Goodbye Norma Jean Essay, Research Paper
Good bye Norma Jean
The death of an infant can modify one s characteristic and psychological behavior to the point of suicide. In Bobbie Ann Mason s Shiloh she leaves the ending of the story for her readers to draw their own conclusion of how Norma Jean leaves her husband Leroy. Most readers see her divorcing Leroy and starting a new life as an independent woman (Cooke 196 par.1). When in fact, this is a story about a bereaved mother who at the end, takes her own life due to the guilt over her child s death.
There are many clues to lead to the fact she took her own life. I found it interesting Bobbie Ann Mason gave the character the name Norma Jean. Norma Jean was also the real name of Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe s depression and inability to find lasting happiness resulted in psychological disorders with the end result of her taking her own life.
The character Norma Jean fits all the psychological characteristics of behavior change in mothers who are coping with life after losing their child to sudden infant death syndrome. The most common symptoms are anxiety and depression (Boyle 933 par.1). She is always trying to stay busy. First she decided to build her own body up. She goes to the gym or does exercises around the house whenever she is home. Second she decided to take night classes at her local community college. She comes home and writes essays of stories she has read. She never seems to be in a relaxed state of being. These are signs of anxiety. The definition of anxiety is uneasiness. She can t decide what she wants to do with herself. There are many reasons for her depression. She is trying to cope with the death of her child, her empty marriage to Leroy and her less than supportive mother.
The death of her child occurred while she and Leroy were watching a movie at a drive in theater. Her child then four months old was in the back seat. Studies have shown the amount of guilt a parent places upon themselves leads to emotional, psychological, and social consequences (Boyle 933 par 5). The relationship between the two parents becomes difficult to manage and needs tremendous care and guidance to maintain (Boyle 933 par 10). Of all the deaths a person might encounter, the death of a child is very traumatic and likely to lead to most severe consequences. It is reasonable to anticipate that families who lose children from SIDS will manifest some or all of a range of mental health problems. Grief has been described as involving shock and numbness, feelings of searching and yearning, disorganization (depression), and reorientation (Boyle 933 par 15).
Leroy, a long-distance trucker who has spent most of his time on the road since the death of their child, has come home to stay after a highway accident that has wrecked his rig and left him thinking he is incapable of driving again. Norma Jean was accustomed to him being gone all the time and preferred it. In some ways, a woman prefers a man who wanders (Charters 973 par. 11). She never complained about his traveling. Leroy is a character who prefers to get high, lay around on the couch and think about building a log cabin for his wife. He believes he can rebuild his marriage with Norma Jean and try to regain the relationship they had before the death of their son. Norma Jean sees this man as someone with no ambition to better his self. Her marriage to him from the beginning was due to her pregnancy. I believe she has felt trapped into this marriage from the start. As she was playing tunes from a sixties songbook she said, I didn t like these old songs back then, she said. But I have this crazy feeling I missed something. (Charters 965 par 6). She married at 18 and had her son a couple of months later. I believe that Bobbie Ann Mason was stating that she missed her teenage years. She had to mature quickly with a husband and baby on the way. She had to take on responsibilities I believe she was not prepared for.
Mabel is Norma Jean s mother. She is very critical of Norma Jean. When she comes over to visit, which is more often than Norma Jean would like, she always finds something wrong with the way Norma Jean takes care of things. She would inform her when a plant was droopy or yellow or if the laundry was piling up (Charter 966 par 10). Norma Jean was interpreting these statements and information from her mother as if her mother was telling her she was neglecting things. This adds to Norma Jean s depression. She has felt guilty over her baby s death and mother continues to remind her of how neglectful she is. Mabel goes as far to tell Norma Jean a story about a Dachshund dog killing a baby. They put the dog on trial. It chewed the baby s legs off. The mother was in the next room all the time. They thought it was neglect (Charters 970 par3). Norma Jean takes this as a statement directed toward her. She believes her mother is blaming her for the death of her own son. She should have given the baby her attention instead of watching a movie at the drive-in. All of these remarks add to her psychological state of mind.
In support of these contentions, one can point to the ending of the story where, having told her husband Leroy that she wants to leave him, Norma Jean walks quickly through the cemetery at Shiloh. Shiloh was a battle fought in the Civil War. There were thirty five hundred soldiers died here in the past. The cemetery itself represents death. Why would Bobbie Ann Mason bring Norma Jean, a depressed woman, to such a place if she were not about to take her own life? She told her husband she was going to leave him, not divorce him. Everything was fine till Mama caught me smoking. She won t leave me alone- you won t leave me alone. I feel eighteen again. I can t face that all over again. No, it wasn t fine (Charters 973 par 20 and 22). She is trying to tell him she has not been fine since the death of their baby. Norma Jean has reached the bluff, and she is looking out over the Tennessee River. Now she turns toward Leroy and waves her arms. Is she beckoning to him? She seems to be doing an exercise for her chest muscles. This is where she is waving her arms up in disgust. She has had enough and can not take anymore. Here is a woman who has been depressed since the death of her child. Living in a negative environment of a lifeless marriage and a critical mother. Here is where she plunges backwards into the Tennessee River to end all of her misery.
In conclusion, I believe Bobbie Ann Mason s character Norma Jean was not symbolizing the modern woman striving to find her identity and individuality, but a bereaved mother who s depression and inability to accept life takes her own.