The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Jack Schaefer’s presentation of characters is complicated by the fact that Bob as narrator must be solely relied on to recall the events. As a child, he is puzzled by much of the adult action and frankly says so; as an adult, he can make a few comments, some analytical, others poetic. Like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Bob is of indeterminant age. He goes to school, plays with a gun, tussles with a chum, but finds comfort once in his mother’s lap.
Not much above average height, Shane is lean and sinewy, quick as a leopard, and often silent, like a predator. When asked his name, he replies, “Call me Shane.” This echoes “Call me Ishmael,” the famous first line of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Or, The Whale (1851). When Shane does speak, his listeners usually take note. Shane both rejects ignorant, cowardly action and shrugs it off by suggesting a fatalism in human events. Bob sees this paladin in epic proportions. Bob loves and respects Joe, whom he always addresses as “Father,” but Shane looms larger than life in his eyes—able, confident, honest, unselfish, and alternately gentle and terrifying. At first, Bob barely comprehends his hero’s career, that of a former gunman eager to shed his reputation by drifting northwest, but partly understands his looking into the distance as though into a shadowy past. Shane helps Bob, lecturing him, buying him a knife, and giving him soda pop. In action, he fulfills the boy’s dream of the...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Shane is filled with familiar character types that appear again and again in movies, television shows, and books about the West. Joe Starrett is a typically stalwart farmer, for example, while his wife Marian is a supportive and "house-proud" frontier woman, a type that the reader of western lore has encountered oh many occasions. Shane himself, dressed all in black and trailing behind him a mysterious past, is a similarly familiar character, as are Fletcher and the malevolent Wilson, the land baron's hired gun.
Schaefer sparks new interest in many of these stock characters, however, by evoking their humanity through their capacity for change, growth, and full emotional lives. For example, Shane continually struggles to cast off his violent past and assume the settled life of a farmer. Therefore, Fletcher's threat to the security of the Starretts and the other farming families sparks internal conflict for Shane: should he simply accept the outrages of Fletcher and carry on with his new life, or should he take up his ebony Colt .45 once again and confront the family's enemy? There is no easy answer to this dilemma, and it continues to pull at Shane throughout much of the novel.
Further, Shane's relationship to the Starretts is complex and often subtle. He genuinely admires and even venerates Joe Starrett; indeed, it is Fletcher's threat to Joe's life that finally compels Shane to reassume his old heroic stature as a gunfighter. Shane is...
(The entire section is 311 words.)