Study Guide

Shane

by Jack Schaefer

Shane Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Shane has sixteen chapters falling into three five-chapter parts and an epilogue. In chapter 1, Shane rides into a Wyoming valley and meets the Starretts. In chapter 6, Chris is introduced. In chapter 11, Stark Wilson enters.

Bob Starrett, the narrator, observes Shane riding one summer afternoon into the valley where the Starretts have a farm and small herd of cattle near a town dominated by Luke Fletcher and his rowdy ranch hands. Shane courteously asks for water but is persuaded by Joe Starrett, Bob’s husky father, to share supper prepared by Marian, Joe’s hospitable wife, and remain overnight. Next day, when a peddler delivers a cultivator and seeks to overcharge Joe, Shane quotes the correct price and coldly faces down the irate peddler. Joe and Shane then have an epic battle with the stump of an enormous tree. Watching fascinated, Marian lets her apple pie burn. Accepting Joe’s job offer, Shane performs many chores with fierce, smooth energy but remains apart. One day when Bob is playing with a broken pistol, Shane demonstrates his skill with his own revolver; he defines a gun as only a tool, good or bad like its owner.

Luke Fletcher returns from Washington, D.C., having wangled an Indian reservation beef contract. He spreads the word that he now requires the whole range and plans to buy the land or scare the farmers off it. Worried neighbors meet at Joe’s house for his advice. Shane takes a broken forklift to town for repair, and he is insulted at the saloon by Chris, a nice but reckless Fletcher hand. Shane quietly buys some soda pop for...

(The entire section is 648 words.)

Shane Overview

Shane's enduring and widespread popularity attests to the novel's compelling and exciting plot, which pits a greedy, land-hungry range...

(The entire section is 222 words.)

Shane Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

In the summer of 1889, Bob Starrett is just a boy. He sees a horseman riding down the road toward the small town. The sight is nothing remarkable for Wyoming, but then Bob sees some cowhands stop to stare intently at the rider, and that is unusual. The man rides steadily through town until he reaches the fork in the road near the Starrett ranch. Luke Fletcher’s “big spread” is to the left, and to the right are the smaller homestead ranches all in a row up the valley. The man stops and considers before leading his horse to the right.

As the rider gets closer, the boy is impressed by the man’s clothes: dark pants tucked into tall boots, matching jacket neatly strapped to his saddle, wide leather belt, rich brown shirt, black silk handkerchief, and black hat with a brim that sweeps down to shield his face. None of it is new, yet it has “a kind of magnificence.” This man is unlike any other Bob has ever met.

Then the boy is impressed by the man himself. The stranger is short and has a rather slight build, but every move he makes is powerful and effortless. The man’s face is clean-shaven, brown, and lean; his eyes are alert, searching in all directions and not missing a single detail. That searching gaze creates a sudden chill in the boy, though he is standing in the sun. The man rides easily, relaxed in the saddle, yet there is an underlying tension as well: “It is the easiness of a coiled spring, of a trap set.”

The rider stops twenty feet from the boy. He glances at Bob, dismisses him, and then looks at the ranch. The place is not big, but it is a good, solid place thanks to Bob’s father. It has a small corral, a tightly fenced pasture, a small but solid barn, and some alfalfa and potato fields. Marian Starrett’s kitchen garden is behind the three-room house; her husband has plans to add a parlor. The wooden porch runs the length of the house and the house is painted white with green trim,...

(The entire section is 794 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

Bob sleeps late and finds his father and Shane eating breakfast. Shane reveals his parents were from Mississippi but settled in Arkansas; he left home at fifteen. The Starrett home is generally “warm with good feeling,” and it is especially so this morning. A summer storm arrives as Shane prepares to leave. Marian insists he must not leave until tomorrow—after the storm has passed and the roads are fit for travel. Bob can see that Shane likes the idea but is also somewhat worried about it.

Starrett agrees with his wife and offers to stop work for the day and show Shane around the homestead. Marian will make a deep-dish apple pie and insists she wants to hear all about what city women are wearing; Shane is the type of man who would notice and be able to tell her. As soon as Shane agrees to stay, Marian begins asking him fashion questions. Starrett is not particularly interested until Shane starts talking about the annual stock show in Dodge City.

When the sun is shining again, the two men and Bob begin the tour. Starrett does most of the talking, enthusiastically sharing all of his plans. He sees that Shane has stopped listening; he is staring at a stump, the “one bad spot” on the property. It is old and jagged across the top, big enough around to seat an entire family, and roots twist out in every direction. Some roots are as big around as Bob’s waist.

Starrett has been occasionally working at the stump, but the wood is so hard that an ax will only sink in about a quarter of an inch, and fire only seems to make the wood even harder. Starrett admits this is his one defeat, but he is determined to win the battle. Once again Shane is paying attention to something else—a horse coming down the road. As he sees a horse and wagon easily navigate the passable road, he quietly accuses Starrett of being a poor liar. Starrett chuckles.

