In Bobbie Ann Mason's story "Shiloh" she presents the character of Norma Jean as having a strong personality but an emptiness deep within. Norma Jean is presented as a strong character on the outside in the opening of the story. "She lifts three-pound dumbbells to warm-up, the progresses to a twenty-pound barbell."(Mason p. 46). However as the story progresses she exhibits the emptiness which she feels. "One day Leroy arrives home from a drive and finds Norma Jean in tears." (Mason p. 50). Norma Jean feels an emptiness toward her deceased child, her husband, and also her mother. Her emptiness toward her husband may be seen in the way she interacts with him. She feels very uncomfortable when she is around him. Norma Jean is always trying to find something for him to do. When he arrived back home Mason states the "she seems a little disappointed." (Mason p. 47). The emptiness she feels toward her mother is presented in the feelings she has toward her. Her deceased son symbolizes her emptiness because of his death.
In the beginning of the story Norma Jean tries to conceal the emptiness that she has felt for so many years. Mason first presents her as a strong character by explaining how she works out and would like to become stronger. She may become stronger physically, but nothing can overcome the emptiness which she feels. Norma Jean tries to help her husband get a job, and she gives him a variety of ideas for this. She does not enjoy being around him because their relationship makes her feel uncomfortable. Mason presents Norma Jean and Leroy as having many differences. The two do not know how to discuss their problems, therefore Norma Jean conceals all of the emptiness she feels inside her. Norma Jean feels an emptiness towards her husband because he has been gone so long. She has learned how to live without him but, the emptiness settles in due to this. Norma Jean does not know how to express her feeling of emptiness to her husband. Due to this, Norma Jean lets her emptiness overcome the strength that she is perceived as having and decides to end her marriage.
As the story proceeds, Norma Jean's emptiness begins to overcome her. She feels more of an emptiness toward her mother. She feels as though her mother, Mabel, is always nagging her about something; whether it be smoking or that her laundry is piling up. The scene in which her mother catches her smoking and Leroy arrives home to find her crying symbolizes her emptiness. She feels overwhelmed when her mother starts talking about Leroy and Norma Jean taking a trip to Shiloh. Norma Jean has no apparent reason to go there. When her mother starts pressuring her about taking the trip, it makes the feeling of emptiness overcome her because of all the emotions she is feeling. Norma Jean believes that Mabel brings up discussions just to make her emptiness show through. Mabel tells Norma Jean about a baby who has its leg chewed of by a dog, due to its parents neglect. This discussion makes Norma Jean feel an emptiness in herself for her deceased son.
A feeling of emptiness is created through the death of her son due to the emotions which she felt. Norma Jean did not feel comfortable enough to share her thoughts of her son's death with her husband. After her son's death, she bottled up her emotions and never spoke of them again. "They never speak about their memories of Randy, which have almost faded, but now that Leroy is home all the time, they sometimes wonder if one of them should mention the child." (Mason p. 47). Norma Jean could not discuss the problems of her sons death with anyone. She let these feelings take over her life and create an emptiness.
Throughout the story it is seen how the sequence of events that happen begin to unfold the empty feeling that Norma Jean feels but how she is also portrayed as a strong woman. Sometimes no matter how much strength one has, a weakness may fall over them. Norma Jean's weakness was the emptiness that she felt in her life. She did not let anyone know that she felt such an emptiness and this is what destroyed her and her marriage in the end.