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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
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Major THEME

Idealism vs. Realism (Chamberlain vs. Kilrain)

Kilrain is a career army man and former sergeant who was demoted to private after striking an officer in a drunken fight. He is an experienced soldier and Chamberlainís most trusted advisor. He is a fatherly-figure to Chamberlain and also operates as a foil to the idealist ex-professor. Kilrain thinks that some men are worth no more than dogs, whereas Chamberlain believes that all humans have a divine spark within them.

Also evident of Chamberlainís idealism is the civility with which he treats the mutineers. Chamberlainís belief that "The soft answer turneth away wrath. Some wrath." makes it evident that he is an idealist, but not entirely so. Chamberlain has a professorís mind and knows how to deal with unruly individuals; he is not "regular army" and therefore wonít instantly accept army dogma (like the starvation tactics used on the mutineers). The foil created in the Pennsylvania captain, who seems to get a power trip from mistreating the mutineers, highlights Chamberlainís kindness and idealism.

Chamberlainís speech to the mutineers is all about idealism and realism. He hopes that his idealistic belief that he is fighting for the equality of all mankind will not sound hollow to the realist mutineers. As Chamberlain puts it: "A man who has been shot at is a new realist, and what do you say to a realist when the war is a war of ideals?" (p.28)


Minor Themes

Duty (Duty to state vs. duty to family): Tom Chamberlainís introduction; Josh Chamberlain must later use him to "plug a hole" in the line while fighting the Rebs on Little Round Top.

Duty (State Allegiance): the Pennsylvania captain has disdain for all Maine men. Chamberlain hopes to relate to the mutineers because they are from his own state. Longstreet, from South Carolina, holds a view of honor that differs from the other officers in the Confederacy, most of whom are from Virginia. Lee turned down Lincolnís offer to head to Union army because Lee is a Virginian first and an American second.

Intuition: "He [Chamberlain] had a complicated brain and there were things going on back there from time to time that he only dimly understood, so he relied on his instincts." (p.27) And again: "He had missed something, he did not know what. Well, he was an instinctive man; the mind would tell him sooner or later." (p.31)

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