What is it like to be free? Bobbie Ann Mason, the author of Shiloh puts Norma
Jean Moffitt through different tests in her life before she can find her freedom. Mason
introduces us to a character who yearns to be free from her husband and mother.
Throughout Norma Jeans life she has dealt with many difficult and trying times that
sometimes may not make sense to her and finally this thirty-four-year-old woman is ready
to spread her wings; fly away and see what it is like to be free.
Throughout the story, Norma Jeans desire to be free is evident in tasks that she is
taking on that she would not normally do, leaving her mother and husband blind to the
fact that change is coming. Norma begins taking a bodybuilding class, an English
composition class and a course in cooking exotic foods. These changes in Normas life
are evident to the reader that she is trying to rediscover herself and find her sense of
identity. Her husband Leroy takes notice late in the story to this situation and does not
understand why she is going through all of these classes. In a conversation with Mabel,
the mother of Norma, she explains to Leroy that Norma Jean just is not used to having
him home. The classes are giving Norma the space she had while Leroy was working, but
they are also the tools she needs to distance herself from Leroy and Mabel.
Not only does Norma Jean want to in a sense fly away from her clueless husband
but an overprotective mother keeps Normas eyes on the sky. As mentioned earlier
Norma is thirty-four. Still her mother, Mabel is watching every move she makes. One
day Norma is in her house with the door closed and in comes Mabel catching her
daughter smoking a cigarette. Norma is found later crying to Leroy how her privacy was
invaded by her mother. Norma and Leroy lost a baby when they were eighteen years old
due to SIDS. When Mabel hears of a story of neglect, she confronts her daughter and
accuses her for the death of their child because she smokes. This violation of privacy and
space brings Norma down but does lift her up and she realizes that something needs to
The character and strength of Norma are challenged by Leroy and Mabel
throughout the story. Norma has to adjust her lifestyle to accommodate Leroy whom she
is not used to living with. She does not want the same things in life as he does. He would
rather a quiet rural area with a log cabin and she wants to be with the crowd and wants
nothing to do with Leroys cabin. When it is mentioned that the two go to Shiloh, it is
suggested that Mabel accompany them. Mabel says how she would not want to invade a
honeymoon and Norma angrily asks Who is going on a honeymoon, for Christs sake
(980). Mabel immediately comes down on her daughter saying that she did not raise her
to speak with that tone of voice and Normas reply is that she has not seen anything yet.
This scene is the foreshadowing of the climax. Norma is right, they have not seen
anything yet, nor have they seen anything ever. They have been blind to her happiness all
Norma Jean is given some massive dilemmas to act upon. Should she stay married
to her husband and his pipe dreams? Can she stand to have her life examined and
questioned by her mother? It is at the end of the story that a decision to leave is finally
made. Leroy and Norma go on a little trip to Shiloh, a Civil War battlefield. After the two
have a picnic they get into an argument She wont leave me alone, you wont leave me
alone, I feel eighteen again (982). Norma tried throughout the story to get away from her
problems by avoiding her mother and husband but it just was not enough. She needed to
be free from all her worries and the two people that were holding her down. Norma Jean
left her husband that day at Shiloh and nothing could stop her.
The meaning of freedom may have different meanings from person to person.
Being free is often overlooked by many people today. The major theme in Shiloh is
conflict with Norma Jeans wanting freedom and a new way of life while her husband
Leroy and mother Mabel hold her back. Norma is tired of living a sheltered and
overprotective life and no one can see that fact. However, she always keeps an eye on the
sky. When Norma does finally get the strength she needs and her emotional wounds are
healed she leaves Leroy and Mabel with a broken wing but strong heart and takes off into
a new world of freedom where she can carry out her dreams.