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Free Online Study Guide-Shane by Jack Schaefer-BookNotes Summary/Synopsis
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The novel is named after and revolves around the protagonist and main character, Shane. He is a gunman who wanders on to Joe Starrett's land and into his life. Shane proves his deep friendship to Joe by fighting with Fletcher and safeguarding Joe's piece of land.


Shane's antagonist is Luke Fletcher, a greedy landowner. Shane must fight him to prove his friendship and loyalty to Joe, for Fletcher is trying to seize Joe's land.


Shane confronts Fletcher and his assistant, Wilson, about their underhanded tactics in trying to take Joe's land from him. The ensuing battle is gory and fierce with Shane first shooting and killing Wilson. When Fletcher fires at Shane, he responds by shooting and killing Fletcher. Fletcher's death saves Joe's land, but ends Shane's calm and tranquil life on the Starrett farm.


The novel ends as a tragic comedy. Shane succeeds in proving his loyalty to Joe and saving his land, but he kills two men in the process. As a result, Shane knows that he cannot remain in the valley. He leaves without even saying farewell. The novel ends with his walking out into the night in search of an unknown future.


The novel opens with the entrance of a mysterious stranger into the life of Joe Starrett, a moral, hardworking Wyoming farmer. The stranger reveals little about himself except that his name is Shane. Joe, however, trusts the man and offers to let him stay on the farm. Before long, Shane becomes a part of the household. To Joe, he is a worker and friend on whom he can rely. To Joe's son, Bob, he becomes a hero. To Joe's wife, Marian, Shane becomes a dear companion.

While staying on the farm, Shane fights his own emotional torment. He longs to settle down as a farmer and forget his past deeds as a gunman, which haunt him. When he learns about the tensions in the village, he does not want to become involved, fearing his own reactions. He cannot, however, stand by and let Fletcher, a wealthy and greedy villager, seize the land of Joe and the other farmers who have homesteaded their farms. In the end, he decides he must use his ability as a gunman to fight for Joe and protect his farm. Although he realizes that his involvement will probably end in bloodshed, he feels his must prove his loyalty and friendship to Joe.

The duel takes place in the saloon. Shane first shoots and kills Wilson, Fletcher's assistant. When Fletcher fires on Shane and injures him, he kills Fletcher as well. Fearing he will never again be accepted or trusted in the valley, Shane decides to leave immediately, without even saying goodbye to the Starrett family that he has come to love.

Joe and Marian are crushed that Shane departs without even saying farewell or allowing them to say thanks for saving their farm; but they know that Shane has positively touched their lives forever.


Major Theme

The major theme of the novel is the difficulty of escaping one's past. Throughout the book, Shane intensely struggles to forget his past and live a normal, civilized life. Although the mystery behind Shane is never revealed fully, the words that slip out of his mouth, in moments of intense emotion, reveal the gunman's inner torment. He is fighting a losing battle against his own history. In the end, his past succeeds in resurfacing and leaving Shane to accept it with resignation.

Minor Theme

A minor theme of the novel is the innocence of childhood. Although Joe and Marian Starrett accept and care about Shane, they are somewhat suspicious and uncomfortable about his past. Bob, their young son, however, idolizes the gunman without question. In the boy's eyes, Shane is perfect - incapable of doing wrong. The youth's idealism and beliefs do not lessen in the novel, and in the end, he is convinced that Shane is the strongest and best man in the entire world.


The predominant mood of the novel is somber as Shane broods in silence over his past wrongs as a gunman. When he develops a friendship with the Starretts, there are some lighter moments. Although he is a man of few words, Shane sometimes banters with Marian, breaking the sober mood. When the conflict with Fletcher flares up, the mood intensifies. As he frets over the problem with Fletcher and how to handle it, he is filled with torture and agony. Marian notices the change in her friend and worries deeply for him. The dark mood continues until the end of the book, when Shane feels he must leave the town without even saying a word of good-bye to the Starretts.

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