Study Guide

Shiloh Setting

By Bobbie Ann Mason


Western Kentucky

Kentucky-fried fiction, anyone? Most of Bobbie Ann Mason's finger-lickin' good stories and novels are set in a fictionalized version of the area in and around Mayfield, a little town near Paducah, KY, where she grew up. Of course, if you want, you can learn all sorts of fun facts about the real Mayfield and Paducah on that magical thing we call the Internet—but that's beside the point. Back to the story!

Once, in response to a question on an online bulletin board, Mason confessed:

Most of my stories . . . are set in western Kentucky, the place I know best. I was born and raised near Mayfield though—I often put them in an imaginary town I call Hopewell, which I imagine is near Paducah, just like Mayfield really is. . . . Referring to Paducah occasionally is a way for me to help readers to know in general where the events in the stories are taking place. 

Who would have known Western Kentucky had so much to offer?

The story is set in the 1970s, a time of social, political, and economic change. Mason has paid careful attention to the impact of these changes on working-class people in her part of the world. Many of her characters are turning away from the old values of family, farming and faith during a time when new choices and opportunities begin to arise—ways of life earlier generations could never have imagined.

Describing her home state during this period, Bobbie Ann Mason writes in her memoir, Clear Springs:

Kentucky is an agricultural state, ranking fourth in the nation in the number of family farms. The tension between holding on to a way of life and letting in a new way—under the banners of Wal-Marts and chicken processors—is the central dynamic of the area. There are no malls, no cinema complexes, no coffee bars here. But a Wal-Mart Supercenter is looming over the horizon like a UFO. The town is poised on the edge of the future (pp. 13-14).

Mason's characters all respond to change in different ways. In "Shiloh," we see how change can energize a character like Norma Jean, by enlarging her possibilities, or it can seem threatening for a character like Leroy, who feels out of place and diminished in his neighborhood, in his home, and even within himself. Ch-ch-chaaaanges.