The man in the wagon is Jake Ledyard. He comes through every few months...

(The entire section is 776 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

It is exciting for Bob to watch Shane and his father attack the stump together, but Bob finally leaves and runs into his mother coming around the corner of the barn. She looks as pretty as he has ever seen her, wearing her best dress and a hat adorned as Shane had described. The men are so absorbed in their task they do not even notice her arrival.

Finally she asks the men if they like her hat. Shane says she has it right, though the city women’s brims are wider. Starrett tells her she is the best-looking thing God ever created, hat or no hat—and will she please stop bothering them. Marian is outraged and says this is an odd way to spend a day of rest, but Starrett assures her this is the “best resting he’s had for about as long as he can remember.” She harrumphs at them and announces that dinner is waiting.

The meal is accompanied by Marian’s polite chatter, but it is clear that the men are eager to get back to their task. After they leave, Marian asks Bob what happened to set the men against the stump. He tries to explain about Ledyard and the cultivator, but he must have used the wrong words because she is suddenly “flushed and excited” and asks how Shane frightened him. The boy tries to explain he was mostly just afraid of “whatever it was that might happen.” Marian understands that and has felt the same way; she hopes her husband knows what he is doing.

No matter where Bob wanders, he can hear the chopping and grows tired just thinking about the exertions of his father and Shane. Later in the afternoon he discovers his mother standing on a box and peeking at them through a little stall window. Although there is something childish about the men’s actions, there is also “something splendid in the battle they are giving that old monster.”

Marian returns her hat to normal and takes the men a pan of biscuits. They stop to eat and splitting the last one with an ax to give each an equal...

(The entire section is 796 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary

Bob had trouble getting to sleep last night, thinking about all things the adults in his world did yesterday that he did not really understand. Shane seemed closer than family in some ways, though at times he is absolutely unapproachable. Bob’s parents somehow seem more alive. Bob understands that, as he feels the same way; however, he wonders how a man “so deep and vital in his own being” is also a lone rider with a “closed and guarded past.”

Bob wakes late, suddenly afraid he might have missed Shane’s leaving. The adults are drinking coffee at the table and Bob blurts out his fear. Shane looks at the boy seriously and says he would never forget him. Shane compliments Marian on her cooking, and Starrett...

(The entire section is 803 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

Soon it seems as if Shane has always been part of the Starrett household. The amount of work the two men accomplish is astounding, and the Starretts will be able to raise even more cattle next year because of their efforts. It is obvious that Shane has had some experience driving cattle, and he seems happy here.

It is the happiest summer of Bob’s life. The undercurrent of trouble in the valley seems to have dissipated. Fletcher has been gone most of the summer, trying to get new contracts for his cattle. While he is gone, Fletcher’s ranch hands are rowdy in town but rarely cause any real trouble. The homesteaders actually like these men, and relations are surprisingly friendly.

Bob’s hero has always...

(The entire section is 563 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

Just as summer fades, so does the spirit of friendship in the valley. Fletcher is back and needs more room for his cattle so he can fulfill his new contracts. Though he promises to pay the homesteaders a good price, the ranchers know they would be cheated and have no intention of leaving.

There is no law enforcement anywhere near, and it has never been necessary. The town began with a few miners and is now little more than a roadside settlement Grafton’s building is the biggest in town. It is half general store and half saloon, with several rooms for living quarters in the back. There are several rooms upstairs for an occasional boarder, as well. Grafton is the postmaster and serves as a kind of magistrate when...

(The entire section is 814 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

Starrett and Shane were right: Chris has called Shane a coward and Fletcher begins to press his advantage. Fletcher and his foreman, Morgan, keep their men poised to cause trouble at every opportunity. Fletcher’s men begin riding slowly by at every opportunity, staring insolently at each ranch. Soon they begin hurling pig farmer insults at Starrett. Though it is crude and coarse and childish, it is also effective. Everyone but Shane is insulted and has trouble hiding it. The other homesteaders are beginning to wonder if Shane really might be the coward Chris claims he is.

Contempt is growing everywhere, and the neighbors begin to resent Shane for bringing shame on them. Because of that, the other homesteaders also...

(The entire section is 800 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

Shane has changed. His summer serenity is gone and he is now “restless with some far hidden desperation.” Sometimes he walks on the farm alone, seeming to find some peace in what he sees and touches there. Bob often follows him, and one night he asks Shane to teach him to fight like he fought Chris in the bar. For a long time the man does not answer, but he finally tells the boy it is something a man just knows and cannot be learned.

Suddenly Shane feels as if he has to justify what he did, asking Bob if he understands that Shane had no choice, that he gave Chris a chance to keep his self-respect without fighting. It is more than Bob can understand now, and he remains silent. Shane repeats that Chris could have...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

Peace settles over the valley for a short time. Since the fight with Chris, Fletcher’s men no longer ride by and taunt the ranchers; they are busy building the new corrals which they will need after Fletcher’s spring cattle drive. Despite that, Starrett is just as watchful as Shane now and the two men always work together; Starrett has even begun wearing his gun all the time. It is a beautiful autumn and it is hard to believe that violence could break out so quickly.

