The mother in “Shiloh” is partially responsible for the dissolution of Leroy and Norma Jean’s marriage. She resents Leroy, emotionally dominates Norma Jean, reminds the couple of their terrible loss, and tells them to go to Shiloh. Leroy notices that his mother-in-law, Mabel, is spending more time with his wife, suggesting that she is influencing Norma Jean’s view of her husband. Leroy’s lack of an occupation suggests his inability to live up to his name, since his wife points out that his name means “the king.” Leroy’s truck accident, and subsequent physical weakness, makes him inferior to his wife. In contrast, Norma Jean’s physical strength and independence make her comparable to Wonder Woman, from her body building classes to her English classes; Norma Jean has become estranged from her husband. The disparity between the two is only deepened with the addition of Norma Jean’s meddling mother, as she only heightens the tension between the couple.
Mabel has never really accepted Leroy and Norma Jean’s marriage. Leroy knows that she “has never really forgiven him for disgracing her by getting Norma Jean pregnant,” (30-607) suggesting that Mabel still does not approve of their marriage. Earlier in the story, it is reveled that Norma Jean and Leroy got married when they were eighteen, and that a baby came only a few months later, implying that their marriage was one of necessity to avoid having a baby out of wedlock. Mabel’s response to the death of the baby is selfish; she says, “fate was mocking her” (30-607). Mabel would naturally resent Leroy, and the tension between the two is obvious when Leroy states that he “gets along with his mother-in-law primarily by joking with her” (30-607). Mabel also does not hide her disapproval of the couple when she implies that their baby died because of “neglect” (73-609). Since Mabel makes her view of Leroy and the couple very obvious to Norma Jean, it is only natural that Norma Jean’s view of her husband and their relationship begins to resemble that of her mother’s.
Mabel’s one last push to end Leroy and Norma Jean’s relationship is convincing Leroy to take Norma Jean to Shiloh. Mabel convinces Leroy that “a little change is what,” (115-611) Norma Jean needs. Mabel adds that there is a log cabin in Shiloh; however, the log cabin has bullet holes in it. The log cabin in Shiloh symbolizes the log cabin Leroy fantasizes about, but can never have with Norma Jean, since she no longer wants to have any home with him. By convincing Leroy to take Norma Jean to Shiloh, Mabel has selected the perfect battleground for the end of their relationship. Leroy and Norma Jean are left to fight the final battle of their relationship at Shiloh, and after having seen the dead log cabin, Leroy realizes that his home with Norma Jean is dead too. At the battleground, Norma Jean makes her final decision on their relationship; she decides to dissolve it. Norma Jean mentions that “everything was fine until,” (152-612) Mabel caught her smoking, and that it “set something off” (152-612). Mabel’s presence in Norma Jean’s life has influenced her decisions, and when she says that she feels “eighteen again,” (154-612) she realizes that she has a second chance at her life, and that now she must make the decision her mother would have wanted her to make.
Mabel is one of the main causes for the dissolution of Leroy and Norma Jean’s marriage. With her negative opinion of Leroy and his marriage to her daughter, she is able to influence Norma Jean. By mentioning their dead baby and suggesting that it was their inability to be good parents that caused the baby’s death, Mabel adds to the already existing tension in their marriage. She convinces them to visit Shiloh, so that they can engage in the final battle of their marriage. Norma Jean finally leaves Leroy, waving her arms in the end as if to symbolize her victory. (665)