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 adventurous hero; he has eldritch weaponry and a horse of Homeric proportions.
Marian is the nonpareil Starrett. Her husband is burly; he uproots the stump with Shane’s help, and he is valued as a community...
(The entire section is 687 words.)