“Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason presents three characters who are unable to communicate. Leroy, the husband, has suffered a leg injury in his truck driving. He now does nothing except work with craft kits.
The second character is the wife of Leroy, Norma Jean. When Leroy was gone all the time, she was happier. Now that he is home, he gets on her nerves. She has become a body builder which she started when Leroy was trying to improve his leg.
The third character is Norma Jean’s mother, Mabel. Her answer to all problems is to make a visit to the Civil War battle field at Shiloh. Mabel visited Shiloh during her honeymoon; and she wants her daughter and son-in-law to go there.
There is a fourth person in the story who is never seen but his presence is felt. Leroy and Norma Jean had a baby they named Randy. Neither of them has gotten over his death at four months from SIDS though it has been about fifteen years. The baby’s death contributes to the end of their marriage. They never talk about it. They avoid the subject; yet, Leroy wants to dispel the discomfort that he and his wife feel about their baby. He is unable to bring up the subject.
There has been a reversal of roles in Leroy’s and Norma Jean’s marriage. Leroy now feels afraid to drive his truck, so he sits at home and does crafts which are typically feminine. In addition, Norma Jean works for the family; she also has become a body builder. Both of the participants in the marriage are unsure about what they want.
The couple does go to Shiloh. Norma Jean realizes that she liked it when Leroy was gone. Her independence has been intruded upon by Leroy and his injury. When they go to Shiloh, she tells Leroy that she wants to leave him. She is confused as she talks about their eighteen years marriage. She tells him that now they have nothing between them, and she wants to move out.
Without looking at Leroy, she says, “I want to leave you!”
“No, you don’t.”
….you won’t leave me alone. I feel eighteen again. I can’t face that all over again. No, it wasn’t fine. I don’t know what I’m saying. Forget it.”
Oddly, in the end of the story, Norma Jean waves and calls Leroy toward her. Norma Jean really does not know what she wants. The theme of miscommunication takes the marriage to a level that Leroy does not understand with Norma Jean is unclear about what she wants.