The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 1, Chapter 2 : Monday, June 29, 1863 (Chamberlain) | Summary

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Summary

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is awakened by Private Buster Kilrain to learn of the impending arrival of 120 men from Maine like himself, who have been charged with mutiny and will now be under his guard. His head feels light, and he has trouble focusing, effects from the sunstroke he has suffered marching 80 miles in the past four days in the heat of summer. He gathers his thoughts, reflecting on his reasons for leaving his post as a professor of rhetoric to join the Union Army. He believes "the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land." More appalling than slavery, he hates the aristocratic system of Europe. His main motivation for fighting is equality and the chance to live in a country where "no man had to bow."

One of the mutineers shares the grievances of the group with Chamberlain. They feel they have done their duty and no longer want to fight. Although Chamberlain has been authorized to shoot any of the men who resist, he would never kill a fellow Mainer. He tells the men he will try to address their concerns, but the regiment has been ordered to move and will likely confront the Rebels soon. He tells them he could use their help, but he won't force them. Admittedly most of them have never even seen a black person, but they all joined to fight, he says, because "freedom ... is not just a word." His younger brother, Tom, is impressed with his speech and tells him that all but six of the men have been convinced to join and continue to fight, adding 114 men to his ranks, which had been under 300.

Analysis

The perspective changes in the second chapter of the book from the spy and Longstreet in the first chapter to the Union officer, Chamberlain. The shift in perspective gives readers a chance to view both sides of the conflict, to know the men who played important roles for each side. Each chapter changes perspectives, returning to some characters and adding new characters in others. This constant shifting of perspective keeps the tempo of the novel quick and exciting and gives readers a nuanced view of the conflict, which includes ambiguity and doubt on both sides. Each new perspective gives the book the feel of a live report, switching from reporter to reporter at different places on the scene, in the middle of the action. It creates a sense of immediacy and urgency.

In Chapter 2 the author introduces readers to the third of three main characters of the novel. Shaara develops Chamberlain's character, showing several levels to his personality. He is an educated, fair, confident man with a knack for persuasive speech undoubtedly honed by his study of rhetoric. He is somewhat conflicted about the reasons for the war. He isn't personally invested in freeing slaves, never having even met one before, but he does feel very committed to the idea of equality, wanting to be free from the class system of the old world. He values America as a place where no one is obligated to be subservient to another, where "no man [has] to bow." His fight for equality necessary extends to slaves, but his heart seems to be more devoted to the ideal of freedom than to emancipation.

Chamberlain's speech to the mutineers is an example of Shaara's interpretation of characters and words. When compared to what Chamberlain wrote on the subject of the justifications for war, the speech in the novel is far more idealistic than Chamberlain's own words on the subject, which were more about the political structure of the country and against the rights on any one state to withdraw and threaten the integrity of the whole. Chamberlain's rousing speech is fictitious, and it serves as part of Shaara's own characterization of the officer, as well as contributes to the author's development of topics like freedom and equality.

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