How Did Shane End Up?

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

In director George Stevens’s classic 1953 Western, Shane, a mysterious stranger and gunfighter in buckskin with a violent past, rides into the middle of the late-1880s Wyoming range wars between cattle barons and homestead farmers. The community-minded farmers may have the law on their side, but the open-range cattlemen have the money and the gun-toting cowboys.

Shane enters the mess but decides to settle down, incognito, with a farm family, shed his past as a hired killer, and begin leading a settled and honest frontier life.

Almost immediately, however, he senses his tragic predicament. The West is not yet so civilized. The farmers, the future of civilization, hardly possess the gun-fighting ability to survive against the ruthless cattlemen and their hired guns.

So a reformed Shane is insidiously brought into the fray, as he figures out how to aid his new hosts while, at least at first, playing by their rules of civilized behavior.

Shane ultimately accepts that his second chance life is not sustainable. He learns that his newfound friends, the sodbusters, lack the skills to survive against Wilson, the cattlemen’s psychopathic hired killer.

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