Shane may be a film about what happens when our hero comes to Joe Starett’s property and ends up becoming the reluctant gunfighter, but it also places the viewer front and center between two distinct and opposing ways of life. Ryker and Starett hold two very different ideas on property and progress, and these ideas shape their behavior in accordance to their own ideology. By way of signs, the film portrays Ryker as a businessman and Joe Starrett as a man of the community. Ryker is a businessman.
If Ryker feels threatened, he will try to first solve the problem using communication, and then switch to more coercive tactics only if that fails. Ryker doesn’t use brute force to assert his power, but instead uses his money to get what he wants. Ryker’s use of money was clearly defined in the saloon scene where he first meets Shane. Upon learning that Shane could become his enemy, he asserts that he has nothing against Shane, and even offers his a well-paid job to lay off the Starett family. Ryker is a solitary man.
We never see him within a family unit, nor see him bonding with any of his crew. His lack of emotional ties is a clear sign of his shrewdness. He leads the life of a businessman without any familial interruption. Ryker will never become a part of a community, and as such, he can attack, usurp, or buy his way into it. Ryker views property only as land that can bring him monetary gains, and he views progress as net worth, like a true businessman. Starett is a man that has given his life to the community.
There are various signs to point the viewer to his idea of property and progress, such as adherence to tradition, patriotism, and the steadfast protection of one’s land. Starett is a man of tradition. He depends on the safety, bonding, and comfort that tradition brings to a community. Even Joey is a sign of his father’s adherence to tradition; Joe named his son Joey. Joe belongs to a community where cooperation is necessary for survival. In the film, when Shane is leaving, Joey cries out for him to come back, papa and mama needed im, and that “Papa has things for [Shane] to do”. Even an outsider like Shane is welcomed remain in the community because he has cooperated, and was now needed by Joe and Marion alike. Joe and his wife, who celebrated their 4th of July wedding anniversary in the middle of the community, are signified as patriotic community members and leaders of solidarity. So when little Joey confesses that Joe and Marion need Shane, it’s a sign to the viewer that the entire community needs Shane, and that the all-American way of life is impossible without cooperation.
Fences serve many purposes as a signifier within this film, and they are ultimately the signs that favor the film’s ideological position. The fences are the mark of a community that values property. Just like Joe has fenced in his entire livelihood, it’s very likely that other families have done the same to their properties. Even the communal dance ring that the Staretts go to is fenced in. This means that the fences serve the purpose to not only keep people like Ryker out, but to show the viewer that they also keep the community in.
Again, most dancing, and ultimate bonding, occurs within the community’s fences, signifying that fences are good for the community, and that they encase and represent a community. Little, if any communal bonding occurs in Ryker’s first place of appearance, the saloon. The fences can then be a sign of which man’s position is favored within this film: Starett, not Ryker. The fences bring Joe Starett to another level within the viewer’s perception that Ryker does not reach. Starett is multi-faceted, taking care of his family, his home, and his neighbors, while Ryker only makes decisions with money in mind.