“Shiloh” and the Search for Change
On first reading, the short story “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason, seems like a simple story of a Kentucky couple whose marriage is about to break up. Initially the reader may not be sure these characters are much worth caring about. After further consideration it becomes obvious that the story is packed with deeper meaning that can be discovered by closely examining the details. Living in a changing society, the characters in “Shiloh” feel alienated from their own lives and attempt to do something about it. The ways that the characters search for meaning are significant to Mason’s mission of portraying every day people facing everyday life in today’s changing world.
Norma Jean and Leroy Moffit, the main characters in “Shiloh,” are uneducated, working class people. They don’t seem agitated or hysterical or even terribly distressed. They just aren’t happy and don’t know exactly why. Norma Jean, ironically named for Marilyn Monroe, feels like she’s missed something, but can’t articulate it. Leroy, whose name means king, rules over nothing but an empty life. Married very young, when Norma got pregnant, they lost their baby to SIDS and now years later, Leroy, disabled by an accident, can no longer drive his long haul truck route and Norma Jean, who sells cosmetics at Rexall is dissatisfied and tries various approaches in her search to change her life.
The story opens with the line: “Leroy Moffitt’s wife, Norma Jean, is working on her pectorals” (Mason 493). Looking back at this sentence, knowing more about the story, one gets a sense of Mason’s writing skill. In just those few words, she gets the reader thinking feminist thoughts, like maybe Norma Jean doesn’t want to be known merely as the wife of Leroy. The reader who is paying attention might catch on about the symbolic significance of the names, and the fact that Norma Jean is working on her pectorals, is a great clue that all is not wonderful in her life....