Shane Analysis

The attraction to the mysterious man named Shane is shared equally by the novel’s narrator and parents and those who are reading his recollection. That attraction seems unquantifiable except as it relates to loyalty, but loyalty alone hardly seems to justify feelings toward Shane that sometimes seems to verge almost into the realm of spiritual devotion. The opening scene of the novel portrays the arrival of a figure who hardly seems likely to invest such devotion.

Shane is described as a man of average build—almost frail—wearing worn patchwork clothing about whom there was nothing that seemed immediately remarkable or out of the ordinary. Despite this, something about the mysterious stranger on horseback sent a chill down the spine of the young boy the narrator was at the time. There is in those opening paragraphs something that would be recreated in the opening scene of a made-for-TV movie intended as a pilot for a series in the early 1970’s set at a traffic light in the city.

Guy in station wagon: Taking a trip?

Guy on motorcycle: Yeah.

Guy in station wagon: Where to?

Guy on motorcycle: Oh, I don't know. Wherever I end up I guess.

Guy in station wagon: Man, I wish I was you.

The movie and TV show was titled Then Came Bronson and the guy on the motorcycle was Bronson, a not particularly remarkable man who had just decided to quit his job and travel by bike around the country in an existential search for meaning and identity. More than a few reviewers pointed out the symbolic connection between straddling a Harley-Davidson and a straddling a horse and this opening scene in particular situated his status as a loner standing outside the mainstream by having the guy who who sees in Bronson something enigmatic driving that 1960’s emblem of conformity, the homestead on the highway: the station wagon. No room is given nor necessary to question why station wagon guy would wish to be Bronson despite knowing nothing about him and seeing nothing particularly outstanding there beside him at the stoplight.

Bronson was understood to be the contemporary incarnation of the existential drifter who briefly enters the lives of the conformists necessary for creating the stability that allows society to grow and the wilderness to be civilized. The story of Shane that Bob Starrett recalls so vividly from a position of maturity decades after the events of the narrative is one that has become an especially common trope on television where each week can present a new adventure. Bronson is far from the only latter-day Shane to come and affect change in the lives of strangers and then leave just as mysteriously. The existential drifter has reappeared in the days of the Old West as a martial arts master named Caine in Kung-Fu and in the movies he reappeared as The Man with No Name.

Shane is the iconic model for the template of the modern folk hero of whom folks are fond of asking “Who was that mysterious stranger?” He does not set out to deliver justice, but if called upon that is what he will do. In this way, Shane and his offspring differ from the Lone Ranger or Superman. In fact, his lack of any particularly remarkable attributes also means that Doctor Who cannot be considered progeny as a result of his control over the TARDIS, but Sam Beckett’s utter inability to control his quantum leaps through time and space can be considered a latter-day Shane. The unifying aspect of the Shane archetype apart from his seeming ordinariness is that he transforms the lives of good people for the better and then moves on. And that quality is also what makes his mysterious quality so attractive.

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