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Jack Schaefer


Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


Coming of Age

Schaefer chooses Bob Starrett as the narrator very carefully—he wants Shane and the events in the book to be seen through the eyes of a boy. He wants the experience of knowing Shane to be a learning experience and one that aids in the development of Bob Starrett. The concept of being a man comes full circle—Bob, as a boy, realizes that Shane is the kind of man he wants to be and is changed as a person because of that realization. Bob is lucky to grow up with not just one role model in his father Joe, but also with Shane—two amazing people to serve as examples as he changes from a boy to a man.

What It Means to Be a Man

Shane and Joe regard each other so highly because each thinks the other is a real man. Shane often talks about what a man must do (such as leave after killing another man). At another point he tells Marian that if he separated her in the situation with the farm, he would not be much of a man. Schaefer inundates us with the concept of a real man throughout the entire book. Shane is the exemplification of a real man, and he sets the standard by which he acts and to which he conforms all of his conduct. In the novel, the principal characters define what it means to be a man as being true to one's word, being loyal, having trust in others, fulfilling commitments, never getting violent unless there is absolutely no other way, and acting in accordance with basic chivalry. The single criterion that separates the heroes from the villains in this book is the real man standard. Joe and Shane are men; Fletcher is not.

Different Kinds of Danger, Different Kinds of Fear

The concept of danger surfaces in the first chapter when Marian calls Shane dangerous. He is dangerous, but only in certain ways and to certain people. He is dangerous to people who threaten his ideals and freedom, but he is the least dangerous person imaginable to people like Joe—people who exemplify all that in which he believes. The only people who fear or dislike Shane are his adversaries, and they fear him, not just physically, but also for that which he represents. Good and bad in the book can be observed simply by seeing who is afraid of Shane and who is not, once the initial intimidation of Shane's enormous presence wears off.



One of the qualities that make Shane and Joe real men is their loyalty. Shane will always be there for Joe, and Joe will always be there for Shane, a fact of which they are both aware. They never have to worry about being alone, and they never have to worry about fending for themselves. There is a comfortable blanket of assurance that ties them together. The other men in the town serve as a litmus test for loyalty. During the time when Chris is teasing Joe and Shane, many of the farmers begin to lose respect for them and start drifting to Fletcher's point of view. However, by the end they believe that Joe and Shane are right, and even Chris commits to helping the Starretts.


One of the first characteristics Bob notices about Shane is the fact that he never stops watching. Shane sits so that he can see who's coming to the door, and Shane never simply relaxes. Shane's wariness becomes more pronounced as the situation with Fletcher escalates. Even Joe begins to adopt that sort of vigilance, and he and Shane work alongside each other, always watching each other's backs. The vigilance suggests that Shane has been surprised before and will not let that happen again; in other words it suggests experience and wisdom in situations such as these. A real man never gets taken by surprise and is always ready to serve if needed.

Love of a Different Name

For a protagonist in Western fiction, there is a lot of tenderness in Shane. Contrary to most stoic cowboys, he has terribly strong feelings of love for all of the Starretts. The love Marian, Joe, and Bob feel for Shane is of an intensity that most people only feel for members of their immediate family. In fact, Shane does become part of their family—the extent to which they love one another bridges the genetic gap.


The Tree Stump

The old tree stump was the bane of Joe's existence for a long time, and, as such, it symbolizes old struggles. The second day Shane comes to the house, Shane helps him uproot it, which, along these lines, signifies the overcoming of an obstacle. But, even though the old problem is gone, it is soon replaced by a new problem. The stump, additionally, symbolizes the power of both men as a team—Joe could not uproot the stump by himself, but in a matter of a day or two he and Shane are able to do it together.

Shane's Fence Post

Marian uses this physical symbol to remind Joe how attached he really is to the farm. She also uses it to remind him that Shane will forever be a part of the place. The fence post is juxtaposed to the tree stump—they bookend the text, the stump coming right at the beginning and the fence post coming right at the end. Joe is unable to budge the fence post that Shane put there, demonstrating that there is permanence to Shane's affect on their lives. The fence post also suggests that the Starretts belong there and that no one should move them.


Bob notices how strange it is that Shane does not carry a gun. It is surprising for a man to look so dangerous without even having a gun on him. The gun is attached to the stripping away of manhood. Shane, a real man, does not need to carry a gun. Only at the end does he use or touch his gun, and when he does it is only to do the single thing he thinks is most reprehensible. It is not accidental that the only time Shane uses a gun he does something that he believes reflects so poorly on who he is that it calls into question whether or not he is really a man.

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