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CHAMBERLAIN (Chapter 2 of Part I)
An introduction to Chamberlain, who (along with Longstreet) is one of the book’s two main protagonists
Colonel Joshua Chamberlain is the commander of the 20 th Maine Regiment. As he leads his men on the long march to Gettysburg to reinforce the Union position, he falls ill to sunstroke. His younger brother Tom and his "fatherly" aide Kilrain help him cope with the sunstroke affliction.
Chamberlain is soon presented with a dilemma: the army has dumped one hundred and twenty mutinous Maine men in his lap, with orders to shoot any man who won’t fight. The mutineers had accidentally signed three-year enlistments when the rest of their old regiment only signed up for two years. Since the rest of the regiment went home, they want to be discharged rather than fight again. When the mutineers refused to fight, the army officers tried to break them through harsh treatment and starvation. When that failed, the men were sent to Chamberlain.
Chamberlain is faced with the task of convincing the men to follow him, and approaches it with kindness (as contrasted with the malice exhibited by the Pennsylvania captain who delivered the mutineers). Chamberlain’s experience as a professor has prepared him for situations like this: he knows how to deal with unruly individuals without using violence, whether those unruly characters are students or soldiers. By giving an open and honest speech (" ‘What we’re all fighting for, in the end, is each other’ "--p.30) to the mutineers, he convinces the vast majority of them to take up arms and join his regiment--nearly doubling the number of troops under his command.
Original vocabulary and irony
Original adjectives & Original verbs: Shaara uses choice adjectives ("murderous," "flaming") and verbs ("boiled") to describe the day’s heat in a way that would emphasize Chamberlain’s heat stroke. (p.17) Chamberlain’s heat stroke is described in this simile: "He felt an eerie fragility, like a piece of thin glass in high hot wind." (p.17)
Shaara recreates the thought process in Chamberlain’s mind through a combination of long internal "soliloquy" monologues and internal arguments. For example, Chamberlain debates with himself before deciding on how to speak to the mutineers: "Kilrain says tell the truth. Which is? Fight, or we’ll shoot you. Not true, I won’t shoot anybody." (p.27)
A soliloquy is literally a speech made by a character, alone on stage, directly to the audience. However, the term also applies to the long deliberations that occur inside Chamberlain’s head because the Colonel reveals so many thoughts and feelings on a single topic. Directly before speaking with the mutineers, Chamberlain questions himself on why he is fighting: "They [the Confederate s] were forming a new aristocracy, a new breed of glittering men, and Chamberlain had come to crush it." (p.27) The theme of why each man is fighting will be gone over later, but Kilrain is also fighting to destroy the landed aristocracy: " ‘I’ll be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved.’ " (p.178)
Irony & Idealism vs. Realism & Vietnam: Chamberlain’s deliberates on the irony of his situation: he must force men to fight for freedom. As a side note, this book was written during the Vietnam War, a war for which men were drafted in order to defend freedom.