I am writing this letter with reference to Bobbie Ann Mason's Shiloh. I know that you were surprised with the ending of the story. I assume, you did not observe the clues in the story that showed that Norma Jean was unsettled in her life and desired a better one. There are different quotes in the story that I can use as evidence to persuade you that Norma wanted to start a new and better life. There are several instances where the discomfort and dissatisfaction of Norma Jeans has been shown. In Shiloh Mason shows at one point in Shiloh Norma Jeans said, “In some ways, a woman prefers a man who wanders” (15).
The above quote of Norma shows that she was not happy with her life with Leroy. It was because Leroy used to spend much of his time at home. However, Norma wanted a man who spends his time in outdoor activities. Norma works at a counter of a local drug store. She also maintains household chores including cleaning, cooking and others. Because of these responsibilities, she does not find enough time for herself. Following words from the story, I can show you that how Norma wanted her husband to opt for different jobs: “You could get a job as a guard at Union Carbide, where they’d let you set on a stool. You could get on at the lumberyard. You could do a little carpenter work, if you want to build so badly” (270).
Norma Jean also demonstrated her dissatisfaction in other situations. Leroy brought an organ for Norma Jean because she used to play it during her high school. Leroy played old songs from the sixties, here she said, "I did not like these old songs back then, but I have this crazy feeling I missed” (69). These words of Norma Jean show that she missed appreciation in her life. Norma Jean was dissatisfied with her life because wanted a better one. The pressure of different responsibilities has detached her from her personal life. The reason is that Norma could not perform all these tasks at the same time in an effective manner. Norma often used to make Leroy realize that he could opt for other jobs instead of driving. Norma was dissatisfied with her life with Leroy because of the amount of pressure she felt.
She used to urge her husband to find a job. She wanted to discover what she wanted. Norma Jean wanted to start a better life away from all the worries. When Leroy and Norma were planning for a trip to Shiloh, a Civil War Battlefield and Norma expressed her frustration by saying that “She won’t leave me alone, you won’t leave me alone, and I feel eighteen again” (113). These words show that Norma wanted to get away from her problems with her mother and husband. She had the desire to be free from all her worries and problems.
There are other places as well where Norma Jean displayed her dissatisfaction with the present life. For example, at one point she said, “I see a cat’s flaming eyes coming up the lane to the house. One eye is green and one is red, like a traffic light. In a moment I realize that I am waiting for the light to change” (131). It shows that Norma Jean was facing the conflict of either being persistent in the current life or chooses another and better one. Similarly, in the beginning of the story, the author has used the words “working on her pectorals.” This seems a testimony to the dictum that to re-create the body is to reinvent the self. The education of Norma Jean also showed signs of her recreation of the self (Mason, pp. 56).
The desire of Norma Jean to start a new life is evident at several other places in the story. For example, when Leroy and Norma were talking about the composition course, Leroy asked, “What are you doing this for, anyhow?” In response to this question, she shrugs and said, “It’s something to do” (56). These words also show that Norma Jean was planning a new and better life by enrolling for the composition course and bodybuilding course. Her mother Mabel and husband Leroy also felt the dissatisfaction of Norma with her present life. At one point in the story, Mabel said, “I don’t know what’s got into that girl” (58). Leroy also expressed his concern in the following manner that “I want to make her this beautiful home.” He further said, “I don’t think she even wants it. Maybe she was happier with me gone” (Mason 56).
Both Mabel and Leroy were aware that Norma Jean was not much satisfied with her life. She was gaining independence by assuming the role of the bread earner of the family. At the end of the story, Norma Jean said it directly to her husband that she wanted to leave him (Mason 56).
I am sure that all these excerpts from the story will help you understand that Norma Jean had the desire to start a new and better life. She had long been planning to start a better and independent life because she was not happy with her husband staying home all day and not doing any job. If you read and analyze these excerpts, you will not find the end shocking. In fact, you would realize that the end of the story was quite predictable.
Mason, B "Shiloh and Other Stories" Random House Publishing Group, 3 (2011): 56 to 256