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History was always just names and dates to him…the real inner workings of a marriage, like most of history, have escaped him.
Bobbie Ann Mason’s short story “Shiloh” takes the disintegrating marriage of Leroy and Norma Jean Moffit to the location of the Civil War battle at Shiloh on the Tennessee River. Mason contrasts history and tradition with the here and now, the present, and all the changes that go along with this contrast.
With third-person narration, the reader gets Leroy’s point of view but an unusual dynamic exists between the three characters of the story, Leroy and Norma Jean and Norma Jean’s mother, Mabel. Leroy’s mother-in-law isn’t suppose to like Leroy because he got Norma Jean pregnant out-of-wedlock though they lost the baby. However, Norma Jean’s insistence on going to school and having a career unnerves Mabel to the point where Mabel, without really knowing it, takes Leroy’s side in her daughter’s marital matters. Leroy relies mostly on tradition to try to keep his marriage together.
It’s Mabel’s idea for the couple to visit the Shiloh battle site. Mabel and her husband went there on their honeymoon and somehow she thinks all this “history” will spark something in Norma Jean and she can have a happy marriage – or at least a marriage with which Mabel can be comfortable.
Even from the beginning of the story, one can guess how successful Mabel is going to be.
“Shiloh” is included in the collection Shiloh and Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason that I borrowed from my public library. I read it when I selected the Four of Clubs for Week 21 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.