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Free Study Guide for Shane by Jack Schaefer

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The author intentionally depicts Shane as an enigmatic character, with an aura of mystery surrounding him. He is simply a stranger who rides into the valley, enters into the lives and hearts of the Starrett family, and then leaves the town as quietly as he came. No information about his past is ever given, and his last name is never even mentioned. The townsfolk and the reader are left to infer information about Shane’s past by his dress, his thoughts, and his actions.

Shane is a hard worker who wants no favors. When Joe Starrett offers him a job on his farm, he immediately accepts and does his best to help his employer. He also tries to do extra things to repay Joe for his kindness. When Joe mentions that an old tree stump is a real nuisance to him, Shane begins to dig it up. When Joe goes out of town for work, Shane builds an addition to the house. When Fletcher threatens to take Joe’s farm or harm him, Joe takes matters into his own hands to protect his employer and his land. It is no wonder that Joe, Marian, and Bob learn to love and respect this quiet stranger in their midst.

During the course of the novel, Shane proves that he has a keen, sharp mind. When he deals with Ledyard, the peddler, he manages to strike a better bargain then expected by Joe. When he senses that Marian needs to be comforted, he gently strokes her hair; but he is wise enough not to pursue his attraction to her. Instead, he always leaves her alone with her husband at the appropriate moment.

Shane is also sensitive to the young Bob. He takes time to talk to the boy and explain things about life, especially what is right and wrong. He realizes that Bob looks up to him as a hero, so he is always careful to say and do the right things in front of him. When Bob sneaks out of the house to follow Shane to the saloon, where a fight is sure to take place, Shane scolds him and tells him to go home.

Although Shane never talks about his past, it is obvious that he is very troubled by it. When he comes into the valley, he is dressed like a gunslinger and carries a gun. Once he becomes Joe’s farm assistant, however, he puts away the dress and the gun. His past life, however, seems to haunt him throughout the novel. He does not want to revert to his old fighting ways, but in order to win the respect of the townsfolk and to protect Joe, he is willing to fight. First he beats up Chris and Morgan, two of Fletcher’s hired hands. Then he has a gunfight with Wilson and Fletcher and kills both of them. His admiration for the Starrett family is strong enough to make him do what he does not want to do.

When Shane kills Wilson and Fletcher, he knows he must leave the valley forever. Although he would love to have stayed at the Starrett farm forever, living a quiet, peaceful life far from his past, it was more important for him to protect his employer and his land from Fletcher. When Shane walks out of town after the gunfight, he is headed to an unknown future. Even though he has killed two men, he has earned the respect of the townsfolk and the reader.

Joe Starrett

Joe Starrett is a big, hulk of a man, who lives a quiet life with his family. He has homesteaded a farm in a Wyoming valley, working hard to carve out a place for himself, his wife, and his son. He is proud of his accomplishments and his land. He is also well respected by his family and the surrounding farmers. In fact, he is the unofficial leader of the town. When there are problems with Fletcher, the townsfolk always gather at the Starrett farm and listen to Joe’s advice.

Joe is a kind and trusting man. When Shane arrives on his farm, he immediately asks the stranger to come inside for a meal. Sensing the basic goodness of the man, in spite of his dress and mysterious aura, he offers Shane a job on the farm. When the other farmers have questions about Shane, Joe always stands up for him. He respects Shane for his hard work, for his polished ways, for his kindness, for his strength and skill, and for his willingness to do extra things for him and his family. As a result, he views Shane as a true friend and companion. Knowing that Marian is also attracted to Shane, he admits that Shane is a better man than he is.

During the course of the novel, Joe proves that he has strength and power, just like Shane. When Shane begins to work on removing the tree stump, Joe joins in the effort and uses his muscle to help extract the hunk of wood. When Shane has a fight with Chris in the saloon and gets injured, Joe sees what has happened and joins in the fracas, fighting like a madman.

Joe does not want Shane to get involved in the fight with Fletcher and tells him that Fletcher is not his problem. Shane, however, is insistent that he goes into town alone, and Joe knows he is certain to find Fletcher and fight with him. When he learns from Mr. Weir that Fletcher is dead, Joe is scared that Shane has also been killed. He is relieved to find that his friend is alive, but he is greatly grieved to learn that Shane has left town. He knows that he has lost his best friend. As a result, he thinks about leaving the farm, which will never be the same to him without Shane’s presence. Marian, however, convinces Joe that he must stay, for Shane has killed two men to make certain that the Starrett family can always live on their farm. Joe finally understands the depth of Shane’s sacrifice for the three of them.

Marian Starrett

Marian, Joe's wife, is an ideal spouse and mother, who mindfully tends to all the needs of her husband and her son. She is also a good hostess to Shane. Even though she is a little wary of him in the beginning, she cooks him special things, like pancakes for breakfast and apple pie for dessert.

Marian’s life on the farm is very hard, dull, and routine. Her only diversion is an occasional trip into town, where she can shop in the general store and gossip with some of the other women. As a result, Shane is a breath of fresh air to her. He is willing to converse with her and tell her about life outside the Wyoming valley. He even tells her about the latest fashions. When she learns about the latest style in hats, she trims and ties her own hat to make it more fashionable. When the men do not notice her, she is displeased, and when her husband tells her not to interrupt his work, she is angry.

During the course of the novel, Marian proves that she is also a wise and determined woman. When Joe and Shane are trying to extract the tree stump, she suggests that they use their horses to help them. When she burns the first apple pie that she promised to bake for Shane, she insists upon making another one. When she is attracted to Shane, she guards against her own emotions, knowing that she must be faithful to her husband. When Bob asks questions of her, she always takes time to answer and explain. When Shane is determined to go and fight Fletcher by himself, she makes certain that he is not doing it just for her benefit. When Joe is depressed by Shane’s departure and thinks about leaving the farm, Marian is the one that convinces him he must to honor what Shane has done for them. In every way, Marian proves that she is a woman to be respected.

Bob Starrett

Bob, the young son of Marian and Joe, is the first person narrator of the story. Everything that the reader learns about Shane, Marian, Joe, or the other townsfolk comes from his point of view. Because he tells Shane’s story, it is not surprising that Bob is the first one to spy Shane coming into the valley; he is also the last one to see him leave.

Like Marian, Bob lives a quiet, dull, and routine life in the Wyoming valley, where he goes to school and helps his father with farm chores. As a result, he is very excited to have a mysterious stranger come into his midst. In fact, in Bob's young eyes, Shane becomes the epitome of everything that is brave, courageous, handsome, powerful, humane, and gentle. He is impressed with Shane’s fancy clothing and his fancy gun, for they are more sophisticated than anything he has ever seen in the valley. He is also delighted that Shane will take the time to talk to him and explain things, unlike his own father who has little time for him. It is not surprising, therefore, that Bob sees Shane as the ideal man and a true hero.

Bob wants to follow Shane everywhere he goes. As a result, he always has a ringside seat when Shane gets into a fight. He watches as his hero defeats Chris and Morgan. He also sees him shoot Wilson and Fletcher. He is amazed at the strength, power, and coordination that Shane displays. Like Marian and Joe, Bob is crushed when Shane goes away. Unfortunately, because of his young age, he has a harder time understanding his hero’s departure. Long after Shane leaves, Bob still thinks about him often, and the memories always make him happy.


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