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Written by Timothy Sexton
Not a whole lot of personal information about Shane is provided. In English class terms, Shane would be the type of flat character who gets his creator a B-minus at best. An aura of mystery hangs over Shane throughout the narrative, creating an obstacle to the reader or the characters ever getting to know him. In terms of the real life job creative writing, Shane is definitely worth an A-plus because the real purpose of that obstructive aura is the creation of the ambiguity necessary to transform Shane from a mere western hero into a figure of myth. He is a hero with a darkness in his past and, as such, his mythic being is also endowed with a redemptive element. Redemption of past sins through heroic sacrifice is, at least within a fictional context, far more admirable than a perfectly good person through and through saving the day.
Fans of the brilliant film adaptation know Bob Starrett as Joey, the cute little tow-headed boy who is the first realize that somebody’s coming. Director George Stevens wisely chose to avoid introducing a voice-over narration while still using camera placement as a means of still allowing us to watch the events through the young boy’s eyes. The novel, by comparison, is most assuredly Bob Starrett’s version of events being recalled from a more mature point in the future.
The idea of renaming the little boy in the movie with the diminutive form of his father’s name, thus clearly making him a familial Junior was an excellent alteration of the original source material. Shane is clearly a hero to young Bob and by the end of the book, one has a more stronger feeling that he might even be tempted to choose a life more like Shane’s. That is not going to happen to Joey Starrett in the movie. Joe Starrett is not mythic figure seeking redemption; he is merely a great father, great husband, great friend and devoted to doing his part to extend the frontier. Within that simplicity there is genuine heroism, however, especially in his determination to stand up to the powerful interests of the corporate ranching to come seeking to crush the homesteaders.
Joe’s wife and Bob’s mother. She is as loyal to spouse and child as her husband. Shane represents a potential romantic rival and in a far lesser book he would be. In the hands of a writer looking to create genuine myth rather than the pedestrian romanticizing of reality which passes for myth, it is enough merely to hint at mutual attraction while making it clear that both Shane and Marian consider acting upon such attraction as utterly forbidden.
At the center of corporate ranching power looking to utterly drive the homesteaders out permanently is Luke Fletcher. What’s his beef? Figuratively speaking: he’s got a beef with homesteaders—or squatters from his perspective—stealing his land one small patch at a time. Literally speaking: a contract to sell beef from his cattle to the Sioux represents a financial goldmine that is also threatened by the continued presence of small timers like Starrett. Eventually, Luke Fletcher reaches the point where he’s just not willing to play nice by any stretch of the meaning of the word. And so he brings in a gunslinger to scare off the homesteading holdouts. And those that aren’t scared merely by the presence of a hired gun may get to know the gunslinger a little more intimately.
If Shane is mythic figure of light who arrives seeking redemption through selfless sacrifice, then that must mean by definition he is going to have to make his way through a tortured process of expiation, perhaps even making a blood sacrifice of his own. Stark Wilson is his counterpart; the darkness that is men with a talent for shooting bullets who hire themselves out to the highest bidder and know nothing of this division between what is considered good and what is considered evil. In a way, of course, this almost absolves Stark any murders he actually commits while in the hire of Luke Fletcher. A killer Stark maybe, but when all is said and done he’s just another slob working for the man who will enjoy the fruits of his payment only until that day comes when his finger squeezes the trigger a millisecond too late.
So, then, ultimately one can accurately suggest that very little difference exists between the gunslinger Stark Wilson and the cowboy Chris. They are both getting paid to do the dirty work of an evil intent. Shane would disagree, however. After finally taking the bait the second time Chris goads Shane into a fight, Chris winds up with a broken arm, but he also wins something that Stark Wilson never will: Shane’s grudging respect.
Joe Starrett is not alone in standing up to Luke Fletcher, but the numbers are dwindling. The most shocking moment in the film is also a very dramatic moment in the book. Ernie Wright is singled out for special attention by Stark Wilson for a reason. Fletcher’s goons are more than familiar with the temperament of the homesteaders as they pretty much make a living trying to drive them out of the valley. As a result of this familiarity, they know that Ernie’s quick temper makes him the likeliest to be easily manipulated by Wilson into doing the one thing above all else he should not do: reaching for his gun first in a showdown with Stark.
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