Student Question

How would a feminist critic approach the story "Shiloh"? What details are important?

Quick answer:

A feminist critical approach to “Shiloh” could address the ways that the characters conform to or challenge gender stereotypes, and it might also comment on the social context of Norma Jean’s personal and intellectual growth. Important details include the author’s use of the male character’s perspective and the complex portrayal of motherhood.

Expert Answers

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Bobbie Ann Mason offers a snapshot of an era in which traditional gender roles were experiencing an upheaval. While none of the characters in “Shiloh” self-identify as feminist, the story explores numerous topics with which feminism is often concerned. Each of the three characters embodies elements of traditional gender-associated traits or behaviors, but they also challenge or subvert those traditional roles. Situating the couple’s story within the temporal context of the early 1980s, Mason explores the era’s economic impact on family dynamics.

One might turn a feminist lens on Leroy, from whose perspective the story is told. As a more conventional approach for a female author would likely center on a female protagonist, a feminist reading reader might address why Mason made that choice. A feminist critical approach to Norma Jean could locate her personal and intellectual growth, as her studies and work widen her distance from Leroy, in the tumultuous era when the story is set.

Another frequent subject of feminist analysis is motherhood. Mason presents a mother-daughter relationship that is complicated by Norma Rae’s mother’s critical attitude toward her daughter’s parenting skills. In this regard, Norma Rae’s mother seems to go against traditional emphasis on mothers as nurturers. However, the negative relationship between mother-in-law and son-in-law seems entirely conventional. A feminist critique could analyze the reasons Mason included this type of relationship.

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