Explain what happens in "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason addresses the problem of a marriage trying to survive despite several problems.  As in many marriages, the lack of communication prevents the marriage from being secure.  Both husband and wife are unable to face the problems that need to be attacked if the marriage is to survive.

The characters are Leroy and Norma Jean Moffitt.  Leroy drove a truck for many years.  After a bad accident in which he severely hurt his leg, Leroy finds himself trying to fill his time.  He does not believe that he will be able to drive his truck again.  After surgery, three months at home, physical therapy—Leroy has decided to build his wife a log cabin home.

Leroy loves his wife Norma Jean. He tries to please her.  They have always rented their homes; now, Leroy wants to provide Norma with her own home. The author portrays Leroy as a good guy, but immature and searching for something. 

Leroy used to tell hitchhikers his whole life story—about his travels, his hometown, and the baby.  He would end with a question: 'Well what do you think? ‘It was just a rhetorical question. 

Norma was pregnant when they married.  One of the problems that has plagued their marriage is the loss of the only child. The two went to a drive-in movie.  They put the baby in the back seat.  At the end of the movie, they find the baby dead from SIDS.

Norma works at the drug store in the make-up. She is weight lifting to build up her muscles and begins to take classes at a local college. Something is changing in Norma.

Since Leroy is  home all the time, their relationship has changed.  They used to be together constantly when he was home; however, he was gone a lot of the time. Now, that he is home all of the time, there is something going on between them. 

Norma’s mother Mabel  has always wanted her daughter to take a trip to Shiloh, Tennessee.  Mabel spent her honeymoon there. In her mind, it is a beautiful interesting place that she wants to share with her daughter.

Norma Jean is attacking her life trying to find her own way.  She feels that Leroy has allowed their lives to founder. Norma is finding new skills and trying to move on. Leroy seems stymied.   There is no way that Leroy could build the home for them because their relationship has become fatigued and ready to go under.

Leroy believes that this trip to Shiloh could allow the two of them to start over again. Norma is not sure what she wants. She does feel as though she does not know who Leroy is now.

The story’s ending leaves the reader puzzled.  Nothing is definite.  Norma tells Leroy that she is going to leave him.  She walks away from him. Leroy follows her and sees her gesturing for him to come there.  Is she waving at Leroy to try to get his attention?  The author leaves the reader with no answer. At the battle of Shiloh, there were many deaths.  Will Shiloh be the death of Leroy and Norma Jean’s marriage?

Thematically, grief enters the heart of this marriage.  The impact of a loss of a child never goes away.  If it is not addressed, it burrows unspoken into the hearts of the parents.  This loss grasps hold of Leroy and Norma Jean. 



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