How does Bobbie Ann Mason's "Shiloh" show Leroy in a sympathetic light?

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

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"Shiloh" is a 1980 short story by Bobbie Ann Mason about a troubled marriage.

Leroy, the husband, is staying home because of an injury. His wife, Norma Jean, begins to have trouble with her emotions and inner feelings; she wants him to look for work, but he is obsessed with the idea that he can build her a house to make her happy. Leroy is not a bad person, and the story is told from his perspective.

Leroy has been home in Kentucky for three months, and his leg is almost healed, but the accident frightened him and he does not want to drive any more long hauls.

His fear of having another accident is a reminder of his mortality; when he was driving, he had no such fears, but now he wants to live life better. Unfortunately, he starts smoking marijuana, causing him to have even more trouble focusing.

Now Leroy has the sudden impulse to tell Norma Jean about himself, as if he had just met her. They have known each other so long they have forgotten a lot about each other. They could become reacquainted. But when the oven timer goes off and she runs to the kitchen, he forgets why he wants to do this.
(Quotes: Mason, "Shiloh," Google Books)

Although Leroy has trouble focusing, and cannot fully comprehend Norma Jean's dissatisfaction, he is not solely to blame. She does not speak about her uneasiness, instead throwing her life into new ventures such as weight-lifting and night-school. Leroy doesn't know how to raise the subject. At the end of the story, when Norma Jean tells him that she wants to leave, Leroy is baffled; he cannot understand what is happening. This is partly due to his memory problems and partly because he truly believes he is doing the right thing by being there for Norma Jean. The idea that his presence is stifling to her never occurs to him.

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