The intriguing aspect of
as a vehicle for learning about the cattlemen/rancher struggle is of course Shane himself. He is neither farmer nor rancher, but an outsider. Shane encompasses both good and evil, lawfulness and lawlessness. Here the students can learn how a myth can arise from an historical situation, and in the end resolve the conflict in a novel. This is an idea that should be discussed when dealing with
, but with sixth-graders, it probably should not be too heavily stressed. The idea of a myth having contrasting or opposite images is one that sixth-graders can understand. Television has certainly afforded our children with numerous examples of good guy bad guy story lines. Beginning with that, students can be brought to understand that there can be more than two characters appearing in a myth. When there are three or more, they appear as contrasting pairs. In our case, a classical western would have at least three elements: First, a wandering gunfighter who is opposed to homesteaders.
Shane tells Starrett, after Starrett asks him if he would hire on to help out on the farm, “I never figured to be a farmer, Starrett. I would have laughed at the notion a few days ago.” Shane contrasts the homesteaders, independence versus domesticity. Second, a group of homesteaders who are looking to settle the land, tame and use it for self-betterment and the improvement of the young nation. They represent the domesticity that was essential to America’s progress. Third, a rancher, who is also settled and domestic, but opposed to farmers, and yet different from the gunfighters. Where farmers represent progress and communal values, the rancher represents selfish, monetary values.
Shane belongs to neither group, cattlemen nor homesteaders, but is a group or type by himself. He, too, represents a mode of behavior that was on the wane. He recognizes the strength of the homesteader’s position and would like to be part of it, but he can’t. Shane knows the homesteaders are right in their goals. As the mythic hero, he must align with the homesteaders even though he can never be one of them. The myth inherent in
makes the historical setting exciting and more readily absorbed by young readers. It is this reciprocity between literature and history that most fascinates students. With the blending of myth and fact, both literature and history are served well.
These ideas of the western myth will help the student understand the story in
, but will also give them another insight into the pioneer character. Shane does side with the farmers, and does effect a successful outcome for them. In discussing the myth, along with the background on western migration and pioneer spirit presented earlier, the students will appreciate why individuals moved west, and why they persisted against difficult odds in remaining to develop the land. This attitude of perseverance set the tone for our country as it was developing and growing. Students today will appreciate better why America has a leadership role in the world, and hopefully can make connections to the historical era that began in the time of
, I think it is important to point out to students that Joe Starrett, representing all the homesteaders, had the character necessary to fight the oppressive cattlemen, although he did not have the necessary tools to solve the specific problem in
. Since the cattlemen went to outside resources, Wilson the gunfighter, Shane became necessary. Students will need to know that the battle between cattlemen and ranchers/farmers was won by farmers because they were the way the country needed to progress. The open ranges could not be used merely as grazing land. The land had to produce if the country was to grow. However, Shane and Starrett are remarkably alike in one important way, they were both men who could not be pushed off from where they wanted to be. Starrett recognizes this early in the book when he says, “He’s my kind of man.” Starrett’s wife, Marian disagrees, referring to Shane’s appearance and previous life, and Starrett replies, “I wasn’t talking about things like that.” Starrett’s pioneer spirit was too strong to be defeated by Fletcher and the other cattlemen.