On Saturday evenings, the Starretts and Shane take the wagon into town, something they all look forward to each week. Marian buys her supplies for the week and visits with the other women. Starrett turns in his order to Grafton and then goes for the...

(The entire section is 745 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

Morgan is on the ground and the saloon is silent. Shane does not look at anything or anyone except the Starretts, and it seems to Bob that it hurts Shane to see them there. Though he is “battered and bloody,” he is amazingly quiet. During the fight, everyone could see the “splendor of movement, the flowing brute beauty of line and power in action.” Now that the fight is over, everyone believes that Shane is “tireless and indestructible.” He is still and the fire of his anger has subsided; he is a man who has suffered a brutal beating.

As he starts to walk toward the Starretts, Shane sways and almost falls. When one of the other men in the room moves to help him, Shane stands erect and keeps walking; it is...

(The entire section is 632 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

Bob does not understand everything, but he is not worried because his father says it will be all right. Fletcher’s men never bother the homesteaders now and are rarely even seen in town; Fletcher is far away. Starrett and Shane stay even closer together and are even more wary; they stay in the house at night and Starrett’s rifle is polished and ready. Bob thinks the trouble with Fletcher is over, but Shane laughs and says it has just begun.

Starrett explains that Fletcher has to make his stand now or he will eventually be shoved out of the valley, though this is a battle Fletcher would rather not have to fight. He has made this a win-or-lose proposition, and just because things are quiet does not mean that nothing...

(The entire section is 792 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

It is a beautiful morning, and the Starretts and Shane eat a leisurely breakfast before the two men do their chores and go to town. After they ride off for Wright’s funeral, Bob mopes around the house, unable to settle into anything for long. Later Marian sees him standing and staring down the road and plays Parcheesi with him on the porch, squealing like a child whenever she makes a good play. After that, she brings out apples and books, reading aloud to her son until she has to hurry to fix dinner for the men.

It is almost like a holiday when Starrett and Shane come home as no one had worked all day and the adults are determined not to let the business with Fletcher ruin their day. Wright’s funeral was good....

(The entire section is 765 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

Bob asks his father what he will tell Fletcher tonight. As soon as he asks it, Bob realizes how significant the answer to that question will be for all of them. The boy is growing up, for he knows what his father will tell Fletcher and he knows his father will have to be the one to tell Fletcher in person. This knowing causes the beautiful day to turn chill and dark.

None of the adults says anything, but Bob senses they are “somehow closer in the stillness there on the porch” than they have ever been. They are all aware that Fletcher has caught Starrett in a maneuver that he cannot avoid because he will not avoid it.

Starrett finally sits and smokes a pipe, Shane settles into a chair and looks off into...

(The entire section is 783 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

Bob waits until Marian is tending to his father before he slips outside and sees Shane leaving the barn. Bob’s heart sinks when he sees Shane carrying his saddle and saddle-roll. When Shane whistles softly for his horse, Bob knows he has to run or he will not get to town in time.

Bob has never run so fast but knows he cannot let Shane see him. As he approaches the boy’s hiding spot, Shane is “tall and terrible there in the road, looming up gigantic in the mystic half-light.” This is the man Bob saw on the first day Shane appeared in the valley, the “symbol of all the dim, formless imaginings of danger and terror.” Unable to help himself, Bob cries out as he stumbles, and Shane has the boy in his strong,...

(The entire section is 812 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

When Bob arrives back home, Joe and Marian Starrett are sitting in the kitchen almost exactly where he left them. Starrett looks haggard and has an ugly red mark on the side of his head. Neither Starrett gets up when Bob and Weir walk through the door; neither of them even scolds their son for following Shane. Bob crawls into his mother’s lap, something he has not done for years; Starrett just stares until Weir finally speaks. He tells Starrett all his troubles are over.

Starrett already knows Shane killed Wilson because he knows Shane, but he is surprised to learn that Shane also killed Fletcher. Starrett explains that Shane wanted to do this by himself and that waiting to hear what happened was one of the most...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

Shane has been gone for a while. The people in town and the school children love to talk about Shane and his exploits. They create fantastic tales and make grand speculations about him, but Bob never does those things.

The awful night of the shootout in Grafton’s saloon is now a legend. Countless details have been added as the story spreads, just as the town has grown and spread up the river banks. Bob never bothers to correct any falsehoods he hears, no matter how strange or outrageous the stories become. Shane belongs to Bob and his parents, and no wild fabrications will ever alter that fact.

Marian is right. Shane is there on the farm and he is in each of them. Whenever Bob needs him, Shane is there....

(The entire section is 407 words.)

Lori Steinbach, Ed. Scott Locklear