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Shiloh

Bobbie Ann Mason

Leroy’s Point of View

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Shopping-Mall Realism

“Shiloh” is narrated in the third-person limited point of view, which means that we get only Leroy’s perspective. We see the other characters through Leroy’s eyes, rather than getting a wholly objective view of them. Because Norma Jean has become a mystery to Leroy, she is a mystery to us too, and we must initially guess at her motivations and thoughts. As the story opens, Leroy wonders whether she returns his feelings of affection and whether she has ever cheated on him. As the months go by, the time he spends at home allows him to learn new details about his wife: what she eats for breakfast, the way she cuts onions, where and when she puts on her slippers, what she feeds to the birds in their backyard. For the first time in years, Leroy gradually comes to understand his wife’s character, an understanding that leads him to anticipate her desire to leave the marriage. As Leroy progresses from being puzzled to noticing details and understanding character, we undergo an identical progression.

Many writers tackle the challenge of writing from the viewpoint of someone of a different age, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality, with varying results. In “Shiloh,” Mason’s male viewpoint is wholly convincing. Ironically, it is Leroy’s stereotypically feminine qualities, such as his sensitivity and sentimentality, that make him a three-dimensional man rather than a stereotype of masculinity. With his affection for his wife, grief about his son, quirky interest in crafts, pot-smoking, and self-doubt, Leroy is a fully drawn human being. Mason’s experiment with the male point of view succeeds because she treats it not as a chance to show off her writing chops but as an opportunity to fully enter the mind of a person who happens to be male.

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