Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is a confession, a belated attempt to clear the record of past stories about Shane, so the speaker’s voice is conversational, direct, confiding in the listener (“And this is what I have come to tell you”). The speaker urges the reader to believe that this telling, told in his final years as a storyteller, is the true story. Joey’s language is marked by simple diction and colloquial turns of phrases: “I’ve read all the books and tried all the counsels of the flesh, too.” He knows the reader knows a certain story about Shane; readers know that he does not know that this story became a famous film three years after he tells his true story in 1950. So Bausch’s “Old West” relies on a number of allusions and recognitions that create amusing ironies, such as when one recalls Alan Ladd in his handsome buckskin outfit and then sees him through the eyes of a disgusted Joey: “His buckskins were frayed and torn, besmirched with little maplike continents of salt stains and sweat.”

“Besmirched” is an apt word not only for Shane’s buckskins but also for his reputation, and reveals something of Bausch’s skillful use of diction—even in a conversational, improvising voice, certain phrases suggest deeper meanings. The style has a playful element as well. Bausch must have enjoyed creating the rantings of Bagley, which are sometimes comic in the tradition of Mark Twain—another debunker of the romance of violence—such as when Bagley shouts in his sermon, “Plagues and wars and bunched towns clenched on empty pleasures and fear, it’s on its way, just hold on!” The overall tone, however, is sobering: Joey’s description of Shane lying dead does not use his name but focuses instead on the thing he had carried: “The man who had brought his gun back into the valley lay at the back wheel of the wagon, face up to the light, looking almost serene.”