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Free Study Guide for Shane by Jack Schaefer

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Major Theme

The major theme of the novel is the difficulty of escaping one’s past. Throughout the book, Shane intensely struggles to forget his past and live a normal, civilized life. Although the mystery behind Shane is never revealed fully, the words that slip out of his mouth, in moments of intense emotion, reveal the gunman’s inner torment. He is fighting a losing battle against his own history. In the end, his past succeeds in resurfacing and leaving Shane to accept it with resignation.

Minor Theme

A minor theme of the novel is the innocence of childhood. Although Joe and Marian Starrett accept and care about Shane, they are somewhat suspicious and uncomfortable about his past. Bob, their young son, however, idolizes the gunman without question. In the boy’s eyes, Shane is perfect - incapable of doing wrong. The youth’s idealism and beliefs do not lessen in the novel, and in the end, he is convinced that Shane is the strongest and best man in the entire world.


The predominant mood of the novel is somber as Shane broods in silence over his past wrongs as a gunman. When he develops a friendship with the Starretts, there are some lighter moments. Although he is a man of few words, Shane sometimes banters with Marian, breaking the sober mood. When the conflict with Fletcher flares up, the mood intensifies. As he frets over the problem with Fletcher and how to handle it, he is filled with torture and agony. Marian notices the change in her friend and worries deeply for him. The dark mood continues until the end of the book, when Shane feels he must leave the town without even saying a word of good-bye to the Starretts.

Jack Schaefer - BIOGRAPHY

Jack Warner Schaefer was born on November 19, 1907, in Cleveland Ohio, to Carl Walter and Minnie Luella Schaefer. He attended public schools, where he was a good student. After high school graduation, Schaefer attended Oberlin College, from where he graduated in 1929. For the next year, he did graduate studies at Columbia University. He married Eugenia Hammond Ives in August of 1931. They had three sons and one daughter before they divorced in December of 1948.

Schaefer’s career was devoted to working for various newspapers. His first position was as a reporter for United Press, where he worked from 1930 - 1931. He next worked as an editor for the New Haven Journal-Courier from 1931 - 1942; simultaneously, he served as the assistant director of education for the Connecticut State Reformatory. From 1942 until 1949, he served in editorial positions at the Baltimore Sun, the Norfolk Virginian, and the Shoreliner. He left newspaper work in 1949 to pursue a full-time career in fiction writing. In 1949, he also married Louise Wilhide Deans.

Schaefer’s first and most successful novel, Shane, was published in 1949; four years later it was made into a successful movie. First Blood, his second novel, and a book of short stories entitled The Big Range were published in 1953. The next year Schaefer published The Canyon and another book of stories entitled The Pioneers. In 1955, he published Out West: An Anthology of Stories, followed by Company of Cowards in 1957. In the 1960’s, Schaefer published Old Ramon, The Plainsmen, Monte Walsh, The Great Endurance Horse Race, Stubby Pringle’s Christmas, Heroes without Glory, Collected Stories, Adolphe Francis Alphonse Bandelier, Short Novels, Mavericks, and Hal West: Western Gallery. His work from the 1970’s included An American Bestiary and Conversations with a Pocket Gopher and Other Outspoken Neighbors.

He died on January 24, 1991 in Santa Fe, New Mexico of heart failure.


Although written in 1949, Shane is set in the very early twentieth century and belongs to the genre of literature known as the Western novel. Set in Wyoming, on the far reaches of the frontier, it portrays a small, rough Western town and a group of hard-working farmers who have homesteaded their land. They are portrayed in the typical western fashion, riding horses, toting guns, and possessing fierce pride. They do not trust outsiders, and when Shane arrives in town, all the townsfolk but the Starretts are suspicious of him. In fact, he must beat up a man to prove his worth to them. In the end, he wins their admiration by starting a gunfight and killing two men, who are the nemesis of the farmers. In typical Western fashion, the novel is filled with adventure.


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