How is identity a key component in Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Identity and its corollary, gender identity, are main themes of Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason. An accident and a child's death strip Leroy and Norma Jean of their identities and their gender roles. Leroy has proudly and successfully identified himself as the driver big rig and Norma Jean has identified herself as a wife and mother. Now, following Leroy's accidents all the definitions of what their life is evaporate into thin air: Leroy can't be a driver; Norma Jean isn't so interested in being a wife to a disabled man; neither can be a parent.


Roles have additionally been reversed in that once Leroy had any opportunity open to him while Norma Jean had few choices for her life. Now, Leroy has few choices, he is physically unable to even join in on most of Norma Jean's self-improvement projects, while Norma Jean suddenly has myriad opportunities open before her, and she pursues them, every one, thus throwing off the limits to identity and gender role definitions.


In the end, while Leroy's accident has reduced him to Norma Jean's former definition of life and self, his accident has liberated Norma Jean, and she is making the most of it to find the broadest definition for her life and gender role as possible.