Shane is the title character and protagonist of the book. A stoic, mysterious man, he says little about himself—no one even knows his last name. He dresses differently and moves differently, with a kind of confidence and power that is immediately noticeable. He is Bob's hero and quickly becomes Joe Starrett's companion. Shane is loyal to the very end, never compromising any of the Starretts or placing them in danger. He is quick to deal with people and situations that are potentially dangerous, and he feels both tenderness and responsibility for the Starretts. He is both dangerous and the safest man to have around because it is clear that he can handle himself in a fistfight or gunfight, but it is also clear that once tied to someone he will forever be loyal. Shane epitomizes for the novel both what it means to be a man and what it means to be a hero.
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Joe immediately latches on to Shane, finding him a good friend, companion, and co-worker. Shane's intense love and respect for Joe is mirrored by Joe's feelings for Shane. The two men are undyingly loyal to one another, and they often work and act in tandem. They even both love the same woman. Joe is the leader of the group of farmers, especially when it comes to their problems with Fletcher. Shane teaches Joe how to be a better man and improves Joe's life in a number of ways, including helping him work the land. Joe is an extremely fair man who treats others with respect and consideration. When Joe finds out about Marian's feelings for Shane, he is not angry; instead, he acknowledges Shane's greatness, and it makes sense to him that she should love Shane. Joe never has an ill word to say about Shane throughout the course of the book, even after Shane knocks him unconscious to prevent him from taking the matter with Fletcher and Stark Wilson into his own hands.
Bob is the narrator of the book and allows us to see Shane and the rest of the characters and events through the eyes of a boy. He is a boy yearning for action and yearning for someone to revere. His father is his hero, but, when he meets Shane, he realizes that Shane is the most extraordinary man he has ever known. Shane redefines for Bob what it means to be a man and a hero, and Shane teaches Bob many lessons, such as that it does not take a man to engage in a fight. He also teaches Bob to accept responsibility for his actions, even if some external force has provoked them. Bob looks at Shane with wonder and awe throughout the book, and it is easy then for the reader to absorb this outlook. Much of Shane's impact, especially on Marian, is lost on Bob because he is too young to understand it.
Marian is the only significant female character in the book. A good wife, mother, and cook, she also embraces Shane wholeheartedly. At first she is concerned about the fact that he seems so dangerous, and later she is concerned about the toll the situation with Fletcher takes on Shane. Throughout the book Marian falls in love with Shane. However, she does not fall out of love with Joe; rather, she recognizes that they are both wonderful men and loves them both. She admits to Shane that she needs him, and the two have an extremely close bond even though there is never any physical infidelity. While Joe and Shane are brought close together by the physicality of their work, Shane and Marian are brought together on an emotional level that reflects each other's insights and perceptions toward the other. Marian also appreciates that Bob has another role model in his life.
Fletcher is the antagonist of the book. He is a pure villain and a problem from the outset, becoming increasingly more and more threatening as the book progresses. He is angry that Joe will not sell him his farm and angry that Joe has rallied the other farmers against him. When Shane comes to town, Joe becomes an even more formidable adversary to Fletcher, driving Fletcher to greater and greater lengths in order to triumph. Fletcher resorts to violence and murder and stands in direct contrast as a man to both Joe and Shane.
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Chris is the one dynamic character in the book—he undergoes almost a complete transformation. Initially one of Fletcher's men, he begins escalating the situation with Shane. After Shane beats him up Shane makes a comment about Chris's goodness but of his immaturity as well. When Chris offers to take Shane's place at the Starrett's, we witness a man growing up and coming full circle. Chris is a character that is changed dynamically because of Shane.
Fletcher brings Wilson into town after it is clear that Shane and Joe will not back down. Stark Wilson does not have much dimension as a character and serves only to provide deadly threat and the final confrontation with Shane.