Characters

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The title story of the collection, Shiloh and Other Stories, is typical of the development of Mason's characters throughout the volume. In "Shiloh," Leroy Moffit has suffered a leg injury which has curtailed his career as a truck driver. He and his wife, Norma Jean, live in a small, nondescript house in Kentucky, while he pursues dreams of building a log cabin for himself and his wife. Norma Jean embarks on a course of self-improvement, pursuing programs in everything from physical fitness to English composition. Like many of Mason's characters, Norma Jean's aspirations for individual development appear somewhat naive and limited; however, they do have real consequences.

Norma Jean's mother has constantly urged Norma Jean and Leroy to visit the Civil War battlefield at Shiloh, the site of her own honeymoon, and when they do visit the site, partly to escape from their own disintegrating relationship, Norma Jean announces that she is leaving Leroy. Typical of Mason's characters, this breakdown seems both inevitable and pathetic. Neither is able to grow in the present circumstances, yet Leroy is unable to formulate the means to make their relationship a ground for real individual development.

Much the same dilemma is faced by the older couple Mary Lou and Mack Skaggs in "Rookers." While Mary Lou plays cards with older women friends and socializes in town, Mack stays home with the woodworking projects that are both his livelihood and his refuge from the world. He tries to read to keep up with their daughter who is away at college, but when she comes home before her exams, Mack is largely unable to communicate with her. This attitude is best captured at the end of the story by his telephone calls to the weather recording, which allows him to feign communication without speaking.

This sense of estrangement also characterizes Mason's women. The young girl, Peggy Jo, in "Detroit Skyline," visits her aunt and uncle in Detroit with her mother shortly after the introduction of television in America, During this visit her mother suffers a miscarriage, while Peggy Jo learns of the nascent world of television and about the "red scare" that is worrying her uncle and jeopardizing his job. For Peggy Jo, the promise of Detroit's skyline seems both alluring and threatening, and her experiences are very distant from her home in Kentucky.

Much the same distance is described in "Drawing Names," when Carolyn Sisson attends a Christmas dinner with her family. She and her sisters try to maintain a sense of familial harmony, but this often means placating their husbands or boyfriends, and Carolyn's own lover, Kent, fails to show up for the occasion. Most difficult of all are Carolyn's father and Pappy, her mother's father. Carolyn ultimately elicits a compassionate response from Jim, the man living with her sister, Laura Jean, whose presence at this family dinner is not entirely well received, particularly by the other men. Jim's outsider status as a Northerner and as someone who is morally suspect in this conservative family gives him insight into Carolyn's feelings of alienation. And although Carolyn feels closer to Jim at the end of the story and somewhat free of her family's often oppressive judgments, her estrangement from this supposed harmony is not diminished.

In the story "Nancy Culpepper," the title character searches for a photo of her namesake great-great-aunt, and this search becomes emblematic of a larger attempt to connect herself to her ancestors. She, like other female figures in Mason's work, feels distanced from her family, but Nancy's distance has been caused by her move to the North and her advanced education.

(This entire section contains 653 words.)

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In the story "Nancy Culpepper," the title character searches for a photo of her namesake great-great-aunt, and this search becomes emblematic of a larger attempt to connect herself to her ancestors. She, like other female figures in Mason's work, feels distanced from her family, but Nancy's distance has been caused by her move to the North and her advanced education.

On the whole, Mason's stories depict characters who are experiencing both a transformation of the family and a dissolution of the ways of economic life that had traditionally defined their families. Within this context, they are forced to establish a separate identity to achieve reconciliations, however temporary, with their lovers, parents, and siblings.

Characters

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Mabel Beasley
Mabel Beasley is Norma Jean's mother and Leroy's mother-in-law. She lives near the Moffitts and often comes over to their house. She frequently enters without knocking and one day surprises Norma Jean and catches her smoking a cigarette. Mabel was displeased when Leroy got Norma Jean pregnant and saw the death of their son as a sort of divine retribution. She lets Norma Jean know that she blames her for the baby's death by telling her a story about a baby who died because of a negligent mother. When she was a bride, Mabel and her husband visited the Shiloh battlefield. She now wants Leroy and Norma Jean to take a trip to Shiloh in hopes that the visit will help them fix the problems in their marriage.

Stevie Hamilton
Stevie Hamilton is the teenaged son of a prominent doctor in Leroy and Norma Jean's town. He is also a drug pusher who supplies Leroy with drugs. When Leroy obtains marijuana from him, the occasion prompts him to reminisce about his own lost son, who would have been about Stevie's age.

Leroy Moffitt
Leroy Moffitt is a disabled trucker living with his wife, Norma Jean, in western Kentucky. The story is told from Leroy's point of view; therefore, readers learn only what he is thinking. After his truck accident, Leroy stays at home, smokes marijuana, and makes things from craft kits. Although Leroy gets along with his mother-in-law by joking with her, he feels that "Mabel has never really forgiven him for disgracing her by getting Norma Jean pregnant."

Leroy knows that his marriage is failing, even if he is slow to accept it. He also realizes that Norma Jean is changing, just as rural Kentucky is changing, but he does not know how to cope with either change. Mostly, he wants to return to how things were in the beginning with Norma Jean, and his plan to build a log cabin is indicative of his tendency to live in the past rather than to look toward the future. Although Leroy loves Norma Jean, he does not know what she thinks about him, about their marriage, or about the death of their infant son, Randy. Mason told Lila Havens in an interview that she is interested in male characters in the midst of cultural change. She stated, "The men don't know what to do." Leroy is such a man. "Nobody knows anything," Leroy thinks. "The answers are always changing."

Norma Jean Moffitt
Norma Jean Moffitt lives in rural western Kentucky with her husband, Leroy Moffitt. who has recently been injured in a trucking accident. She works at a Rexall drugstore, likes to lift weights, play the organ, and cook interesting meals. After many years of seeing her husband so seldom, she is uncomfortable having him home all the time. Nor-ma Jean's efforts at self-improvement demonstrate that she is a forward-looking person who is doing her best to adapt to change.

Norma Jean grows increasingly unhappy with her marriage as the story unfolds. She is not interested in the log cabin that her husband wants to build for her, and she is tired of her mother's meddlesome attitude towards her marriage. When she agrees to visit Shiloh, she finally tells Leroy that she wants to leave him. Her ambiguous gesture at the end of the story serves to further confuse her husband, who cannot accept her for who she is

Randy Moffitt
Randy Moffitt was the infant son of Norma Jean and Leroy. He died of sudden infant death syndrome while asleep at a drive-in theater with his mother and father. At the time the story takes place, Randy has been dead for fifteen years.

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