Friday, April 6, 2012

Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason

One of the selections of the America's War anthology used in the "Let's Talk About It" series I recently discussed was Bobbie Ann Mason's 1982 story and although I was glad to read something by a fellow University of Kentucky alumnus, the brief selection in that book did not tempt me to read the full thing.

It was a story about a troubled marriage and Shiloh was only involved when the couple made a day trip there, where they tried to enjoy the scenery, only to have their marriage come to an end.

I did not understand why this story was part of our reading. Just the name "Shiloh" itself was not enough to make it a Civil War or Civil War-related story. It did use the battlefield (and a family member's encouraging the couple to visit it) but it was just small background to the main story.

On the other hand, maybe this is part of why I may try to get more involved in fiction. Hopefully the suggestions I have received so far will focus more on the war and not just use it as part of the background story, but even so perhaps thinking about why Mason used Shiloh for that background. Obviously, her youth was spent in Kentucky before she moved north and maybe memories of "the south" (ignoring the debate for now on if Kentucky is "southern") encouraged her to write about something completely different than her life in the northeast. Shiloh was a famous battle, known for the carnage it caused and perhaps she wanted to use the natural beauty of the battlefield as a subconscious comparison to the scenes on the land during the battle.

Perhaps I should re-read this story before trying to comment on it, but as we now commemorate the 150th anniversary of this battle, the few pages from that story came back to my mind and I wondered how Mason's choice to use it reflects on how we remember that battle and the war. Why did she not send the couple to Mammoth Cave or to the Smoky Mountains or some other scenic view in the south? Does that reflect on where she was born and lived as a youth or were there other reasons to choose a battlefield for that scene? Did she mean to use the Civil War - the "brother's war" - to symbolize a failing marriage?

These are the type of questions I never thought of until the last year or so when the concept of Civil War memory came to my attention, and I may be trying to find (and answer) more questions as this line of study catches more of my interest and I start understanding it better.  i

This post has been a bit of a stream-of-consciousness post as I thought about the battle where another Kentuckian, Albert Sidney Johnston, saw his life end so long ago. How does Shiloh resonate in our memory today? What does Mason's story say about that question?

Hopefully this post is not too nonsensical to read. Thanks for your induldgence.

1 comment:

  1. Shiloh draws a metaphor between war, urbanization, and relationships - all sites of conflict - which speak to the the timeless issues of the human condition. It also infers deeper meaning - how site are affected by their history. Does the Earth remember battle and bloodshed, do the damaged bodies and souls of that place resurface through each generation (and in turn, bring conflict to the surface, as happened during this couple's visit to the site)? It also alludes to battles remembered and battles not remembers. While the Civil War battle is certainly remembered, there are battles, such as this couple's private battle, that occur on specific sites as well, but that may not be remembered. Which battles are worthy of memorials and a place in the collective memory of the public?

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