In Bobbie Ann Mason’s “Shiloh”, after Leroy’s accident in his truck, the pleasant illusion that he is in a perfectly functioning marriage is shattered leaving the reality that he and Norma Jean have ongoing issues that have been hidden and ignored for the majority of their marriage. The log cabin he never builds, the couple’s new hobbies, the baby they lost, the dust ruffle Mabel makes for them, and the trip they take to Shiloh ultimately cause Norma Jean to decide to leave Leroy. “Shiloh” is laden with symbols for the state of Norma Jean and Leroy’s marriage, and each situation introduced since Leroy’s accident forces them to look at how little they know about each other.
The house Leroy means to build but never does, is symbolic of how their marriage exists but they never really settle down and made it permanent. Their marriage never gets a solid foundation and Leroy believes the idea of having a house built would validate their marriage, and make it seem more authentic. The shaky foundation is revealed once Leroy gets into his accident and returns to being close to Norma Jean all the time. Also a key issue is the fact that Leroy not only holds onto the idea of building the log cabin someday, he repeatedly ignores Norma Jean when she tells him she really does not want that kind of house, but he keeps saying he will make it. He knows she doesn’t want it, “I’m aiming to build me a log house, soon as I get the time. My wife, though, I don’t think she likes the idea” (302), but he wants the idea of a place that expresses their marriage. Leroy and Norma Jean’s desires don’t sync up, and they fail to address that issue. Their lack of effective communication and productive problem solving is also a factor that leads the marriage to dissolve.
The couple’s choice of hobbies symbolize their growth and ultimately growing apart. Both Leroy and Norma Jean have begun to expand their skills and knowledge since Leroy’s accident, but using different avenues. The type of activities they choose are symbolic of their views in life. Leroy’s activities have him drawing in, seeing commonplace things in a new light. The arts and crafts he chooses to assemble have him examining the details of his life that he never notices before his accident: “...Leroy has grown to appreciate how things are put together. He has begun to realize that in all the years he was on the road he never took time to examine anything. He was always flying past scenery” (300). Since he has been compelled to slow down by the accident, he learns to gain an understanding of regular things in a new way. He is changing a little, he still explores, however, he finds Norma Jean’s new activities intimidating and he is trying to keep most things the same.
Meanwhile, Norma Jean’s activities have her expanding and growing in broader ways that let her see the bigger picture. For a while, she is content with playing familiar music on the organ, but as she further educates herself, she does not want to...