Shane by Jack Schaefer defines chivalry by what a man does, not what he knows. Shane offers an insight into dynamic and complicated relationships, which take place on the revolutionary frontier of America. The impressionable narrator, Bob Starrett, depicts the naïveté and innocence of many Guilford Middle school children, as both groups learn and grow in a dangerous and overtly advanced world.
Many of the students who attend Guildford Elementary share with Bob the unfortunate circumstance of living their childhood in an adult world. Their vocabularies are much larger than most children of their age, and not necessarily filled with words deemed appropriate. Many of those students studying for National Academic League competitions bring along their younger siblings whose care they are entrusted. As a reference point, at age eleven I was barely allowed to stay home alone by myself, let alone take care of a five year old sibling; these students manage to babysit two of them, while memorizing all the state capitals and of course never leaving a text unanswered. Their childhoods seem to have been stolen in a way, as they are given adult responsibilities such as laundry, child care and packing lunches, not particularly difficult however only the beginning of a lifetime of relying mainly upon themselves. Maturity is demanded whether he or she is prepared or not.
Unlike Bob in Shane however, the students excel in school (it seems only fair that I point out that it is the talented children who are recruited or who choose to participate in the National Academic League). The Guilford Students who are a part of the NAL team wear their uniforms proudly on game day, not seeming to notice their small limbs swimming in the adult large. Although they banter back and forth, it is clear that they are a team and there for one another, just as Bob was unconditionally loyal to Shane. As the team prays in the hallway before their meet begins, I can sense the outside world drifting away, the facts they’ve learned as the only matter of importance. The feeling Bob has as he admires Shane, so adoringly and longingly is embodied in these competitions, each student placing the importance of this competition on a level that if achieved seems to promise immunity from all other worldly dilemmas.
Like the young Bob Starrett, the children at Guilford are continually entrusted with decisions and placed in situations far beyond their understanding. After 8th grade at Guilford, the students must apply to high schools; depending upon grades, availability and ranking they are admitted to one of their five choices. Certain schools have entrance criteria, or higher requirements in order to be one of the lucky chosen few. As I quiz these children on subjects of algebra, government, spelling and astronomy, it occurs to me that had I been in their situation I would not have been accepted into one of these elite high schools. As a child, I was not the fastest or the best student and it was only with my parents constant reassurance, extra tutoring and tons of SAT prep that I was able to even consider applying to the colleges and universities in which I was interested. The students at Guilford mirror Bob Starrett as both are unintentionally given extreme responsibilities in which they rise to the occasion and persevere through. Whether it is due to a love for a role model, an academic subject or a family, both Bob Starrett and the students at Guilford are wise beyond their years, proving continually that despite their age and apparent naïveté, they will succeed.