Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 498

Marty Preston wants a pet of his own. So great is this desire that when Shiloh appears for the second time, Marty hides him on the hill, despite the fact that he has promised Judd Travers to return him if he ever appears on the Preston property again. Once he hides Shiloh and keeps that fact from his family and Travers, he discovers that one lie leads to another. He lies to his mother as to why he does not eat his entire supper but saves some for later, in order to give food to Shiloh, and to his sister about snakes on the hill, in order to keep her from following him and discovering Shiloh. When Judd comes looking for his missing dog, Marty says, “Haven’t seen any dog of any kind in our yard all day.” Marty worries about the fact that you can lie not only by what you say but also by what you do not say. He whispers a prayer: “Jesus, which you want me to do? Be one hundred percent honest and carry that dog back to Judd so that one of your creatures can be kicked and starved all over again, or keep him here and fatten him up to glorify your creation?” Marty has been reared in a God-honoring home, and he has been taught honesty and respect for other people and their possessions. He is confused and concerned, however, about justice. Marty looks for ways to rationalize his decisions—“A lie don’t seem a lie anymore when it’s meant to save a dog.”

Marty Preston confronts real-life questions and issues. What action should be taken by someone who suspects a person of animal abuse? Is it ever right to lie in order to protect someone or something? How should children deal with dishonest adults who takes advantage of their innocence? When Marty catches Judd shooting the deer out of season and wants to trade Shiloh for not reporting him to the game warden, Marty begins to see “I am no better than Judd Travers—willing to look the other way to get something I want.” Marty discovers that sometimes there are no black-and-white answers, that shades of gray often color the world. Eventually, Marty does get Shiloh, but not before having both an emotional and a physical workout and maturing in the process.

The characters in Shiloh are believable and well developed. Marty is a growing, curious, sensitive boy. Marty’s mother is compassionate and understanding, particularly when she discovers Shiloh. Ma has been suspicious because of Marty’s eating behavior and the disinterest that he has shown in spending time with his best friend, David Howard. Ray Preston is strict, yet supportive of his son. Open communication and a trusting relationship exists between all family members. Judd Travers is despicable but not beyond redemption, as is evident when he hands over the dog collar to Marty after the boy completes his twenty hours of work.

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Critical Context