The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

by

Michael Shaara

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Angels Symbol Analysis

Angels Symbol Icon

Though he makes sparing use of the image, Shaara uses angels to symbolize humanity’s potential for both transcendence and atrocity. As a schoolboy, Joshua Chamberlain had delivered Hamlet’s soliloquy including the line, “What a piece of work is man … in action how like an angel!” In response, Chamberlain’s father had joked, “…[I]f he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” Chamberlain had then written an oration titled “Man, the Killer Angel.” Though Chamberlain does not elaborate on the content of the oration, his experiences at Gettysburg cover the spectrum of human potential—mercy to mutineers, murderous anger at enemies, bravery at Little Round Top, prejudice and compassion toward an escaped slave—and suggest what it looks like for a human being to be endowed with such vast “angelic” capacities.

While scouting Cemetery Hill, cavalryman John Buford spots a white angel statue in the quiet cemetery overlooking Gettysburg, its “arms uplifted, [with] a stony sadness.” The sight brings him an unexplained comfort. After the battle, Chamberlain sits atop Cemetery Hill himself and watches bodies being laid out with care on the field below. Compassionately, he thinks of the deceased as “Killer Angels”—embodying the paradox of such a term himself, as a soldier feeling pity and love toward his enemies.

Angels Quotes in The Killer Angels

The The Killer Angels quotes below all refer to the symbol of Angels. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Honor Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ballantine edition of The Killer Angels published in 1974.
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 4 Quotes

“But the morale is simply amazing. Really is. Never saw anything like it in the old army. They’re off on a holy war. The Crusades must have been a little like this. Wish I’d a been there. Seen old Richard and the rest.”

Longstreet said, “They never took Jerusalem.”

Armistead squinted.

“It takes a bit more than morale,” Longstreet said.

“Oh sure.” But Longstreet was always gloomy. “Well, anyhow, I’ve never seen anything like this. The Old Man’s accomplishment. Incredible. His presence is everywhere. They hush when he passes, like an angel of the Lord. You ever see anything like it?”

Related Characters: James Longstreet (speaker), Lewis Armistead (speaker), Robert E. Lee
Related Symbols: Angels
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 4 Quotes

Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still: “What a piece of work is man … in action how like an angel!” And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” And Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel.

Related Characters: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Related Symbols: Angels
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
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Angels Symbol Timeline in The Killer Angels

The timeline below shows where the symbol Angels appears in The Killer Angels. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 3: Buford
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
...himself that it is too neat and cramped for battle. He notices a white cemetery angel and again admires the suitability of the high ground. (full context)
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 4: Longstreet
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
...never captured Jerusalem. Armistead is dismissive. Lee’s presence, he says, “is everywhere … like an angel of the Lord. You ever see anything like it?” (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 4: Chamberlain
Honor Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
...the line, “What a piece of work is man … in action how like an angel!” To this his father had replied, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a... (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 7: Buford
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
...his aides have survived the battle. He looks around the cemetery for the familiar white angel but cannot find it. Instead, he looks at the sea of Rebel campfires to the... (full context)
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 6: Chamberlain
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Chamberlain is thinking of Kilrain: “no divine spark.” He also thinks, “Animal meat: the Killer Angels.” He watches as bodies are laid out carefully on the field below. He can feel... (full context)