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Free Study Guide for Shane by Jack Schaefer

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Major Theme

The main theme of the novel is the difficulty of escaping one’s past. Shane comes to the Wyoming valley to put his past existence as a gunslinger behind him. He eagerly accepts Joe’s offer to become a farmhand and settle down to a comfortable and peaceful life at the Starretts, where he is made to feel like one of the family. He sheds his gunslinger attire and never mentions his background. He also refuses to carry his gun like Joe and the other farmers.

Shane does not have an easy time in the valley. Although he is immediately liked and accepted by the Starretts, he must prove himself to the other farmers, who are suspicious of him and his past. It is only when he sides with them against Fletcher and actually has a fistfight with and defeats Chris, one of Fletcher’s men, that he is fully accepted by them.

As the Fletcher conflict heats up, Shane’s agony begins. He has become so close to the Starrett family that he wants to help them out of their predicament with Fletcher, but he does not want to revert to the ways of his earlier life as a gunslinger. He fights Chris and Morgan, using only his hands as weapons; but when Wilson arrives in town and shoots Ernie, Shane is afraid he will also need to use his gun. The decision to remove his weapon from hiding and carry it into town is one that is made after a long and intense emotional struggle on his part.

Because of his past life, Shane easily defeats Wilson and Fletcher, shooting and killing them both in the saloon in a matter of moments. He is tortured by his actions, but feels that he has done the right thing, for Fletcher’s death insures the safety of the Starretts and their farm. He knows, however, that he cannot remain in the valley, for he will be forever labeled a murderer. As a result, the plot ends with Shane leaving town forever. He is headed to an unknown future where he will have to struggle once again to overcome his past.


1. Although the details of Shane’s past life are not detailed by the author, it is obvious that he has been a gunslinger. How is this shown in the novel?

2. Fully explain why Shane has come to the valley and how he tries to change his life.

3. Explain how Bob, Joe, and Marian each react to Shane upon first meeting him. What do their very different reactions reveal about his as people?

4. Compare and contrast the physical and emotional side of Joe and Shane.

5. During the course of the novel, how does Joe feel about Shane and how is this revealed?

6. During the course of the novel, how does Bob feel about Shane and how is this revealed?

7. During the course of the novel, how does Marian feel about Shane and how is this revealed?

8. During the course of the novel, how do the other farmers in the valley feel about Shane and how is this revealed?

9. During the course of the novel, how does Shane feel about each of the Starretts and how is this revealed?

10. What is the agony that Shane suffers during the course of the novel? What does he decide to do in the end and why?

11. Explain what happens in the final saloon scene?

12. What is your reaction to having a young boy serve as the narrator of the story? Explain your response.

13. Why does Shane feel he has to leave town? Why does he not say good-bye to Marian and Joe?

14. Does the story end in comedy or tragedy? Support your answer with a full explanation.

15. What is the major theme of the novel and how is it developed?

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