Shane : Summary: Chapter 6
It is now autumn. Fletcher has returned with a new beef contract and says he needs the whole range. He wants to push the seven homesteaders off their property. He says he will pay a fair price, but the homesteaders are in no mood to go. They have a right to be where they are, guaranteed by the government. They also know that that does not mean much in their remote location. The very small but growing town does not have a sheriff, and the nearest marshal is a hundred miles away.
The homesteaders hold a council at the Starretts’ house. Lew Johnson and Henry Shipstead, two reliable men, arrive first. James Lewis, Ed Howells, Frank Torrey, and Ernie Wright also arrive. Some of the men are confident of their position as homesteaders. They say the land is legally theirs as long as they live on it. Fletcher may talk tough but he is not likely to make serious trouble. Not everyone is convinced, however. The group looks to Joe as their leader, and Joe thinks that Fletcher will only move slowly. He will not start moving cattle until the spring, but during fall and winter he will likely try to put pressure on the homesteaders, especially Joe, whom he dislikes.Joe thinks that Fletcher will first pick on Shane, trying to drive him away, as he managed to do with a former employee of Joe’s named Morley. Morley was beaten up and left town as fast as he could.
The townspeople are very curious about how Shane might react if Fletcher tries to drive him away. Shane does not seem at all worried, though. He offers to go into town to get some tongs repaired, and insists on going in alone. Bob jumps into the wagon as it is moving, and Shane allows him to go with him into town.
After dropping off the welding job with the blacksmith, Shane goes into the saloon, while Bob waits on the porch opposite. Shane orders a drink. Shortly after, two of Fletcher’s cowhands ride up and look in the window of the saloon. One of them, whom Bob does not know, immediately pulls back, goes to his horse, and tells the other man, whose name is Chris, that he is leaving the valley for good. Chris accuses him of being a coward. Chris enters the saloon, while Bob creeps into the store and perches on a box, from where he can observe what is going on in the saloon.
Chris orders a whiskey and soon starts to taunt Shane. He says he is surprised that a farmer drinks whiskey; he thought they drank nothing stronger than soda pop. Shane responds in an even tone. He tells Chris to go home and tell Fletcher to send a grown-up man the next time. Then he orders a soda pop. Chris continues his insults, and Shane stands up and faces him. But instead of fighting, Shane decides to just walk on past Chris and out the door. Mr. Grafton breathes a sigh of relief, and Chris, laughing at what he thinks of as his triumph, also leaves the saloon and rides away.
At the blacksmith’s shop, Shane hands the soda pop to Bob. Shane is serious on the way home. It seems that he rather admired Chris’s courage and realized that Chris was only doing what Fletcher had asked him to do. That was why Shane did not respond with a fight. When they get home Joe wants to know what happened. Bob tells him about the second man who left on sight of Shane, and Shane briefly explains how he walked away from his encounter with Chris.
After Shane avoids a confrontation with Chris, Sam Grafton understands exactly why. His bartender thinks Shane was afraid of Chris, but Grafton knows better: “He was afraid of himself,” he says. This is part of the developing theme regarding Shane’s own psychic battle, which was hinted at in the previous chapter and elsewhere. Can he overcome his past and lead a more normal life? Can he restrain his carefully honed instincts for violence?
There is a certain formula that Schaefer is applying here to build the tension before the serious action breaks out in the climax to the novel. In an earlier chapter, Shane was involved in a minor confrontation with Ledyard the peddler that carried within it the seeds of menace. This chapter presents another confrontation that is more serious but still does not result in any violence or mayhem. But all the time the tension is building up. The formula therefore is to hint at a coming explosion but keep putting it off, all the better to create an exciting climax at the end. The reader knows something big is coming but the author makes him or her wait for it.
In this chapter Shane reveals from his guidance of Bob that he is an experienced gunslinger. But it also appears that he is not interested in continuing in that kind of life. He thinks of it as being in the past. After telling Bob a lot about how best to shoot, he seems to be lost in thought about “the dark trail of the past.” It is as if he wants to tame his aggression, the violence that, it seems, has marked his past. This is an emerging theme in the novel. Just as Joe must battle with nature (symbolized in the form of the old tree stump), Shane has his own battle too—can he escape the shadow of his past and make a new life for himself?