In Bobbie Ann Mason's "Shiloh," what is the importance of Norma Jean's final statement?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The New Yorker Magazine published "Shiloh" in 1980, and it became the title story of Bobbie Ann Mason's 1982 collection Shiloh and Other Stories.

Norma Jean, wife of the lazy Leroy, is feeling trapped in her marriage because he refuses to look for work. Her mother visits, criticizing her lifestyle and indicating that she has failed to live up to some unknown ideal. When she and Leroy visit Shiloh to try and reconnect, her feelings come to a head and burst out:

"She won't leave me alone -- you won't leave me alone." Norma Jean seems to be crying, but is looking away from him. "I feel eighteen again. I can't face that all over again." She starts walking away. "Not, it wasn't fine. I don't know what I'm saying. Forget it."

Leroy takes a lungful of smoke and closes his eyes as Norma Jean's words sink in. He tries to focus on the fact that thirty-five hundred soldiers died on the grounds around him.
(Mason, "Shiloh," Google Books)

Norma Jean was accustomed to Leroy driving his truck around the country, and being alone and able to fend for herself. With his constant presence in the house, she feels trapped and constrained, and more so because Leroy can't seem to understand her feelings. He is only focused on his own life, and thinks that she will be fine since he is home. Leroy and Norma Jean's mother both are treating her like a child, and she wants to be left alone instead of always seeing them, hearing them discuss her life and failings, and not truly caring about how she really feels.


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