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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
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FOREWORD--the "before" picture

The novel begins with an omniscient present-tense overview of the Union and Confederate forces, the army leaders, and the surroundings. This introduction to the book is like a "before picture," which--contrasted with the afterword--gives the reader a better idea of the transitions that took place during the battle.

The foreword first juxtaposes the gray (Confederate ) and the blue armies as they stand in the third year of the war (June 1863), directly before the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3). The Confederates are moving deeper into the North (towards Harrisburg, PA) and want to draw the Union army out into the open for a conclusive battle. The Union army gives chase under shaky leadership.

Shaara introduces the nine key Confederate characters (Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, Ewell, Hill, Armistead, Garnett, Stuart, and Early) and the main five Union characters (Chamberlain, Buford, Reynolds, Meade, and Hancock).

The soldiers’ advance north through Maryland and Pennsylvania is marked by heat and rain; the local civilians have fled and left vacant towns to greet the marching soldiers.

Point of View

3 rd person omniscient present tense

Shaara used a third-person omniscient point of view in the present tense for the forward. He wrote the rest of the book in past tense, but used present tense for this section because it gives a sense of imminent action.

"Omniscient" means that the narrator knows all, so even though a chapter might be told from Longstreet or Chamberlain’s point of view, the reader is still told about events that Longstreet or Chamberlain do not know about.

The narrator clearly has knowledge of the future: "Lee had been down that Spring with the first assault of the heart disease which will eventually kill him." (p.xvi)


Specific language, foreshadowing, & juxtaposition

Shaara’s style is simple and straightforward. He uses short sentences and low to neutral diction (he sometimes uses slang in the narration but generally avoids excessively flowery or complex phrases).

Specific Language: Lee is "five feet ten inches tall but very short in the legs, so that when he rides a horse he seems much taller." These details enable readers to become more engrossed in the setting and imagine what it would be like to be there. Through such seemingly inconsequential details (physical appearance, eccentric habits, gossip) Shaara creates believable characters.

Dramatic irony: Dramatic irony occurs when a character misjudges a situation while readers see everything correctly. Because this work of historical fiction is closely based on the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, the reader knows what’s going to happen at the end of the book and beyond. Since readers know the Confederacy is going to lose both the battle and the war and that the conflict will drag on for two more years, they find it amusing when Pickett "worries constantly that he will miss the last great battle of the war." (p.xvii) Lee’s knowledge that a letter offering peace is to be sent to Lincoln after the Confederate victory is ironic for the same reasons. (p. xvi)

Foreshadowing: The readers’ knowledge of what’s going to happen also makes foreshadowing a little awkward, but Shaara manages. Ewell "approaches Gettysburg unsure of himself." Ewell will later hesitate to take an enemy position as ordered. Longstreet "opposed the invasion of Pennsylvania." The invasion fails mainly because Lee did not heed Longstreet’s advice to fight more defensively. Armistead "looks forward to the reunion with Hancock, which will take place at Gettysburg." This last example is less foreshadowing and more a blatant explanation of what’s going to happen, but the line between the two is thin in the field of historical fiction.

Historical irony: The Rebs--who are low on food, shoes, clothing, payment, and education--are much more high-spirited and successful than the well-stocked Union army. This is due in part to their unity, as mentioned in the Union vs. Confederacy theme.

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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara


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