Throughout the story, Norma Jean’s 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 Norma’s 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 Norma’s 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 happen soon.
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 Leroy’s 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 Christ’s sake” 980. Mabel immediately comes down on her daughter saying that she did not raise her to speak with that tone of voice and Norma’s 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 along.
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 won’t leave me alone, you won’t 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 Jean’s 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.