Comparing“Shiloh” and “A Certain Lady”
Thetwo works of literature have various thematic similarities because oftheir similar subject matter. They all talk about relationships andthe challenges that partners go through in marriage. “A CertainLady” highlights the plight of a mature woman who is in anemotionally unsatisfying relationship (Spencer25).The husband is not keen to give her any attention and gets intointimate relationships with young girls. In Shiloh, the majority ofthe story highlights the plight of two couples, Leroy and NormanJean. After losing their baby, Randy, during infancy, their lives areparalysed with grief (Li93).Leroy bear the most of this emotional burden since despite havingcompassion and love for his wife, he worries that his wife isunwilling to show any emotional commitment towards him. After havingan accident, he stays home most of the time and is afraid for hiswife because he thinks she is unhappy because his presence remindsher of their dead son.
Therole of emotions
Bothtexts highlight the role of emotions in shaping in influencing ourdecisions and characters. In Shiloh, emotions play a significant rolein shaping the definition of the characters. The death of Randy,although it happens years before the onset of the story, brings griefto Jean and Leroy (Li94).The two are unwilling to speak about their son’s death because ofthe deep emotions brought about by the topic. The two have fuzzymemories about the baby, demonstrating a lack of emotional commitmenton the subject. This is a clear demonstration of how emotions such asgrief influence our character and way of life.
Thepicture of other grown children reminds Leroy of his son and extendshis emotions in shaping his relationship with Mabel. He thinks thatMabel was responsible for Randy’s death since she was against thepregnancy, Jean being a teenager. In their everyday experiences,grief dominates their emotions and influences how they react tosimple matters. For example, when Mable tells a tragic story about adog that killed a baby, she claims that the mother should be heldresponsible for letting the baby die (Li96).Norma Jean and Leroy assume that Mable is simply talking about themthey think that the reasoning behind the story was to take a jab atthem. Their sensitivity to the topic suggests that the emotionssurrounding Randy’s death are at the forefront of their minds andbecome evident with the slightest reminder of Randy.
Thespeaker in “A certain Lady” is a woman who is mature and is aphysical relationship. However, she does not get emotionalsatisfaction in the relationships and yarns for someone to satisfyher. She addresses the love of her life as “mylove”and her emotional hunger drives every action that she takes (Spencer18).For example, she says she will paint her mouth with fragrance as wellgazes at him and drinks in the adoring eyes of his lover. Herexpressions and actions are seductive but at the same time full ofpretense. By tilting her head, the lady demonstrates a feigning ofinterests in her lover. The poem shows the human need for emotionalsatisfaction, especially in physical relationships.
Thespeaker in “A certain lady” knows the role of emotions inrelationships and plays the intimate role of a woman quiteimpressively. Her actions are seductive and adoring, actions that aremeant to influence the emotions of her lover. However, she does notget concealed in the unrewarding emotional commitments in therelationship for example, she says “Ican laugh”…. “I can smile”….. “I can kiss,”all these demonstrate her emotional freedom and the role that theyplay in revealing her course of action (Spencer24).Both texts highlight the importance of emotions in shaping humanbehavior and the need to address them.
In“A Certain Lady,” the speaker seeks justice over the emotionaldissatisfaction. She does everything to please her man and ignoresthe faults of her lover in the pursuit of satisfaction (Parker45).Although her words and body expressions are full of pretense, shetries not to get angry as her lover tells her about his experienceswith other women. She uses her body language such as looks and smilesto entice and please the man but her lover simply “rehearseshis lists of love.” This brings a lot of pain to the speaker, who gets no attentiondespite pleasing her lover. He continues to read his escapades withother women oblivious to the pain that she goes through (Li 45).Throughout the poem, the speaker looks for justice from her lover.She plots to cheat on her husband by saying “Andwhat goes on my love, while you’re away, you will never know.”She takes upon herself to achieve justice that her lover has refusedto offer.
