Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

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.