The author of a beautiful historical novel Shiloh, Shelby Foote uses her words carefully and links together the language, plot, setting, and theme almost perfectly. She is an author that uses a varied of different symbols from the beginning, to the end of the story. She equally developed all her characters and made sure they fit into the story and had some important in it. Characterization in the story Shiloh is very important. It tells you a little insight on who each character is and how they think. Shiloh has two main characters in it that have an effect on the story and its outcome, Leroy and Norma Jean. Leroy is a man that used to drive big rigs for a living. He was always on the road, until one day he got into a bad accident and hurt his leg. Now Leroy sits at home and always tells his wife Norma Jean that he is going to build her a log cabin. Leroy feels sorry for him and doesn’t want to get another job. He is content in staying home and doing woman-like roles around the house. He cooks and cleans while Norma supports them with her job. Leroy is very stubborn in his ways and doesn’t realize the changes that are going on around him.
Norma Jean is a woman who has come to terms with her husband being away and driving his big rig. When Leroy hurts his leg she realizes how well she doesn’t really know him. As the days pass, Norma Jean realizes that she wants her youth back. Norma is a strong woman and is growing independent throughout the story, and you can see it in the author’s language that she uses. From the first lines in the story you see the roles in the house are reversed by the language that the author Shelby Foote uses. Norma goes out and works and she likes to lift weights. Leroy, on the other hand, sits at home cooking, cleaning, and needlepoint. Norma is sick of Leroy not working and confronts him about it. He tells her that there is nothing he can do that won’t hurt his leg. She suggests many jobs, but Leroy will have nothing to do with it. When Norma says, “You ought to try standing up all day behind a cosmetics counter. It’s amazing that I have strong feet, coming from two parents that never had strong feet at all.” Then Norma Jean looks down and there are two weights on the bottom of his feet. You can see that Norma is almost walking for the both of them. Those weights are used as symbols saying that Leroy is like extra weight that she has to carry around.
Shelby Foote uses Norma Jean to help clarify that relationships can fail and that roles do change in today’s relationships. Foote uses the character Norma Jean to give her audience an idea how times have changed as well as people. Norma Jean, who was forced to marry at a young age, sees a new path as the modern days draw near. Norma Jean is a woman who has very low confidence, very dependent on her mother, her husband, and is motivated to change her life. As time passes, she begins to change from being dependent on everyone to a woman who is very independent and gains confidence in herself. Norma Jean has many traumatic events in her life. At the age of eighteen, she was pregnant and was forced to marry Leroy, the baby’s father, because of “southern traditions”. When the baby, Randy, was four months and three days, Randy died of sudden infant death syndrome, as Mable thinks Randy died of neglect. As they took Randy to the emergency room, the doctor told them, “It just happens sometimes” (Foote 48). Here she was married to a man that she made a mistake with and lost the baby that brought them together.
On top of dealing with her husband, and the death of her child, Norma Jean’s mother is very controlling over her life. Norma Jean is often felt intimidated by her mother. When her mother visits, “she inspects the closets and then the plants, informing Norma Jean when a plant is droopy or yellow” (Foote 48). When Norma Jean was thirty-four, her mother caught her smoking. Mabel does not like the fact that her daughter is smoking and she brings up a story about a dog that chewed the baby’s legs and is on trail for neglect. Later that night when Mabel leaves, Norma Jean tells Leroy “She just said that about the baby because she caught me smoking. She’s trying to pay me back.” (Foote 52) Shelby Foote is using Norma Jean to show how relationships between her mother is becoming tense and is making Norma Jean realize how controlling her mother is over her life. Leroy is not doing anything to help the relationship between Norma Jean and her mother better. Mabel is sitting with Leroy and tells him “I don’t know what is going on with that girl” (Foote 52). Mable wants to be controlling over Norma Jean, but Norma Jean wants her freedom.
