I read Shane for the first time to develop the literature unit for our Frontier Heroes theme for middle school. This may have been one of my favorite units to put together this whole school year (I think I say this every month!). For the Frontier Heroes, we used primary sources to tell the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition and we examined the life of Davy Crockett to see how this pop culture icon from the 1950s really was heroic. Then, we capped off this amazing examination of the frontier with the novel by Jack Schaeffer. This has been a favorite of one of our team for a long time. He says it is in his top ten novels of all time but I had never read it. So, I was looking forward to see what he was so excited about. And I can tell you it did not disappoint.
The novel is loosely based on a historic event that occurred in Johnson County, Wyoming in the 1890s that ended up in a heated dispute between the homesteaders and the cattle drivers. In the novel, the Starrett homesteading family takes in a stranger, the title character named Shane. The novel is from the point of view of the young son, Bob. He is idealistic but in a way that fits a young boy living on the frontier who still believes in heroes and right from wrong. Though his eyes, we learn what happens when a powerful cattle driver, Luke Fletcher, challenges the homesteaders on their rights to the land. I will not give a full summary of the story since I do not want to spoil anything. Rather, I want to share with you my reaction to the story.
What struck me at the beginning was the writing. It was engaging from the start as Bob reflects back on this event. Putting the entire narrative in the eyes of a young boy draws the reader in. The reader sees what Bob sees and is given the insight that a young boy would have. This leads a lot of subtext for the reader to figure out, particularly in the actions and interactions of the adult characters. I was most struck with the moral certainty of our hero and the bonds that develop over the course of the novel. I was even moved to tears in the last couple of chapters. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it, and if you have, it is worth a reread as I believe it to be one of those novels that rewards multiple readings.
You can see our course on Shane here.