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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
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Major Themes (10)

Lee vs. Longstreet: Lee’s a pious, idealist gentleman who belongs to the old school of warfare Longstreet’s a grim realist and pragmatist who advocates trench warfare and has lost touch with God.

Idealism vs. Realism: idealist Lee vs. realist Longstreet, idealist Chamberlain vs. realist Kilrain, idealist Pickett becomes realist Pickett

Gentlemen: Stuart vs. Harrison, Lee vs. Longstreet

Motives for Fighting: maintain/destroy slavery, maintain/destroy aristocracy, maintain states’ rights, preserve Union, defend home, self-advancement

Communication: inability to show emotion or say what must be said is common on the battlefield

Union vs. Confederacy: industrialized and urban Union vs. feudal and rural Confederacy; strange new mass of dissimilar soldiers who are greater in number but have lost faith in their leaders (Federal forces) vs. old-fashioned army, the underdog united under Lee (Rebel forces)

Duty: Family vs. the State (the government), State allegiance

Catch-22: having no choice but to fight your friends and neighbors to the death

Effects of War: glorious exhilaration, numbing, blurred line between right and wrong

Human Nature: xenophobia (fear of the unfamiliar), fearing the worst, excessive self-criticism

Minor Themes (11)

Stuart’s Absence: Stuart joyrides and leaves Rebel infantry blind, court-martial vs. reprimand

Intuition: the sense that comes with experience

Strategy: Napoleonic tactics vs. WWI trench warfare

Soldiers’ Past Experiences: Mexican War, frontier fighting, family tragedies

Europe: similarities to the South, role in war, possibilities of reunion with Confederacy

Civilians: the effect of the war upon the masses

Jackson’s Absence: the relative incompetence of Ewell and Hill

Good Ground: finding it with the experienced eye, how large a role it plays in battle

Management: politicians, loved vs. feared

Passion vs. Numbers: which is the deciding factor in battles?

Luck: how much of a factor is it?

Relationships: family and friends on opposing sides of the war


Considering the solemn topic (war), the book is surprisingly light-hearted. Despite the internal angst of the main characters (Chamberlain missing his wife, Armistead missing Hancock, Longstreet having to lead his men to certain defeat) the book is definitely an optimistic work. The friendly campfire scenes, the comic presence of Fremantle, and the images of rebirth at the book’s end all contribute to the positive mood of The Killer Angels.

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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara


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