Shane represents Schaefer's beliefs regarding what makes a man and what we should admire in people we consider heroes. Shane is not the average gunslinger—he does not like to fight, and he does not even carry a gun. Rather, he is loyal and minds his own business, fighting only if it is unavoidable. He is quiet and does not brag or even talk about himself much at all. It appears that Shane has been around the block a time or two, having visited many parts of the country and been involved in many dangerous situations—part of the reason he is so accurate when he predicts what Fletcher will do is because this is not a new situation to him. Shane does not seem to be afraid of anything and never shirks a responsibility, even if it is one that could get him killed.
Shane loves Joe, Marian, and Bob and would do anything at all for any of them. He teaches Bob about becoming a man, encouraging Bob not to let people like Chris goad him into fighting. He also does not carry a gun, teaching Bob that strength and power do not come from the equipment one carries, but from within. He represents a firmness and dependability that everyone in the Starrett family grows to depend on. When Shane is around there is a general feeling of well being and that nothing harmful can occur. He is the very personification of stability.
It is difficult to find explicit proof of Shane's feelings for the Starretts. He does not talk much—the only dialogue he has are the very brief exchanges he has with Marian. Instead, Shane is a man of action. His feelings are apparent in how hard he works for the family and the fact that he is their protector. He does not complain once throughout the entire book, even after he is injured or shot. He is a man who interfaces with the world in a matter-of-fact manner, demonstrating the utmost integrity at all times. Schaefer creates such a perfect hero that there is no observable flaw in Shane's character.
Bob takes the reader out of the realm of adulthood. Looking at Shane and life through his eyes allows a different perspective; it is one of awe and reverence and one tempered by the boyishness of the Old West. Bob fancies guns and pretends to shoot Indians. He is a good boy, but his character is by no means developed. The impact Shane has on him is observable throughout and is probably greater than Shane's impact on any one other person. Before Shane came along, Bob used to admire Fletcher and his men. After meeting Shane, Bob has a completely new definition of what it means to be a real hero and finally has a real role model to fill that spot. Bob learns that being a man is not about toting guns or asserting dominance over others. He learns that being a man is about doing the right thing, and he looks to Shane time and time again for demonstration. Shane also affirms Bob's opinion about his father. Bob sees Shane's deep respect and loyalty to Joe, and Bob knows that his father is not like Fletcher's men, but is more like Shane—respectable and a true hero.
Joe is the understated hero of the book. Next to most people, he is a dominant respectable force—people often look to him as a hero. The only person who dwarfs Joe is Shane, but Joe is secure enough in his manhood that he never exhibits any jealousy toward Shane. He acknowledges that Shane is a better man and exhibits love for Shane and not resentment for all his good qualities. This knowledge makes him want to glean as much from Shane as possible—his companionship, his friendship, his hard work at the farm. Joe's immediate embracing of Shane and Shane's character demonstrates that Joe knows a good man when he sees one and explains why he will not let Shane slip away. Like Shane, Joe comes through as well, even rescuing Shane from a dangerous situation. The relationship between them is mutual—they both give and take from each other in an easy, egalitarian fashion. Their relationship is based on their being tandem characters, who possess the same values.
Marian is more complex than she initially seems, since at first she concentrates on baking wonderful meals and altering her hat to make it adhere to the current fashions. However, she is more canny than originally observable. She knows how much the situation with Fletcher affects Shane, and she serves to try and protect Shane from it as much as possible, if only by giving him an outlet to voice his concerns. She loves and supports Shane in much the same way she loves and supports Joe, and for a while it almost feels as if she has two husbands because the bond between her and both of the men is so strong. She never has to choose between the men and never makes any effort to conceal her feelings. She is also a straight-shooter, acknowledging her feelings to both Shane and Joe and, thus, exhibiting the same kind of honesty and loyalty they do.
Fletcher is not a particularly deep character. He fills a somewhat typical role as an adversary and villain in this book. The situation with him escalates slowly throughout the book, giving a sense of credibility at the end when the only resolution and finality is achieved through death. Fletcher is a foil for both Joe and Shane, and he represents what many people misleading believe is a true man. Eventually, good and truth triumph over evil, and Fletcher is beaten once and for all.