Discussion Topic

Setting and point of view in Bobbie Ann Mason's "Shiloh."


Bobbie Ann Mason's "Shiloh" is set in rural Kentucky and uses a third-person limited point of view. This narrative perspective allows readers to closely follow the protagonist, Leroy Moffitt, and his internal struggles as he attempts to understand his changing relationship with his wife, Norma Jean, against the backdrop of their home and the Shiloh battlefield.

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In "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason, what is the setting and how does the point of view impact the story?

The geographical setting of "Shiloh" is Kentucky, as we learn that the home of Leroy and Norma Jean Moffitt is located this state; they do travel to Shiloh, Tennessee as well. As for the time period, there is a reference in the text to the "TV set" on top of which Leroy places the miniature log cabin he made from Popsicle sticks.

During the 1950s, televisions became more popular in American homes, so we know for certain that the story cannot take place before this era. Rexall's drugstore chain was also quite popular in the 1970s and 1980s, even expanding at that time, so this provides another clue to the timing. The fact that Norma Jean works at a Rexall might also provide a clue as to the story's timing, because, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was less common for women to work outside the home, and it became more common in the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps this era also helps to explain why she seems to desire more independence from Leroy; having him home with her all the time begins to wear on her. Women were gaining more independence during the 1970s and 1980s, and Leroy's constant presence does seem to grate on her.

Further, Leroy believes he might have heard that "losing a child destroys the marriage ... on Donahue," referring to a show hosted by Phil Donahue. This show ran from late 1967 until 1996. In addition, Norma Jean plays songs from "The Sixties Songbook" on her organ, and she mentions that she "didn't like these old songs back then."

Given both of these references, it seems likely, again, that the story takes place in the late 1970s or 1980s. A lot of things were changing in this era, especially for women, and Norma Jean's desire to better herself and be more independent by exercising more, taking new classes, and reading educational books, for example, is in line with this. If the story takes place in 1975, for instance, the last time Leroy really knew his wife would have been 1960, and the landscape for women was very different then.

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What is the point of view in "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason?

"Shiloh" employs a third-person limited omniscient point of view. This means that the narrator is not a participant in the events that take place but that the narrator does know and report on the thoughts and feelings of just one character: Leroy Moffitt.

For instance, the narrator tells us, "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." He has realizations about his life as a truck driver, how "he never took time to examine anything." We learn about Leroy's memories of the early years of his marriage to Norma Jean, including the death of their baby, Randy, due to SIDS, and how they never really talk about him. Despite what the doctors told him then, that "it just happens sometimes," in reality, "nobody knows anything, Leroy thinks." Again, we get inside access to Leroy's personal thoughts and feelings that he does not share aloud.

Later, we learn that he drives around the new housing developments, considering the log cabin house he wants to build (which Norma Jean opposes). Leroy considers trying to bridge the apparent emotional gap he now feels between himself and Norma Jean, thinking that "they could become reacquainted," but he is stoned, and when she goes to the kitchen, he forgets. We don't know what is going on in Norma Jean's head; we only know what Leroy thinks she's thinking until she finally tells him, "I want to leave you." This limited omniscience helps to bring the reader emotionally closer to Leroy, because all the information we get about other characters is filtered through his consciousness. He suspects that his wife may want to leave him, but he doesn't really know what to do about it.

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