The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 3, Chapter 2 : Thursday, July 2, 1863: The Second Day (Chamberlain) | Summary

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Summary

Kilrain tells Chamberlain they have a black man who is wounded. Chamberlain has seen very few black people before, and he is ashamed to find that he, even as "an educated man," feels "a flutter of unmistakable revulsion" when he sees the man. The man speaks little English but manages to tell them he has only been in the country a few weeks and a woman in Gettysburg shot him. Chamberlain gives the man food and sends for medical care but is angry he can do little more than wish him luck when the man asks to go home. Chamberlain imagines what the black man has gone through and what he knows of the war.

Chamberlain recalls a visit from a Southern pastor who justified his ownership of slaves, telling Chamberlain he couldn't understand it unless he had lived among them. What is clear to Chamberlain is that blacks are people with "the divine spark" and "what has been done to the black is a terrible thing." This is what the war is about. Kilrain is fighting not against the wrongs of slavery but for "justice," for the right to "be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved." He rejects all aristocracy. Tom tells Chamberlain some Confederate prisoners told him they are fighting for their "rats," which Tom is amused to discover means their rights. He thinks it is even funnier that the men don't seem to know upon which rights the North is infringing.

The men move forward only to be stopped south of the battle. Vincent says Chamberlain's men are to be held in reserve. The men rest where they are.

Analysis

The author returns to the theme of the cause of the war, offering three contrasting reasons for the war. The experience of interacting with the black man and imagining what he has been through as well as the memory of the Southerner who justified slavery brings into focus Chamberlain's ideas of the cause of the war. He believes the war is being fought over slavery, which he understands to be "a terrible thing" that has been "done to the black." In contrast the Southern prisoners claim they are fighting for their rights, although they are comically unable to articulate the rights they believe are in jeopardy. Kilrain is fighting for his own dignity and freedom, a freedom he can only feel if he is not subject to judgment based upon his lineage. He wants to be free from the tyranny of aristocratic social order. He wants to be judged for his own actions and merit alone. The author adds further layers of nuance to the theme of the cause of the war in this chapter by contrasting these various reasons men feel compelled to fight and three viewpoints of the cause.

Although Chamberlain believes in the evil of slavery, his personal interaction with the black man is complicated and condescending, revealing his own biases. While he firmly believes in the humanity of blacks, he feels repelled by the physical differences of the wounded man that are unfamiliar to him as a resident of Maine, which was home to view few blacks at the time. The black man represents the Other, all that is different and unknown and unlike himself, to Chamberlain. Although he thinks of himself as an educated man and feels ashamed of his feelings, implying he should be "better" than the uneducated on the subject of racial differences, his reflection on his position in relation to the black man is very conceited. Because he thinks of the black man as the Other, Chamberlain assumes he must be his opposite. Chamberlain thinks of himself as intelligent and assumes the black man is almost animalistic in his ignorance. He believes the black man incapable of comprehending the situation in which he finds himself. Through Chamberlain's inner monologue the author shows the limitations and biases of even Northern intellectuals, and indeed most whites at the time.

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