Shaara weaves a complex story with many themes and motifs. The struggles include large, life-altering ones: good versus evil; man against himself, his environment, or his opponent; and small mundane ones, such as how the lack of shoes started a major battle.
Someone once said that all themes are really about good against evil. If that is so, this novel shows that the outcome of good versus evil is not a black or white answer. Good people make bad decisions, questionable people perform heroically, and great victories occur in the midst of miserable situations. Shaara does not make one side good and the other bad, and no character is cast as the ultimate villain. They are all just men, imperfect men, struggling to do their best in a bad situation.
If there is any evil or villain in this story, it is circumstance — the war, the differences of opinion, the changing technology of weapons, the physical conditions, the miscommunications. Were it not for circumstance, many of these men currently on opposite sides would be united as family or sharing a drink as friends.
Essentially, who or what man battles, or even how those battles turn out, is irrelevant. The main theme of this novel is about how one responds to challenges . . . to life itself. There are any number of struggles in this story, and any number of enemies in life. The ultimate question is How will you face them? What choices will you make, and why? Things such as duty, honor, freedom, dignity, spirit, pride, courage, and determination all play a role in the outcome, and Shaara demonstrates this with his characters.