InShiloh, Leroy enjoys being at home and is happy to have his wifearound. He feels affection towards his wife but is afraid that hiswife may not be willing to return these feelings. His constantpresence does not seem to please hear. He, therefore, feels like animpediment to his wife’s happiness. He worries that being aroundreminds his wife of Randy, but later realizes that he was lucky tosave his marriage from the devastating effects of child loss (May16). Throughout the story, Leroy attempts to build a relationshipwith his wife, but all does not seem well. He does not get justicefor his compassion and love for his wife. Randy belonged to both ofthem and therefore felt the loss equally. The emotional emptinessforces Leroy to go for pointless drives to get away from home. Bothof them become smokers because of the tension and grief around them.It was, therefore, unjust for Jean to deny her husband emotionalsatisfaction. In “A Certain Lady,” the speaker wants emotionaljustice from her lover, while in “Shiloh” Leroy seeks emotionaljustice from Norma Jean.
Theother theme in both texts is regret and sadness. The speaker in “ACertain Lady” almost regrets associating with her lover. Sheregrets her efforts of trying to please her husband because they didnot bear fruit. Every stanza ends with the line “youwill ever know,”which symbolizes the sadness of the speaker (Spencer32). She compares her emotional grief with death by saying “And youlaugh back, nor can you ever see, the thousand little deaths that myheart has died.” She also talks of “the straining thinks withinmy heart.” All these excerpts demonstrate her sadness and regretover the current situation.
In“Shiloh,” Leroy regrets losing his job through injury. His injuryforces him to stay home like a desperate housewife, which makes himsad about his situation (Newman 83). He regrets his continuouspresence in the house since he believes it reminds Noma Jean of theirlost son. Moreover, both Norma Jean and Leroy regret the death oftheir son. The sights of other grown boys remind Leroy of their deadson, meaning he misses him and at the same time regrets the fact thathe dies as an infant (Newman 97). The grief over the loss of Randyfills them with sadness throughout their lives. Therefore, the twotexts highlight the themes of sadness and regret between marriedpersons.
Thetwo texts have differences that are evident as one looks at thethemes. In Shiloh, the man seems to be the aggrieved party, while in“A Certain Lady” the woman is the aggrieved party. Moreover, thereasons for the tension that exists between the partners in each textare different. In “A certain lady,” the unfaithful nature of thehusband seems to be the major reason for the problems experienced bythe couples. In Shiloh, there are many reasons for the tension thatexists between Leroy and his wife. The first reason is the demise oftheir son as an infant. This loss brings tension between them sincethey do no one is willing to talk about the loss.
Onthe other hand, Leroy’s injury plays a major role in dividing thepartners. He loses his job and therefore ceases being the breadwinnerof the family. His inability to provide for his family destabilizedhis self-esteem and made his wife appear superior to him (Newman103). The accident makes Leroy and Jean to swap traditional, roles,Leroy stays home all day the same way as a housewife. He also engagesin feminine roles and becomes shy around his wife. Therefore, the twotexts have similar themes, but the circumstances leading to thedevelopment of the themes are very different.
InShiloh, the text highlights the subject of feminism. For example,Leroy asks Jean if her conduct is inspired by the women’s movement,she tells him “don’t be silly.” This is ironical because NormaJean had been influenced by the women’s movement beyond what sheknew. She got her feminist ideas from the images of powerful women onthe television. Leroy thinks that Norma Jean is like a televisioncharacter known as the Wonder Woman. On the other hand, “A CertainLady” speaks nothing about the women’s movement it simplyhighlights the plight of women and has some elements of fighting foremotional freedom. Inspired by television advertisements, Norma Jeaneats “Body Buddies” cereals. The feminist inspirations prompt herto start lifting weights and observes Leroy’s physical therapy toget an idea of the routines. Like many other women passionate aboutfeminism, she makes plans to leave her husband. In “A CertainLady,” it is not clear if the speaker plans to leave her husband,what is clear is that she looks forward to emotional freedom andsatisfaction.
Li,Yang. "Gender Identity Disorder in Shiloh." OverseasEnglish 7(2012): 093.
May,Charles. "The American Short Story in the Twenty-FirstCentury." ShortStory Theories.Brill, 2012. 299-324.
Newman,Sally J. "A Folkloristic Literary Analysis of Cultural Collisionin the Work of Bobbie Ann Mason." (2013).
Parker,Dorothy. Completepoems.Penguin Books, 2011.
Spencer,Briana M. MATERIALGIRL: THE SUBJECTIVE ROLE OF OBJECTS IN DOROTHY PARKER’S POEMS ANDSHORT STORIES.Diss. University of North Carolina Wilmington, 2012.