Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason: An Analysis of Fiction
Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason
Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason: An Analysis of Fiction
The story of Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason deals mostly on CHANGE but as the main character goes through the process there were also manifestations of independence, loss, insecurity, courage, conflict, uncertainty and determination. It was a good point of understanding Norma Jean as the story was narrated on a third person making the narration of the story not just based alone on the personal perspective of the characters.
Change is a big word to describe the main theme of the story. Norma Jean experiences certain changes in herself, and these are not just limited to physical changes because of being married to Leroy. There was also this yearning she feels to be independent which she thought she can only achieve if she would continue getting educated. Mentally and emotionally she had felt different from before. But if she was to go and pursue education it would also mean changing her situation. These changes she feels are different from what her husband Leroy interprets them to be. After he met an accident and became paralyzed due to a leg injury. Leroy looks at the changes in Norma Jean as signs that she wants to leave him because of his current condition. He looks at the decisions of his wife as consequences of his condition because she cannot cope up with Norma Jean and he is also finding it difficult to express himself as a husband.
The conflict between Leroy and Norma Jean started to manifest after Leroy recovered from his accident and still refused to return to his previous job as a truck driver. Probably still suffering from trauma from his accident he began a new interest and that is in building a log cabin. Norma Jean for her part supports the family by working at a drugstore and continued working even after her husband had already recovered. The two were able to learn more things and do more things together while Leroy stayed at home, but Norma Jean never supported him on his idea to build a log cabin. Instead she discourages him and keeps on egging him to find a job. She even went as far as listing the jobs he could take but still Leroy refuses to do so.
The presence of Mabel – the mother in-law was also a factor why Norma Jean feels like she is still being treated like an 18-year-old despite that she is also 34. Mabel keeps on coming to their house checking on them and telling or monitoring Norma Jean on how she should go about doing laundry and keeping the plants. It was not helping Norma Jean’s confidence either when she was scolded by her mom when she caught her smoking. And it gets even worse when Mabel tried to punish her by telling stories about a baby who got killed by a dog and insisted that this was because the mother neglected the baby. Leroy and Norma Jean had a child before but died due to Sudden Death Infant Syndrome while the couple was at a drive-in theater.
The two have not recovered yet from the death of their son; they keep on thinking about him but avoided to talk about him. This may be due to their guilt feelings and the pain of losing their child. Leroy thinks that they have survived the tragedy and remained together as husband and wife, but he still feels Norma Jean have changed. He had seen it when instead of playing on the organ she would choose to write compositions about music. And when Mabel suggested that they go to Shiloh Leroy have felt the difference between him and Norma Jean. Despite sharing the picnic together and enjoying the sights, Leroy was nervous and felt more like a young boy while his wife seemed to be an elderly woman.
It was then that Norma Jean told Leroy that she wants to leave. Leroy had tried to convince her that they were OK and was able to start over again, but Norma Jean insisted on feeling like a teenager, being controlled by her mother and that is he wants to have her independence. Leroy even asked Norma Jean if her decision to leave him has been influenced by the feminist movement that has been widely spreading. She replied no but what she had been doing and how she had been acting clearly shows how far she had been influenced by feminism.
My Personal Take on Shiloh
The story shows a typical or traditional American couple who went through tragedies of losing a son and the husband suffering from his accident. There was also a clear distinction between the major influence on the development on the character of the husband and wife. The husband is influenced by media as he retains his masculinity by affixing himself on the idea of building a log cabin, smoking marijuana without being scolded by Mabel and watching football games. Norma Jean on the other hand is influenced by feminism, yearning for independence, establishing her confidence and self-worth. Since she started working to support herself and her husband while he was recovering from the accident, she felt how it was to be able to work and provide for the family. That brought the idea to her that if she was educated, she can do more. So, with the new passion to be educated she enrolled in a night school where she got interested in improving her English by writing compositions.
She felt empowered and still wants to do more than just being told by her mother and treated like a teenager. And with all the conflicting ideas and interest she now has with her husband she had the courage to tell him that she wanted to leave. It was not because she cannot make him take a job again and forget about building a log cabin, it was not because she wanted to be with another man, Norma Jean wants to leave because she wants to have the freedom to be herself, to assert herself further and show that she can survive even without her husband.
Mason, B. A. (1982). Shiloh and Other Stories. New York: Modern Library.