Study Guide

Shiloh Dissatisfaction

By Bobbie Ann Mason


The three main characters in "Shiloh" have one thing in common: They can't get no satisfaction.

Although on the surface Leroy and Norma Jean go through the motions of life as a married couple and don't openly fight, their marriage is far from happy and healthy—they're each pretty dissatisfied with the way things have turned out. Norma Jean isn't satisfied having Leroy at home all the time and wishes he would take an interest in starting a new job. She's also unhappy with how Leroy and her mother won't leave her alone and allow her to be the independent adult she is now, rather than the fragile and immature teenager she once was. She wants to break free.

Leroy's dissatisfaction comes from feeling disconnected from his wife and his community, along with his inability to figure out what to do with his life apart from building his wife a home he senses she doesn't want.

Mabel, everyone's favorite crabby old mother-in-law, is dissatisfied with lots of different things. For starters, she's still angry with Leroy for the humiliation he caused her by getting Norma Jean pregnant as a teenager, and she disapproves of Norma Jean's housekeeping and her attempts to improve herself. She's even upset with God for mocking her with the death of her grandson. She also seems bored—she comes over to Norma Jean's house all the time simply because she has nothing better to do.

All in all, this trio sounds like quite the unhappy family—they're like three pieces from different puzzles that are stuck together, even though they will never be able to fit.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. Mabel knows that Norma Jean is dissatisfied with her marriage; why does she think a trip to Shiloh will help?
  2. Do drugs and or alcohol play a role in any of the character's dissatisfaction? Why or why not, and what evidence supports your answer?
  3. Are any characters satisfied at the end of the story? Are there moments of satisfaction before the ending? Explain.

Chew on This

Everything is give and take: Norma Jean's attempts to find satisfaction increase the dissatisfaction of both her mother and husband.

It's a one-man show: Leroy's dissatisfaction is ultimately with himself more than with any of the other characters or situations in his life.

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