or wouldn’t have lived his life for Sam (look at the way he blew Sam off in Fulsome Prison Blues, self-sacrifice, in my opinion, is extremely selfish, it completely disregards the feelings of people who care about you). It looks very much like he was a legend in Lawrence and Sam probably still had to live in that shadow. Once again Sam was driven in the same path to Stanford because of his brother’s good looks, charm, and the fact that all of creation just seems to think that Dean-like characters are darling (Come on, Dean girls, admit it, you’re in the majority).
Unfortunately, the Winchester brothers’ relationship was sacrificed completely as a result of this shadow-casting. To me this indicates just how much nurture played in the development of their relationship, if not in the development of their personalities. Suddenly Dean the older brother is no longer the care-taker but the tormenter. This assignment of roles I have also observed in my own two brothers, who are exactly four years apart. Aidan may love Patrick, but he sure as hell isn’t going to treat him like it. And in spite of the awful things that Sam may have said in that episode, he had every right to feel that way. Just because sibling rivalry is a norm does not mean that the behavior that comes out of it is acceptable or that it should be simply forgiven.
I love Dean. I truly do. I think that he’s genuine, and he does care about the fate of mankind, if not each individual person in it. He’s got a mission and he knows who he is, and he will never be anybody else. Unfortunately, I also think that he’s the good looking quipper and people tend to overlook and possibly ignore the mistakes and faults that such characters have. Sam might’ve left Dean, but it seems to me that the youngest Winchester definitely needed validation from his older brother (that wanting something else was acceptable, perhaps necessary for a person like Sam), validation that he never received. Especially since fandom seems to view Sam’s leaving for Stanford as something he DID to Dean. I don’t think Dean sees it this way, kiddoes. I think he wanted Sam to be happy, even if he couldn’t say it. Just look at him in “What Is and What Should Never Be.” It may have hurt him, but it would be selfish of Dean to begrudge Sam that desire.
Anyway, I couldn't fall alseep last night, and this is kind of the product of this, sorry if it's totally jacked.
So the point of this meta is to discuss, if you think I'm a ravening lunatic and that I have completely misinterpreted Dean and Sam and the entire shebang, please discuss.