The Killer Angels

by Michael Shaara

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Is The Killer Angels a biased novel?

Quick answer:

The Killer Angels is written in an unbiased tone. It presents the Northern and Southern perspectives equally, with no one character receiving more or less attention than any other. Lee's army is portrayed as a brave, but fallible group of men, while Chamberlain is described as a near-perfect man who inspires his men to heroic actions.

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I believe that author Michael Shaara has bent over backwards trying to present an unbiased view of the Battle of Gettysburg. He manages to portray the Confederate characters in a chivalric, heroic manner (as is often the case with Civil War literature), but he also exposes their faults and limitations. For Southern soldiers, the war is not about slavery; they fight to preserve their heritage and way of life. As for the Union soldiers, many wonder why they are still fighting, but Shaara uses the wise words of professor Joshua Chamberlain to both inspire his men and push home the Northern belief that the war was worthwhile if slavery could be ended. For both sides, it is a religious crusade: The Yankees believe slavery is a sin and that defeating the Confederates is the only way to end it. The rebels believe that God is on their side, and that victory is preordained. Shaara creates characters on both sides that are human and believable, and he shows no favoritism except possibly in the near-perfect man that was Chamberlain. He is Shaara's true hero here, and it is a wise and accurate choice. Robert E. Lee, on the other hand, is shown to be both hard-headed and highly overconfident. He, and the reader, discover that his army is made up of mere men and not martial demons: It is a learning experience for Lee, and though Shaara presents Lee in a mostly sympathetic light, one can never feel too sorry for the man who refused to listen to the wise advice of his subordinate Longstreet, who begged Lee to pass Gettysburg over for a better defensive position.

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