Shiloh

by: Bobbie Ann Mason

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols

The Log Cabin

The log cabin that Leroy dreams of building for his wife symbolizes his marriage. The cabin is an impractical idea, and the project does not interest Norma Jean. Leroy clings to his dreams of building the cabin with the same touching and misplaced tenacity with which he clings to his wife. Nothing dissuades him, even the straightforward words of Mabel and Norma Jean, who repeatedly tell him that living in a cabin is unpleasant, that new developments wouldn’t allow such a structure, that building is too expensive, and that, in any case, Norma Jean hates the idea. Just as Leroy won’t let go of the idea of the cabin in the face of strong opposition, he won’t give up on his marriage in the face of clear evidence that his wife already has. At Shiloh, Leroy at last realizes that his marriage is as hollow as the boxy interior of a log cabin. Too late, the symbolic link between his dreams of a cabin and his failed marriage becomes clear to him.

The Dust Ruffle

The dust ruffle that Mabel gives Leroy and Norma Jean symbolizes the couple’s attempts to keep their troubles out of sight. When Mabel brings over the dust ruffle, a present she made by hand, Leroy jokes that it will enable him and Norma Jean to hide possessions underneath the bed. Like a ruffle that conceals objects, silence conceals Leroy’s and Norma Jean’s difficulties. They both sense the serious rifts that exist between them, but instead of examining them head-on, they ignore issues such as the death of their son, their deep unfamiliarity with each other after years of Leroy’s traveling, and their mismatched ambitions. At the end of the story, Leroy looks at the sky, and its bleached shade reminds him of the dust ruffle. The comparison of the sky, a huge expanse, to the dust ruffle, a small scrap of fabric, suggests that Leroy has belatedly understood the enormous destructive power of silence.