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Free Online Study Guide-Shane by Jack Schaefer-BookNotes Summary/Synopsis
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The plot of Shane is developed in a straightforward manner through sixteen chapters. Since the narrator is a young boy, it is simple in its presentation. The novel moves systematically from the entrance of the protagonist, through his stay at the Starrett farm, and finally to his departure from the valley.

The first two chapters are largely expository, introducing Marian, Joe, Bob, and Shane, presenting the conflict, and developing the setting. It is obvious from the beginning that Shane is trying to flee from his past. He eagerly accepts Joe's offer to remain at the Starretts as a farmhand. He enjoys the peaceful life that he establishes for himself and feels a part of the household. His life, however, is upset by the return of Fletcher, who is trying to buy up all the land in the valley from the homesteading farmers. Shane's conflict in the book really begins when he feels that the Starretts are threatened by Fletcher and his men.

The rising action of the plot comprises most of the novel. Shane fights and defeats Chris and Morgan, two of Fletcher's men. These small conflicts foreshadow the eventual gun battle that Shane feels he must fight. When Fletcher threatens Joe, Shane accepts the fact that he must again use his gun, which he had hoped to never do again. He was willing, however, to go against his own emotions in order to protect the Starretts, the family he had grown to love.

The climax occurs in the saloon. When Shane enters, Wilson is waiting for him. Shots are fired and Wilson is quickly killed. Then Fletcher fires at Shane from the balcony. Shane swiftly turns and kills Fletcher as well. The plot thus ends in a tragic comedy. Although Shane has succeeded in killing Fletcher, he must now leave the valley and his comfortable life at the farm. The falling action of the novel reveals the departing Shane silhouetted against the moonlight and the emotions of Joe, Marian, and Bob over his departure.

The novel is unified by time, place, character, plot, theme, and mood. The entire novel is set in the Wyoming valley, with all of the action taking place at the Starrett farm and the local saloon. Only a few months pass from the time Shane arrives in town until he kills Fletcher and departs once again. All of the attention in the story is focused on the protagonist, Shane, and few other characters appear within the pages of the novel. From the time of his arrival, Shane is troubled by his past life as a gunslinger. When problems develop with Fletcher, he struggles with the right course of action to follow, for he does not want to fight or use a gun again, preferring to live a quiet, peaceful life on the Starrett farm. A sense of duty and rightness, however, are more important to Shane than his own comfort. He feels it is the correct thing to do to fight Chris, Morgan, Wilson, and Fletcher in order to insure that Joe can keep his land and provide a place for Marian and Bob. The entire plot and the main theme of the novel center on Shane's struggle to do what is right. As a result, the plot is easy to follow, and the novel is tightly unified, having a somber mood throughout


Major Theme

The main theme of the novel is the difficulty of escaping one's past. Shane comes to the Wyoming valley to put his past existence as a gunslinger behind him. He eagerly accepts Joe's offer to become a farmhand and settle down to a comfortable and peaceful life at the Starretts, where he is made to feel like one of the family. He sheds his gunslinger attire and never mentions his background. He also refuses to carry his gun like Joe and the other farmers.

Shane does not have an easy time in the valley. Although he is immediately liked and accepted by the Starretts, he must prove himself to the other farmers, who are suspicious of him and his past. It is only when he sides with them against Fletcher and actually has a fistfight with and defeats Chris, one of Fletcher's men, that he is fully accepted by them.

As the Fletcher conflict heats up, Shane's agony begins. He has become so close to the Starrett family that he wants to help them out of their predicament with Fletcher, but he does not want to revert to the ways of his earlier life as a gunslinger. He fights Chris and Morgan, using only his hands as weapons; but when Wilson arrives in town and shoots Ernie, Shane is afraid he will also need to use his gun. The decision to remove his weapon from hiding and carry it into town is one that is made after a long and intense emotional struggle on his part.

Because of his past life, Shane easily defeats Wilson and Fletcher, shooting and killing them both in the saloon in a matter of moments. He is tortured by his actions, but feels that he has done the right thing, for Fletcher's death insures the safety of the Starretts and their farm. He knows, however, that he cannot remain in the valley, for he will be forever labeled a murderer. As a result, the plot ends with Shane leaving town forever. He is headed to an unknown future where he will have to struggle once again to overcome his past.

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