Norma Jean is a typical American woman. She stays at home, while Leroy is away working, she cleans the house and cooks. She has no job, and no activity she can turn to until Leroy buys her an electric organ for Christmas. Norma Jean used to play the piano is high school. She told Leroy “It don’t leave you, it’s like riding a bicycle.” (Foote 47) She bought a songbook and learned every tune in it. As she began to play, she cried, “It’s an orchestra!” (Foote 47) she was so excited she had something she could do, she did not have to have anyone else, it was all her. At this point of her life, this is the only thing she can turn to. Leroy had an accident and injured his leg, now he stays at home all the time. Norma Jean begins to build her confidence level up. She realizes she doesn’t have to depend on Leroy, and now Leroy is dependent on her. Norma Jean got a job at a cosmetics counter, she begins to exercise, and begins to do things for herself. Her relationship between her and her husband begins to grow further apart. Leroy is staying at home while Norma Jean is off at work, exercising, and doing her own thing. She begins to get frustrated with Leroy and wants him to start looking for a job. She reads Leroy a list she has made, “Things you could do,” (Foote 49) as she reads the list, he says, “Don’t worry, I’ll do something.” (Foote 49) The basic, overall changed that Norma Jean goes through is changing into a person that was very dependent on her husband, into a person who in very independent. She thought that she needed Leroy to pay the bills, and to have a job so that she could have a life. When Leroy was finally at home with her she got to see his true side, she came to a realization.
Norma Jean finally realized that she did not need Leroy in her life in order for her to survive. She was a strong woman mentally. Norma Jean had graduated from a six-week bodybuilding course and now is taking an adult-education class at the local community college. To Leroy, she is intimidating him with the English lessons. Leroy asks, “What are you doing this for, anyhow?” (Foote 52) as she shrugs, she says, “It is something to do.” (Foote 52) The relationship between Norma Jean and Leroy is becoming non-existing. Since she has realized that she doesn’t need him, she is going out and making a life for herself. She felt that she had the power while she left Leroy at home while she went off to work. She is finally gaining the power she always wanted. Although Norma Jean is motivated by the changing times, by herself, and by Leroy, Norma Jean’s and Leroy’s trip to Shiloh, seemed to bring Norma Jean to the truth. This trip brings Norma Jean to see the truth. She realizes that they are two different people. As they were sitting in silence staring at the cemetery, Norma Jean says, “I want to leave you” (Foote 54). After silence Leroy finally says, “No, you don’t” (Foote 54). Leroy is trying to deny it. He doesn’t want to face the fact that she is going to leave him.
There is not going to be anyone to support him. Norma Jean wanted this change in her life for the longest time. She did not want to be in the “woods” her whole life. Norma Jean did not want to die before it was too late. Shiloh helped her spread her wings and leave Leroy. Foote’s character, Norma Jean, is a character that goes from an unconfident teenage mother to a confident woman who does not depend on a man. The relationships between Norma Jean and her husband, and mother make her realize that she does not have to be dependent on anyone. She has to be strong and make her own decisions. They were running her life and not Norma Jean. As she told Leroy at Shiloh, “She won’t leave me alone-you won’t leave me alone. I feel eighteen again. I can’t face that all over again. No, it wasn’t fine. I don’t know what I am saying. Forget it.” (Foote 55)
Through-out the story you have a narrator that who really try’s to keep things simple but explain events in detail. When Leroy or Norma Jean is not talking the narrator does a great job in keeping your attention on what is happening in the setting. The narrator does this by using detail of the setting and its surroundings. The narrator is honest and tells makes you really think that neither Leroy nor Norma Jean is a bad person, that they are only different. The narrator uses foreshadowing when Norma Jean gets caught by her mother Mabel, smoking a cigarette. You get the feeling that Norma Jean is changing and that even though she is older she still feels young by keeping it a secret that she smokes. The narrator also uses foreshadowing when they explain what happen to Leroy and Norma Jean’s child. It had died at a young age and the narrator goes on saying that most of the time this might break a couple up. Well by the end of the story they were no longer together. The writer uses a certain sequence of events to tell the plot of the story. First you get a feeling of Norma Jean and Leroy’s past. The writer tells you what has happened to Leroy and the accident with his leg. They writer also tells you a little bit of what the couple’s life used to be, like how Leroy was on the road most of the time and how Norma Jean stayed at home and worked.
Unfortunately, Leroy and Norma Jean were not able to keep up with their own changes in life. Leroy and Norma Jean could not keep their relationship going for two reasons. First, due to Leroy’s unfortunate accident, he has much more time on his hands and has noticed the many changes that have been going on in his life, and is unwilling to accept them. Now that Leroy has been sitting home and wasting his life away, he has started to take time and ponders his past. He remembers the good times and still wants his life to reflect those same good times. He especially remembers his late son Randy, who died because of premature birth defects. He cannot accept the fact that his life has changed and he must move on. On the contrary, Norma Jean has taken up new hobbies, which include weight lifting, adult education classes, and living life more. Norma Jean has decided to continue with her life and not reflect on the past. Leroy cannot accept the fact that his wife wants to change and move on with her life and this causes them to drift apart and eventually leads to their separation of souls. Leroy and Norma Jean also faded apart because they stopped communicating with each other. Without the communication between them, they did not get to express their feelings, nor did they talk about the recent changes in their life.
