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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
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Allusions: Shaara’s allusions to Shakespeare spice up his writing--don’t read too far into them. Here’s what the spy is referring to during his ride to the Confederate camp:

• "It will be rain tonight, let it come down." (p. 4)

Harrison spouts this line as the skies 2open up on him during his long ride to the Confederate camp. This quotation is from MacBeth directly before the king is murdered.

• "My kingdom for a horse." (p.4) Harrison quotes

Richard III while musing about his steed. Evil Richard himself originally made that statement after being knocked off his horse in battle shortly before he was killed.

• "Once more into the breech." (p.4) As Harrison’s ride continues, he quotes the good king Henry (from Henry the Fifth). The English Henry delivered the line to his troops shortly before his successful against-all-odds attempt to regain France for England.

• "Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." (p.5) Harrison flatters Jackson by setting the general’s death parallel to the noble (but weak-willed) prince Hamlet. Hamlet’s friend Horatio pronounced these words upon the death of the prince. This comparison between Hamlet and Jackson is ironic between Hamlet is a man of much thought and little action and Jackson was a man of little thought and much action.


• "It be not now, yet it will come. Ripeness is all." (p.6)

Harrison again quotes Hamlet shortly before reaching the picket line. Hamlet made this statement in acceptance of a challenge to a duel. Hamlet is saying that he leaves it up to God, whatever will happen will be God’s will. Lee shares this fatalistic viewpoint when it comes to battles.

Original Verbs: Shaara uses especially descriptive verbs. Rather than writing "he said" after dialogue over and over again, Shaara uses phrases such as "he worshipped" and "the spy chatted."

Similes: Shaara’s spy perceives the columns of marching Union soldiers as a "smoking river" that coils along with its flags like a "great chopped bristly snake." (p.3) The similes continue with his likening the dust to "a yellow veil" hanging above the army. (p.3) And as he rode away, the army seemed to build up behind him "like water behind a cracking dam." (p.4)

Dramatic irony: "The farmer told him [the spy] Gettysburg, but the name meant nothing." (p.5) The spy also spouts that, " ‘the war’s almost over.’ " (p.11)

Major THEME

Lee vs. Longstreet (Strategy, Stuart’s Absence, Intuition)

The difference between Longstreet’s new strategies and Lee’s old way of waging war is evident in their use of spies. Longstreet is not offended by using underhanded means to achieve good ends, but "the old man did not believe in spies." (p.10)

Lee exhibits natural human optimism by not wanting to believe that his main cavalryman has been irresponsible: " ‘Stuart would not leave us blind.’ " (p.14)

Instinct plays a large role in the war and the book, for example the spy "could...feel them [the sentries] up ahead." (p.5). The "mind over heart" mentality comes up again when Longstreet reminds himself that "estimates meant nothing" and observed that Lee "doesn’t believe." (p.14) And although Longstreet is "an instinctive man" he relies on the hard facts for his strategies. (p.9) Gut feelings are discredited by the spy’s ironic claims: "The war’s almost over. You can feel it." (p.11)

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