Essay, Research Paper: Broken Wing

Literature: Civil War

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What is it like to be free? Bobbie Ann Mason, the author of “Shiloh” puts
Norma Jean Moffitt through different tests in her life before she can find her
freedom. Mason introduces us to a character who yearns to be free from her
husband and mother. Throughout Norma Jean’s life she has dealt with many
difficult and trying times that sometimes may not make sense to her and finally
this thirty-four-year-old woman is ready to spread her wings; fly away and see
what it is like to be free. Throughout the story, Norma Jean’s desire to be
free is evident in tasks that she is taking on that she would not normally do,
leaving her mother and husband blind to the fact that change is coming. Norma
begins taking a bodybuilding class, an English composition class and a course in
cooking exotic foods. These changes in Norma’s life are evident to the reader
that she is trying to rediscover herself and find her sense of identity. Her
husband Leroy takes notice late in the story to this situation and does not
understand why she is going through all of these classes. In a conversation with
Mabel, the mother of Norma, she explains to Leroy that Norma Jean just is not
used to having him home. The classes are giving Norma the space she had while
Leroy was working, but they are also the tools she needs to distance herself
from Leroy and Mabel. Not only does Norma Jean want to in a sense fly away from
her clueless husband but an overprotective mother keeps Norma’s eyes on the
sky. As mentioned earlier Norma is thirty-four. Still her mother, Mabel is
watching every move she makes. One day Norma is in her house with the door
closed and in comes Mabel catching her daughter smoking a cigarette. Norma is
found later crying to Leroy how her privacy was invaded by her mother. Norma and
Leroy lost a baby when they were eighteen years old due to SIDS. When Mabel
hears of a story of neglect, she confronts her daughter and accuses her for the
death of their child because she smokes. This violation of privacy and space
brings Norma down but does lift her up and she realizes that something needs to
happen soon. The character and strength of Norma are challenged by Leroy and
Mabel throughout the story. Norma has to adjust her lifestyle to accommodate
Leroy whom she is not used to living with. She does not want the same things in
life as he does. He would rather a quiet rural area with a log cabin and she
wants to be with the crowd and wants nothing to do with Leroy’s cabin. When it
is mentioned that the two go to Shiloh, it is suggested that Mabel accompany
them. Mabel says how she would not want to invade a honeymoon and Norma angrily
asks “Who is going on a honeymoon, for Christ’s sake” (980). Mabel
immediately comes down on her daughter saying that she did not raise her to
speak with that tone of voice and Norma’s reply is that she has not seen
anything yet. This scene is the foreshadowing of the climax. Norma is right,
they have not seen anything yet, nor have they seen anything ever. They have
been blind to her happiness all along. Norma Jean is given some massive dilemmas
to act upon. Should she stay married to her husband and his pipe dreams? Can she
stand to have her life examined and questioned by her mother? It is at the end
of the story that a decision to leave is finally made. Leroy and Norma go on a
little trip to Shiloh, a Civil War battlefield. After the two have a picnic they
get into an argument “She won’t leave me alone, you won’t leave me alone,
I feel eighteen again” (982). Norma tried throughout the story to get away
from her problems by avoiding her mother and husband but it just was not enough.
She needed to be free from all her worries and the two people that were holding
her down. Norma Jean left her husband that day at Shiloh and nothing could stop
her. The meaning of freedom may have different meanings from person to person.
Being free is often overlooked by many people today. The major theme in
“Shiloh” is conflict with Norma Jean’s wanting freedom and a new way of
life while her husband Leroy and mother Mabel hold her back. Norma is tired of
living a sheltered and overprotective life and no one can see that fact.
However, she always keeps an eye on the sky. When Norma does finally get the
strength she needs and her emotional wounds are healed she leaves Leroy and
Mabel with a broken wing but strong heart and takes off into a new world of
freedom where she can carry out her dreams.
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