Study Guide

Shiloh

by Bobbie Ann Mason

Shiloh Analysis

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mason writes “Shiloh” in a realistic style into which she weaves symbolic images and references. By paralleling Norma Jean and Leroy with the North and South in the Civil War—and, further, by linking this conflict with the mutual annihilation of the West and the East imagined in Doctor Strangelove—Mason approaches allegory. The word “civil” can refer to marriage as well as to the war between the states, which is also ironic. Mason’s references to Monroe and Presley, to songs such as “Sunshine Superman,” and to films such as Doctor Strangelove, provide a commentary on the characters and incidents of the story. All of these references communicate Mason’s view of the direction taken by history since the defeat of agrarianism in the Civil War.

Mason also uses patterns of imagery to communicate her theme. Images of death are dominant. Death from industrial pollution is linked to the subdivisions spreading “like an oil slick.” Leroy relates this to the disappearance of the farmers, another kind of death. He compares the new, white-columned brick house of Stevie Hamilton’s father to a funeral parlor. At Shiloh, he thinks the cemetery of the Union dead, with its white markers, looks like a subdivision site. Norma Jean walks through this cemetery following a brick path. The word “brick” echoes its use in the description of Dr. Hamilton’s house. This suggests to the reader where Norma Jean will end up if she leaves...

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Shiloh Form and Content (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The sixteen short stories that constitute Bobbie Ann Mason’s first published collection, Shiloh, and Other Stories, recount the lives of women in the fictional small town of Hopewell, Kentucky, who have a common desire for personal understanding. With the exception of “Nancy Culpepper” and “Lying Doggo,” Mason’s stories deal with different female protagonists, but each story addresses the same general theme: Every woman must find comfort in understanding herself as an individual; when she becomes the emotional appendage of a male, all of her individuality is lost.

Nancy Culpepper, the protagonist of the stories “Nancy Culpepper” and “Lying Doggo,” is a typical Mason protagonist. In the first story, much of Nancy’s time is spent trying to save her grandmother’s photographs and trying to identify a woman in an old portrait who she believes is a distant relative also named Nancy Culpepper. She is hoping to find some connection with her familial past. Although Nancy is disappointed when she discovers that the woman in question is not Nancy Culpepper, she realizes that she has been actively searching for her own identity.

In the second story in which she appears, Nancy Culpepper is confronted with standing up against her husband’s decision to put their old dog, Grover, to sleep. This stand is more than a mere attempt to save an old dog’s life; Nancy needs to be and will be heard.

Mason’s other female protagonists all go beyond married lives for their identities. In the collection’s title story, Norma Jean Moffitt finds little emotional satisfaction in being the wife of injured and unemployed trucker Larry...

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Shiloh Context (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Bobbie Ann Mason’s Shiloh and Other Stories continues the tradition in which women writers tell the stories of women who are looking for individual identities, a tradition perfected by such earlier writers as Kate Chopin, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, and Harper Lee. Like her literary precursors, Mason chooses to tell women’s stories through female protagonists and narrators. This technique has proved to be a successful vehicle for telling women’s stories in the works of other disparate contemporary women writers such as Lee Smith, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, and Rita Mae Brown.

Feminist critics have long been concerned with the dearth of women writers who have come to the forefront of American literature and with men writers’ attempts to tell women’s stories. In Shiloh and Other Stories and in her later works, Mason takes important steps toward allaying these concerns. In each story, Mason provides a complete depiction of the momentary fragments that produce the lives that her female protagonists have been forced to live.

In none of her stories does Mason moralize or offer clear-cut answers to complex problems. Her intention is to inform rather than pontificate. Mason is able to draw her reader into her fictional world by creating believable characters who live in believable settings. The reader’s concern turns from the progression of a fictional narrative to commiseration with an individual who is experiencing intense challenges to a once-stable relationship or to her attempts to come to terms with herself.

In the canon of works by women about women, Mason’s short stories stand out in their portrayal of women who decide to make their own decisions about their lives. Often this individualism goes against the social grain, yet Mason’s protagonists are willing to stand up to any stigma that may be cast upon them. They must live their own lives unencumbered by outside interference. Her works join the growing list of high-quality works that speak directly to the need of women to have lives and identities of their own without the fear of being branded as radical. Mason’s works exemplify the new works that are being considered for canonization, works that, in the past, would have been overlooked because they were written by women, not because of any artistic weakness.

Shiloh Historical Context

Change Comes to Kentucky
Virtually every reviewer of "Shiloh" notes that the story is set in rural western Kentucky, a location...

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Shiloh Ideas for Group Discussions

Abundant opportunity for discussion of familial and social relationships exists in the various stories Mason presents in this collection....

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Shiloh Literary Style

Point of View
Although a number of critics see ''Shiloh'' as a feminist saga of a woman flexing her muscles and taking flight,...

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Shiloh Social Concerns

Typical of realistic writing generally, Mason's first collection of short stories is strongly oriented toward documenting the social lives of...

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Shiloh Compare and Contrast

1980s: Sudden infant death syndrome has been a recognized medical disease since 1970. In 1988, there are 5,476 infant deaths from SIDS...

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Shiloh Topics for Further Study

One critic has called contemporary writers like Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, and Bobbie Ann Mason "K-Mart realists." What do you think this...

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Shiloh Related Titles

While Shiloh and Other Stories might be said to anticipate much of Mason's subsequent fiction in its thematic concerns and technical...

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Shiloh What Do I Read Next?

In Country is Mason's 1985 novel about eighteen-year-old Samantha Hughes's quest to understand her father's death in the Vietnam War...

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Shiloh Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Blythe, Hal, and Charlie Sweet. "The Ambiguous Grail Quest in 'Shiloh'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 32,...

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Shiloh Bibliography (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. “Finding One’s History: Bobbie Ann Mason and Contemporary Southern Literature.” Southern Literary Journal 19 (Spring, 1987): 22-33.

Flora, Joseph M. “Bobbie Ann Mason.” In Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South, edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Price, Joanna. Understanding Bobbie Ann Mason. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000.

Ryan, Maureen. “Stopping Places: Bobbie Ann Mason’s Short Stories.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy...

(The entire section is 98 words.)