Study Guide

The Killer Angels Fate and Free Will

By Michael Shaara

Fate and Free Will

Do we control our own destinies, or are we just puppets controlled by the gods? The soldiers at Gettysburg had a lot of opportunities to wonder about these questions. After all, their fates were in the hands of seemingly godlike generals. But many of the generals, like Lee, ultimately felt that they weren't in control, either. Lee sees himself as playing a role in God's divine plan, and Longstreet has a sense of being swept along by fate toward defeat.

It's probably easy to think that you're free during everyday life, when you don't usually face any life-or-death challenges. But what if you were swept up in a war? Would you feel free if you were trapped in a whirlpool of historical forces?

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. Are our destinies determined by fate or free will—or by some combination of both?
  2. Do you see some sort of fate or design at work in the Battle of Gettysburg, as it presented in this novel? Do you think the destinies of nations are controlled by fate?
  3. Does Lee's sense of playing a role in a greater plan blind him to different choices he could have made to fight the battle differently?
  4. Do you act differently if you believe that your actions are fated rather than freely chosen? Is one way of looking at the problem more helpful than the other?

Chew on This

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will." – Jawaharlal Nehru

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