Sergeant Mom
Mabel Beasley, the Mother of Norma Jean, in Bobbie Ann Mason?s "Shiloh", has all the characteristics of a Marine Drill Sergeant. A Drill Sergeant will inspect living areas for cleanliness, demand everything be in its proper place, maintain strict discipline, and change certain personality or character traits. The Drill Sergeant will force any person, without a strong spirit, to perform acts of defiance against themselves, society, or the object of their tribulations. These Drill Sergeant characteristics are very evident in the way Mabel governed Norma Jean during her adult life.
Our introduction to Mabel in the story does not resemble the stature of a Drill Sergeant; just the opposite is true: "a short, overweight woman" (666). When Mabel was younger, was thin and good-looking, she would have been a model Sergeant. Now, she is envisioned in a long loose fitting dress. Flower patterns cover the dress from shoulder to ankle. It conceals the bulges overhanging from different parts of her body, as the years have added the extra pounds. The dress is divided in the middle with a white belt and gold buckle. This is the kind of belt and buckle Drill Sergeant Mabel would wear during her inspection of Norma Jean?s house: "she inspects the closets and then the plants, informing Norma Jean when a plant is droopy or yellow. She also notices if Norma Jean?s laundry is piling up" (666). Everything must be in its proper place, having been ordered by Mabel?s strict discipline policy.
Mabel?s discipline is the result of her anger against Norma Jean for getting pregnant out of wedlock, and the death of the baby a few months after birth; taking Mabel?s only grandchild. It is doubtful Norma Jean will give Mabel another grandbaby. She is thirty-four, and it has been fifteen years. Now, Mabel is beginning to realize no grandchildren will enrich her life while she is young.
Mabel?s actual age is not known, neither is there knowledge of her age when she married, or the circumstances surrounding her marriage. Was it possible she made a mistake, and married because she was pregnant with Norma Jean?
Mabel?s mistake, and the disgust she feels, has been directed at dominating Norma Jean. Her hatred is misdirected. She cannot accept the fact she was not a good mother during Norma Jean?s teenage years. She was a single mom, working at least one job maybe two, in order to provide a living for her and Norma Jean: "Her husband died of a perforated ulcer when Norma Jean was ten" (667). Mabel was not there to guide Norma Jean, answer her questions, or teach her about life. Without a Mother and Father figure Norma Jean was left on her own to experiment with life and make her own mistakes.
Mabel was determined to punish Norma Jean for the mistake. She would interfere and disrupt her daughter?s life without allowing Norma Jean to make any decisions for herself. Mabel cannot understand why Norma Jean is not acting the way Mabel expects: " ?I don?t know what?s got into that girl,? Mabel says. ?She used to go to bed with the chickens. Now you say she?s up all hours. Plus her a-smoking. I liked to died? "(670). Mabel?s reference to smoking is evidence she does not want her daughter to have her own character traits.
Mabel has changed Norma Jean?s personality and character traits during the past fifteen years. She has dominated, controlled, and criticized every aspect of her life from the way she manages her home life, takes care of her house, and even the manner in which she conducts her outside activities.
Norma Jean must escape her house of detention. She must take action, whereas she will have the final performance: "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" (673). What act has Mabel forced Norma Jean to perform? Mabel no longer has any control over her daughter. The power to wield her strict discipline or control Norma Jean?s personality would never happen again. The exercise! It was a well-executed military salute, a non-verbal expression saying good bye to Sergeant Mom.