The short story Shiloh by Bobby Ann Mason portrays a marriage in trouble. The couple cannot seem to find any common ground and seem incapable of communicating their true feelings. Instead, they take up a variety of interests and amusements, but these are just distractions they use to escape from taking any meaningful action. As Norma Jean’s mother Mabel says, they are “…just waiting for time to pass.”
Norma Jean uses her diversions to distract her from the frustration she feels about having Leroy at home all the time. Whenever Leroy says something that irritates her rather than communicating with him she exercises fanatically or dives into some other distraction. One example of this occurs in the kitchen where she is doing leg exercises with ankle weights. When Leroy pushes the idea of building a log cabin, she shifts from stationary exercises to goose-stepping around the kitchen. Later when he presses her on the subject again, she shuts him out by playing “Who’ll be the Next in Line” on the organ. She takes a night school course in composition and when Leroy asks her why she tells him” It’s something to do.”
Leroy is at a crossroads in his life and distracts himself from making a decision by building craft projects, one of, which gives him the idea to build a log cabin house. He becomes fixated on the project and begins to use it as a crutch. Anytime Norma Jean or Mabel try to nudge him into action, he makes excuses and brings up the subject of the log cabin. Such as when Norma Jean suggest some types of jobs he might look for Leroy replies, “I can’t do something where I’d have to stand up all day” and “I’m going to build you this house.” And when Mabel chastises him for sewing and says, “…You don’t know what to do with yourself – that’s the whole trouble…” he responds that “All the big football players on TV do it” and “I’m aiming to build us a log house.”
Even the trip to Shiloh is just another distraction. They wander about the battlefields aimlessly, ambivalent to the park monuments. The story’s climax occurs when Norma Jean decides to stop “just waiting for time to pass.” When he tells her they can start all over again she replies “We have started all over again, …And this is how it turned out.”
All of the main characters including Mabel are just letting time pass them by, but each of them deal with it differently. Mabel appears to be most at ease with time passing, believing that her best times are in the past. Leroy is confused, he is unsure of what to do with his time and he doesn’t recognize the futility of his log cabin project until it is too late. Norma Jean is most uncomfortable with the time passing and this spurs her to make productive use of it in positive ways, such as exercise and classes. Finally she makes the decision that she wants to start all over again, but not with Leroy.