Shane : Metaphor
When Marian makes biscuits and delivers them to Joe and Shane as they are working at the stump, Joe is extremely careful to divide them exactly equally. There are an uneven number of biscuits, so he splits the remaining one down the middle with his axe. All this is done without a word passing between them. The division of the biscuits symbolizes Joe’s acceptance of Shane, whom he only met a short while ago, as an equal. Joe seems to be aware that he cannot succeed at his goals without Shane’s assistance. At a deeper level, this absolutely equal partnership between the two suggests Joe’s awareness that because of the threat posed by Fletcher, and the absence of any legal structure to deal with it, he needs to employ, via Shane, the kind of deadly violence that really should be a thing of the past for the homesteaders. But in these days of the Wyoming Territory, the second, civilizing wave of settlers (the homesteaders) have not yet been able to establish a way of settling disputes without violence. So for the time being, if Joe is to succeed, he must partner with the experienced gunslinger, Shane.
Shane’s gun is lovingly described in detail by Bob: It was “the most beautiful weapon I ever saw. Beautiful and deadly-looking” (p. 46). The gun is a single-action Colt, and Bob spends four paragraphs describing every part of it. The gun symbolizes the romantic idea of the gunslinger in the American West—the man may be an outlaw, but he may also be a hero who brings harsh justice in an environment that lacks a formal justice system. Shane of course is the latter, and he is in a sense wedded to his gun. Even when he is showing Bob how to use his old broken pistol, when he takes it in his hand “you knew at once it [the hand] was doing what it had been created to do” (p. 54); the gun seems “an extension of the man himself.”
The big old stump on the Starrett farm symbolizes the still stubborn power of nature that Joe Starrett, in his attempt to impose his own pattern of order on the land, has at the start of the novel failed to remove. It is an eyesore on the land that he prizes. He eventually manages to remove the stump by working in tandem with Shane. The removal of the stump, which has bothered Joe for years, is a symbolic moment, because it shows the power of man to shape the environment according to his own vision. It also shows that such a task is not easy. The land can be stubborn, although humans can triumph in the end if they are prepared to work hard and be completely committed to their task.
The Corner Post
The corner post to the corral is the one that Shane set, as part of his work for Joe as a farmhand. At the end of the novel, after Shane has left, Marian insists that he is still with them. To prove her point, she goes to the corner post and challenges Joe to pull it down. He tries but is unable to. His struggle with the post recalls but also contrasts with his struggle with the old tree stump earlier. The corner post symbolizes not only the continuing presence of Shane in the work he left behind, but the fact that the Starrett family is now firmly rooted in the land, as Marian herself says: “We have roots here now that we can never tear loose” (p. 149). The fact that she uses the word “roots” puts in mind the old stump that Joe and Shane finally managed to uproot near the beginning of the novel. The conquest of the old stump is thus contrasted with thefirmness of the corner post. The former represents the stubbornness of nature and the latterthe putting down of the roots of civilization. The corner post represents the human ability to make a mark on the land and cultivate it and shape it according to human needs and desires.