Shane and the Myth of the Gunslinger is in the movie and the novel length book
Back in high school when I first read the western novel Shane, I thought it was the best western I had ever read. The movie made of the book starring Alan Ladd as Shane was also very good and has become a classic. I find that there was also a TV series based on it, which I have never seen but I will at the first opportunity. Clint Eastwood’s film “Pale Rider” has a similar plot, which indicates that Shane has had a far-reaching influence on the Western genre.
Briefly the story is told through the eyes of a young boy. A man wearing black comes and stays at their frontier homestead. He identifies himself only as Shane. We learn that he is an ex-gunfighyer and wants to leave all that behind him He does not at this stage carry a gun. The Sterretts, the owners of the homestead invite him in.
Luke Fletcher wants to claim all the land now held by the Homesteaders because he has acquired a contract for as much beef as he can produce.
Eventually Shane feels obligated to don his guns again to help the homesteaders in a big shootout.
Do you think the Gunslinger myth
There were other great movies of the time, such as “High Noon” which treated the gunman somewhat differently. Shane is not alone but it was, for me, the most stricking of the theme of a gunslinger turning his back on the use of guns and then finding the need to turn to the gun again. It was also the first one I read. But what is the meaning of it in our national mythology?
It is pretty well established that the image of Gunfighter, gunslinger, is mostly built up from the imagination of Ned Buntline and other Dime Novel writers and later by comics, Movies and television. Like with most myth there is an element of reality. The exploits of a few men like Wild Bill Hickok were drawn upon to create the image.
The scene of the gunfight is played over and over like a medieval morality play. in books movies and television. The morality play was popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was an allegorical play with characters representing different virtues. Since they did not have to constant sensorial input we have today the same plays were done over and over. The shootout is also done over and over albeit with different actors and changes in minor characters.
For a long time I thought that the shootout as portrayed was possibly a variation of the formal dual which was still practiced in the South and possibly other places even until the Civil War. I still think this might be an element since many southerners migrated west after the war. Mark Twain barely avoided a dual.
I have not been able to verify this theory but it would seem to contribute to the “code of the west” in movies. Mythical shooters are portrayed doing fancy spinning, fast draws and fantastic marksmanship. Mostly this seems more apropos to the stage than the street.
It could go back to Robin Hood putting an arrow through his opponent’s bull’s-eye arrow. A continuation of an old legend in a newer setting. .
The shootouts are mostly myths, at least in the fashion portrayed. It is the confrontation of good vs. evil: of law vs. chaos.
According to the Tarlton Law Library article entitled “Slap Leather: Legal Culture, Wild bill Hickok, and the gunslinger Myth” this legend started after the Civil War era West with its availability of mass produced side-arms, a lingering hostility of the war made for a cultural environment where many had both the inclination and the ability to act out resentments. People of differing backgrounds, conflicting goals included ranchers, cattle drivers, cowboys, prospectors, land speculators, gamblers, merchants, and sheepherders.
Despite the legend there was a degree of law and order. As settlers came so did social institutions such as churches, schools, and businesses, all wanting law enforcement. The Dodge City Peace commission is cited as being famously effective and professional. Western juries and some judges were sympathetic to claims of self-defense.
The hero, in this case, is unable to escape a destiny of being the defender. In the case of “Shane” he seems to be there to defend the social order that is trying to get established against criminals who want to take everything over for their own benefit. What interests me about Shane and some other westerns with the theme of the gunfighter wanting to put away his guns and is brought back, almost against his will to once more come to protect the good people against the bad. .