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Shiloh: Marriage and Norma Jean

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    Shiloh: An analytical review In the human race, as with almost all species, the male leads, protects, and dominates; however, this is not always the case. Female dominance occurs in the Lemur family of primates. It is unknown as to exactly why this occurs, but it is has been shown to be linked to increased maternal investment. In Bobbie Ann Mason’s story “Shiloh,” she exhibits the reversal of the roles between the husband and wife. Norma Jean, the wife, evolves into the dominate role in the marriage, while Leroy, the husband, evolves into the submissive role of the marriage.

    In “Shiloh,” Mason begins right away showing the role reversals in the marriage between the two characters by describing Norma Jean “working on her pectorals” (159). “I’d give anything if I could just get these muscles to where they’re real hard” (159). This shows that Norma Jean is not going to fall into the traditional feminine role of the wife. This is the beginning of Mason’s portrayal of Norma Jean being superior in the marriage. Mason starts out describing Leroy as a truck driver who had been recently injured in an accident and was temporarily disabled (159). Truck driving is predominately a man’s profession.

    However, Mason goes on to say that he is doing needlepoint, macrame, and concerning himself with the state of his marriage (160). These are traditionally characteristics of things women do. These reversed roles symbolize a change in their marriage. Recognizing this change in roles, as well as the changes he is seeing in his wife, Leroy becomes increasingly concerned about his marriage. She is lifting weights and has gone back to school. He cannot understand why she is going to school. It intimidates him (167). He begins to suspect that maybe Norma Jean is cheating on him.

    Leroy’s feelings for his wife have turned “tender”, and he begins to wonder “how she feels about him” (160). He asks her, “Am I still the king around here? ” (169). The feelings that Leroy are displaying supports the role reversal between him and Norma Jean. It makes him look sentimental and insecure which are characteristics more commonly associated with women. Norma Jean and Leroy have become strangers to each other. “He knows he is going to lose her” (168). During the trip to Shiloh, the truth is uncovered. Mason has Norma Jean driving and Leroy in the passenger’s seat.

    Traditionally when going on a trip the husband will drive. Again, another portrayal by the author of Norma Jean in the dominate role. They get to Shiloh and find a place to have their picnic. The place they choose was in the in park next to a cemetery. While they are waiting for the movie to begin and Norma Jean says to Leroy, “I want to leave you” (170). Although Leroy thought this might be coming, it still threw him for a loop. He asks her, “Is this some kind of women’s lib thing? ” (170). Women’s lib was a term coined in the 70’s for women who decided they were not going to be in a submissive role any longer.

    For Leroy to ask her this, he again recognizes the fact that the roles have been reversed in his marriage. While Leroy is letting Norma Jean’s confession sink in and reviewing their life in his mind, Norma Jean begins walking through the cemetery (171). He looks up to see her standing on the bluff that looks over the Tennessee River. As Leroy tries to reach her, he notices that she is waving her arms like she is doing some kind of exercise (171). Like the lemurs, Norma Jean had a maternal investment in Leroy because of the accident that caused him to be disabled and unable to work. Therefore, she assumed the dominant role in the marriage.

    She was tired of being the assertive partner in their marriage. The final scene in this story portrays not only the end of Norma Jean and Leroy’s marriage but possibly the end of Norma Jean’s life. It is assumed that Norma Jean commits suicide. This is the only time in the story that the role is not reversed. Throughout this story Mason has portrayed Norma Jean has been the dominate character; this is the only time she is portrayed as being weak. Works Cited Bobbie Ann Mason. “Shiloh. ” Eds. Gwynn, R. S. , and Steven J. Zani. Inside Literature, Reading, Responding, Arguing. New York: Penguin, 2007. 159. Print

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