Study Guide

Shiloh What's Up With the Ending?

By Bobbie Ann Mason

What's Up With the Ending?

The ending of the story might be the most challenging aspect of the story for readers since it is open-ended and ambiguous. Thanks a lot, Bobbie Ann.

Since Leroy can't tell what Norma Jean is doing far off by the bluffs, readers don't get a definite sense of what's going on. What is the author trying to tell us? Why doesn't she spell things out more clearly? It might be helpful to read what Bobbie Ann Mason wrote in response to questions from high school students who were puzzled by the way she ends particular stories and novels:

I hate to announce what the ending of a story means, because I don't want to control what you think about it. The ending is partly yours to figure out. I'm not saying that the ending can have any old meaning anybody wants. But if you think carefully about everything that happened in the story, you should be able to see various implications in the ending. What I do when I'm writing is to keep a story going until I reach a moment when I feel everything in the story has come to a point where it all fits together and where the final words in the story shimmer, throwing a light back over everything that has come before. If the ending throws you off balance a little or puts questions in your mind, that may be a good thing—it's part of the fun of reading a story and thinking it over. A good story should have a powerful emotional effect. You should feel something about the characters and their situation—more than you would feel if the author wrote a bare explanation instead of a fully developed story. (Source.)

At the end of the story, Leroy sees Norma Jean in the distance, turning towards him from the bluffs overlooking the river:

Now she turns towards Leroy and waves her arms. Is she beckoning to him? She seems to be doing an exercise for her chest muscles (7.31).

What do you think? Is Norma Jean signaling for Leroy to come to her? Or is she about to commit suicide by jumping in the river below? Or is she just exercising her chest muscles? Does Norma Jean still want Leroy in her life? Or is Norma Jean going to leave her husband by changing her life or ending it? So many questions, and so few answers.

The final image of the story is of the sky being "the color of the dust ruffle made for their bed" (7.31). Earlier in the story, Leroy's joking response to seeing the dust ruffle was, "Now we can hide things under the bed" (2.14). But at the end of the story, one thing is clear: This couple can no longer just sweep their troubles under the rug. Norma Jean's dissatisfaction with the marriage is out in the open and for her, there's no going back to the way things have been.