full title The Killer Angels
author Michael Shaara
type of work Novel
genre Historical fiction; Civil War fiction
language American English
time and place written Late 1960s and early 1970s, United States
date of first publication 1974
publisher David McKay
point of view The narrator usually sticks to a third-person, omniscient form of narration. It is the subjective form, meaning that the focus is primarily on the central character of that chapter, whoever it may be. If we enter a character’s thoughts, they are almost always the thoughts of that central character.
tone The novel is written in a very epic tone. The historical setting and the dramatic use of real—and very famous—historical characters sets it apart from most historical fiction.
tense Immediate past, or real-time narration
setting (time) June 29–July 3, 1863
setting (place) Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a small farm town surrounded by a few hills and ridges: Seminary Ridge, which the Confederates control; and Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s Hill, Little Round Top, and Big Round Top, all controlled by the Union.
protagonist General Robert E. Lee; General James Longstreet; Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain
major conflict The Confederate States fight a war against the Union to establish their right to secede.
rising action The Confederate States fail to capture the high ground in the hills around Gettysburg, allowing the Union army to take a strategic, defensive position.
climax The climax of the novel might seem to be Pickett’s Charge, when the Confederates soldiers make one incredibly brave, yet utterly futile march across a field into enemy artillery. Also, some may place the climax at Chamberlain’s decision to have his officers charge at the enemy in utter desperation with bayonets instead of ammunition. Yet another interpretation might place the climax at the scene where General Lee makes his final refusal to follow General Longstreet’s advice to swing southeast toward Washington, D.C. and fight defensively instead. Longstreet knows that Pickett’s Charge will fail, and once Lee has chosen to make the charge, the Confederates’ bloody loss becomes inevitable.
falling action Pickett’s Charge ends in heavy losses for the Confederacy. Lee puts the Confederate army into retreat, while Chamberlain muses on the amazing sight of Pickett’s Charge earlier in the day. Longstreet and Lee know that the war will not end, but both of them suspect that the Confederacy has just lost.
themes Technology and strategic development; the obtrusiveness of death in war; a nation divided
motifs Loyalty, command errors, aristocracy
symbols Lee’s heart trouble
foreshadowing Longstreet’s constant pushing for a defensive posture and Lee’s equally firm refusals imply that Lee is going to make a wrong move somewhere, and he does so with Pickett’s Charge.