Heroism, Home, and the Telling of Shane
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FORREST G. ROBINSON Heroism, Home, and the Telling of Shane The title character of Jack Schaefer's classic, Shane, may be said to embody virtually all of the qualities usually associated with the Western hero—or, indeed, more generally with the Ametican hero. He is handsome, youthful, even boyish. Joe Starrett, the proud homesteader who befriends Shane, remarks to the gunfighter: "There's still a lot ofkid in you." Young Bob Statrett, Joe's son and only child, goes on: "The first teal smile I had seen yet flashed across Shane's face. 'Maybe. Maybe there is at that.'"1 He is utterly independent and self-reliant— "cool and competent," Bob observes, at a climactic moment, "facing that room full of men in the simple solitude of his own invincible completeness" (254). He is "as self-sufficient as the mountains" (161). And, when the chips are down, he reminds Bob's father, "There's no man living can tell me what I can't do. Not even you, Joe" (243). He is solitary, taciturn, socially remote. "Shane was not anxious to meet people. He would share little in their talk" (124). He has no respect for the other homesteadets, and he makes no effort to disguise his contempt (165). He is itinerant and homeless—"I was fiddle-footed and left home at fifteen" (77), he declares—and disinclined to talk at any length about his past. "He had no news about himself," says Bob: "His past was fenced as tightly as out pasture" (71). As Bob insists at the novel's end, Shane's origins are mythical, intertwined with the destiny of the region and the nation, and somehow subsumed in the latitude of his autonomy and the depth of his self-completeness. "He was the man Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 1, Spring 1989 Copyright © 1 989 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 004-1610 Shane73 who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane" (274). "No bullet can kill that man," observes another of the homesteaders; "Sometimes I wonder whether anything ever could" (266). Shane's autonomy and invincibility are inseparable from his spareness and simplicity. He is uneducated. This apparent lack is in fact a source of strength, fot there is no veneer of sophistication to obstruct or obscure his natural, integral authority. "What a man knows isn't important," says Joe. "It's what he is that counts" (119). It is knowledge of farming that Starrett has in mind, but his words point toward the larger futility of "book-learning." Thus Shane is a man of very few words. When he speaks, he does so primarily with actions. He says nothing to Joe about uprooting the enormous stump that stands near the farmhouse. Instead, without so much as a word's warning, he assaults it, and Joe soon joins him in the silent, exhilarating test of strength. The episode advances through two brief, tellingly silent tableaus . As the work begins in earnest, the men's "eyes met over the top of the stump and held and neithet of them said a word. Then they swung up their axes and both of them said plenty to that old stump" (93). Much later, when the work is finally done, "they both looked up and their eyes met and held as they had so long ago in the morning hours. " Bob goes on: The silence should have been complete. It was not because someone was shouting, a high-pitched, wordless shout. I realized that the voice was mine and I closed my mouth. The silence was clean and wholesome, and this was one of the things you could never forget whatever time might do to you in the furrowing of the years, an old stump on its side with toot ends making a strange pattern against the glow of the sun sinking behind the far mountains and two men looking over it into each other's eyes. (107-08) This wordless communication between the two men is a stage in the deep moral and emotional bonding between...


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