Leroy and Norma Jean drift apart from each other because Norma Jean has taken the initiative to better herself and look towards the future, while Leroy is still stuck in the past and can’t catch up to her. This relationship failed because of the lack of communication between the two parties, which in turn caused further changes in the relationship and made the two grow further apart. Two main factors could have prevented Leroy and Norma Jean’s break up. First, if Leroy had got a job he would have had something to occupy his time, and take his mind off the past. Getting a job not only would keep Leroy up on the changing times; it would also stop him from feeling sorry for him. While Leroy was sitting at home, he kept thinking about Randy. Getting a job would take these thoughts of hopelessness out of his head and give him some self-esteem again. With self-esteem, Leroy would be able to keep up with the ever-changing times and his ever-changing wife. Norma Jean started to change by engaging in new activities that kept her self-esteem high. If Leroy had followed her example, he probably would have saved his relationship. He could have taken actions to improve his well-being, both physically and mentally.
The writer goes on about the tragic incident that happens with their child at such a young age. Then the writer goes more in depth and tells you the story as it is happening. The writer uses a pattern of events from how the couple’s lives use to be, to how their life is now. She uses these events and tells the story of how they are growing apart, and how Norma Jean is changing and Leroy is staying the same. The plot structure and theme is related in that they both tell you about a coming of age story that deals with roles reversal between sexes. The structure in the Shiloh is actually quite simple. The writer uses the events of the past to give you some background on who Norma Jean and Leroy are, and what they have gone through in their pasts. Then the structure goes from that, in getting right into the heart of the story. The writer relates the surroundings to each setting, to what is going on in the plot. They are related by really getting a since of what is going on, and almost like you are in the story watching it as it unfolds. The story of Shiloh takes place in Kentucky sometime in the mid 1980‘s.
The bulk of the story is told from where Norma and Leroy live. You get a feeling that they live in a small apartment either in town or just outside of one. The whole story is based on going to Shiloh, which is a battlefield fought in the civil war. At the end of the movie the couple finally goes and this is where they break up. This setting is significant to the text in that it is a battlefield where thousands of people lost their life. Now it seems like Leroy is losing his when Norma Jean breaks up with him. At the end of the story Norma Jean walks away from Leroy and goes down near a stream. The water from this stream symbolizes Norma Jean new beginning, and that she is young, free, and independent again. Symbolism plays a big part in the story of Shiloh. There are many symbols that stand out throughout the movie, but none stood out more than the log cabin that Leroy said he was going to build for Norma Jean. Leroy was so content on building Norma a log cabin that he really lost touch in who Norma was. She was changing and growing with independents and Leroy did not even realize that this was happening. Leroy so persistent on building this cabin that it was almost like he used this as an excuse not to work and to just sit around the house. When the couple finally decided to go to Shiloh, they saw a log cabin there full of bullet holes let over from the war. This was symbolic of their relationship. It was like their relationship was a log cabin that was getting more and more bullet holes in it as time passed. Norma Jean realized this and Leroy did not. She wanted a new beginning and wanted her youth back. You could even use her name as a symbol.
The famous Marilyn Monroe’s really name was Norma Jean. Norma Jean was almost turning into what Marilyn Monroe became to be, a young woman who valued her youth, and was very independent. The issue that Shiloh raises is that people change. Norma Jean changes throughout the story and Leroy doesn’t want to accept no even realize the changes that Norma is going through. Both Norma and Leroy roles in their gender change throughout the story. Leroy by staying home and doing what is normally a woman’s job, while Norma Jean is out working and supporting them, like what a man normally does. Shiloh raises on key question in, is it ever too late to get your youth back? This question is answered at the end of the story when the couple finally breaks up and Norma Jean feels young and not tied down again. All in all Shiloh is a story that gets to the point, but as the same time tells you it in detail. The writer of this story does a great job in relating the setting, theme, plot, language, and characterization to each other. It is over all a great story and teaches you that it is never too late to get regain or find your youth again.