The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels


Michael Shaara

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Killer Angels makes teaching easy.
Themes and Colors
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Killer Angels, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Throughout The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s historical novel set during the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg, the notion of honor manifests on personal and cultural levels—especially in the Confederate Army. In Southern culture, so important is maintaining one’s honor that an accusation of cowardice compels General Dick Garnett to seek redemption through certain death. Similarly, no matter how wise the arguments of Confederate second-in-command James Longstreet for defensive warfare, General Robert E. Lee is…

read analysis of Honor

Old World vs. New World

Shaara portrays the battle of Gettysburg as a pivotal juncture not only for the Civil War, but for history more broadly. This is done in two major ways throughout the story: first, through characters’ competing visions for what American culture is or should become, and second, through Lee’s and Longstreet’s competing visions for how to conduct the war. Lee’s vision is connected to an older, “gentlemanly,” honor-driven culture, while Longstreet’s is forward-looking and…

read analysis of Old World vs. New World

Idealism vs. Disillusionment

While many characters in the book are fired by supposedly unshakeable beliefs, Shaara uses two main figures to explore the ways in which the Civil War tested the ideals of belligerents on both sides. Despite Chamberlain’s passionate commitment to “freedom” in the abstract, he has never met a slave. And in the process of his own disillusionment, Longstreet realizes that the Confederates’ idolizing of Lee has hindered their ability to fight the war effectively…

read analysis of Idealism vs. Disillusionment
Get the entire The Killer Angels LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Killer Angels PDF

Slavery and Freedom

Throughout the book, Shaara portrays a range of motivations for the Civil War, and neither side is monolithic in outlook. Many characters offer their opinions as to “what the war is really about”—such as the desire for freedom from a “foreign” government, defense of “states’ rights,” and the desire to crush the Southern aristocracy—yet the central conflict inevitably turns around the question of slavery and freedom. While not every character primarily fights for or against…

read analysis of Slavery and Freedom