Study Guide

Shiloh What's Up With the Title?

By Bobbie Ann Mason

What's Up With the Title?

"Shiloh" refers to Shiloh, Tennessee, where close to 110,000 Union and Confederate troops clashed in the Civil War "Battle of Shiloh" on April 6-7, 1862. It should really be called the "Bloodbath of Shiloh" because almost 24,000 soldiers died, making it the bloodiest battle up to that date in U.S. history. Since 1894, the battlefield and surrounding area has been preserved as Shiloh National Military Park, a popular tourist attraction.
Although it was the site of unprecedented bloodshed, the characters in "Shiloh" have trouble seeing the battlefield in historical perspective. Mabel and her husband Jet went there on their honeymoon, and she remembers it wistfully through a romantic haze as "the prettiest place, so full of history" (5.30) with romantic associations that she hopes will reignite the spark in Leroy and Norma Jean's marriage and refers to their upcoming visit as a "second honeymoon" (5.24). A little morbid, if you ask us, but to each their own. If Mabel's idea of romance is the site of a tragic battle, so be it.

At Shiloh, when Leroy awkwardly tries to say something about the battle at Corinth, it's clear from Norma Jean's response that, like her mother, she views the place more in relation to her family history rather than U.S. history: "Corinth is where Mama eloped to" (7.10). Talk about a mood killer.

As Norma Jean drives them around the park, "Leroy cannot see it as a battleground" (7.1), "[h]e can only think of that war as a board game with plastic soldiers" (7.30), and "he compares the Confederates' daring attack on the Union camps" (7.30) with a recent drug bust at a bowling alley. Looking at the cemetery for the Union dead, he thinks it "looks like a subdivision site" (7.26). Maybe Leroy has a future in real estate development. Why can't these people just see things for what they are?