“Shiloh”: Changing Lives In Different DirectionsIn the story Shiloh, by Bobbie Ann Mason, characters Leroy and Norma Jean go through changes in their life as each begin to discover what their real identity is, and what it is they actually want out of their marriage. For some people this may take years, and for others they may never realize it, while merely trying to grasp on to the past, or the way they think things should have turned out. In this short story, Mason uses a couple in their thirties to portray people who are experiencing these types of changes, and depict how they deal with the situation. In the end, the couple is faced with dealing with the inevitable fact that they indeed cannot save their marriage; it was a battle they could not win. However, before the story climaxes, the reader is given a chance to witness some of the characters changes in identity and values. Norma Jean and Leroy struggle through their relationship because of miscommunication, trying to live through their past, and realizing that they have changed and grown apart.
Mason does an effective job of giving the reader a view of what is taking place in both characters lives. She makes the characters seem average, easily allowing the reader to identify with the changes the characters are going through with their relationship. In the beginning, an understanding of the background information is presented to the reader through the exposition, explaining Norma Jean and Leroys relationship. Since the accident that has now left Leroy at home, he has become indolent, and seems to be milking his injury for all that it is worth. Norma Jean, however, is a cosmetic consultant, who in her spare time, is taking some college courses and becoming more interested in exercising and expanding her life. The story picks up when Leroy is back home, and is finally beginning to look at Norma Jean in a new light after feeling guilty for not being with her for all of these years. Sadly, this realization is after many years of his periodical absence. Since then Norma Jean has been forced to become used to a life without him. When Leroy says, Norma Jean is miles away, (74) as they sit at the kitchen table, he realizes that even though the couple is finally able to reunite and spend time together, they feel as though they are distant and do not know each other.
On a more personal level the characters do have their personality differences, which could contribute to their diminishing relationship. Many times in the story Leroy is just sitting there watching things that are going on in the world, and not really participating in life. On the other hand, Norma Jean is out and involved in life and the world around her. This is a key difference between the couple. The reader sees a strong example of how they differ as individuals when it states, She saves bread heels for the birds. Leroy watches the birds at the feeder (72). Norma Jean comes across as more of a go-getter who wants to be taking charge of things. Leroy is referred to as, always flying past scenery, (68) and not caring about being involved. Another example of Leroys simple thought process concerning life comes with his new idea to build a log cabin for them to move into. Leroy seems to think that this new house will be a way for them to start over again. Never does Leroy directly ask Norma Jean if a new house is really what she wants. However, throughout the whole story, Leroy never really makes any progress with his plans. Leroy is so caught up in the idea of the house that he sees it as a sort of shelter for their relationship, but in reality the house will still be empty, much like the marriage. Leroy finally becomes aware of their growing apart when, It occurs to him that building a house out of logs is similarly empty- too simple (77). At the end, Leroy seems to finally realize that building a new house cannot take away the problems that are already present. Small details such as these give insight into each characters personality, and how Norma Jean and Leroy attempt to deal with problems. These simple differences could be where some of the faults and discrepancies in the relationship actually lie.
Another fault in Leroy and Norma Jeans relationship is the way the characters try to live their relationship though the past. Leroy gives the impression that he thinks they should be together because they have shared so much– especially the loss of their son. When he comes back from traveling on the road, he seems to try and pick up from where they had left off. Unfortunately, Norma Jean had in many ways moved on. For Christmas, Leroy is said to have bought Norma Jean an organ because she played it so well when she was in high school. Leroy gets Norma Jean to play oldies from the sixties, and she ironically states, I didnt like these old songs back then, but I have this crazy feeling I missed something (69). In many ways Norma Jean was right. She missed more than the appreciation of this music, she missed finding the meaning of her life and discovering what she really wanted. Now it was almost like it was too late, like when Leroy concludes that, He knows he is going to lose her… he is just waiting for time to pass (74). To Norma Jean and Leroy it appeared that if Norma Jean could still play these songs, then they could still go back and relive those old times when they seemed happy together.
When analyzing this short story, it seems as though the author gives slightly more insight into the mind of Leroy. In many cases, Leroy seems to be narrating some of the scenes, and his direct thoughts are given throughout the story. However, Norma Jeans thoughts are never directly stated. The reader must infer Norma Jeans real thoughts and emotions by her actions, which can be interpreted in many ways depending on the reader. The way the story is told is somewhat ironic because of the way the personalities that are depicted. Norma Jean comes across as being more of an action oriented person, and her thoughts are go basically unspoken in the story. While Leroy, on the other hand, is more of a daydreamer who tells the story, but no actions are completed on his part. However, from whichever view, the main message the story sends is about marriage in general. Marriage is not always forever, and sometimes it cannot endure all things, especially change. Both Norma Jean and Leroy knew that they were in love once, but that things had changed. In this story, Norma Jean adapts to every lifestyle that is placed before her. She was rushed into a marriage just as fast as she decided she wanted out of it. With the pressure of expecting a child, and then coping with the absence of her husband for fifteen years, Norma Jean tried to make things work, working around Leroy. Finally, after awhile it seemed as though she was pushed to the limit, and she decided to do something for herself. Norma Jean probably did not have it in mind to grow apart from Leroy, but she had to find herself before she could completely love someone else. After she realized what she wanted, she understood that she could not find that in Leroy. Unfortunately for Leroy, he had found what he had been missing for all of those years, but it was too late for him to grasp it; the change had already taken place. Leroy pleads with Norma Jean to try to work things out and to start over again, but for Norma Jean, she had already begun to start over when he had left her alone for fifteen years. Looking back on the relationship, blame could never wholly be placed on one character. Over the years Norma Jean and Leroy had begun to go their separate ways by doing what was important to them; together they grew apart.
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