Henning then refutes these critics by demonstrating in "Shiloh" that Mason employs synecdochic details e. Mason not only employs these details, but, we contend, she undergirds "Shiloh" with a more complex, unified pattern. More specifically, Mason, in the tradition of such twentieth-century American writers as Eliot, Malamud, and Cheever, structures her story around one of the major archetypes in Western culture, the Grail myth.
Ultimately, this myth lends universal significance to the seemingly minutiae-laden lives of a twentieth-century western Kentucky couple in a troubled marriage, emphasizing by contrast the gap between what used to be and what ambiguously remains today. Mason quickly establishes the Moffitts' situation as a contemporary version of what Jessie Weston, author of the definitive study of the Grail myth, From Ritual to Romance, calls the "Waste Land.
As Mason's title suggests, Shiloh, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War where many identity-less Southern and Northern knights fell, looms in the story's background. Death and desolation permeate the Moffitts' existence.
Early on, Leroy "notices how much the town has changed. Subdivisions are spreading across western Kentucky like an oil slick" 3. Mason reinforces this lethal image later in the story by connecting the proliferation of subdivisions with the bloody battleground. When the Moffitts visit Shiloh, they stand appropriately in a graveyard: "The cemetery, a green slope dotted with white markers, looks like a subdivision site" When Leroy meets his marijuana connection, Mason again stresses death, noting the drug-dealing kid "lives in one of those expensive subdivisions in a new white-columned brick house that looks like a funeral parlor" 4.
Mason more intimately relates the Moffitts to this deadly landscape by noting that 15 years earlier, at the beginning of their marriage, their son, Randy, died of sudden infant death syndrome.
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The show covers multiple themes: growing up, parents and children, accepting responsibility, morality, and finally, wish fulfillment and its consequences. Almost everything that goes wrong—which is to say, almost everything that can—arises from a failure of parental or filial duty, despite the best intentions. The witch isn't just a scowling old hag, but a key symbol of moral ambivalence.
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James Lapine said that the most unpleasant person the Witch would have the truest things to say and the "nicer" people would be less honest. The score is also notable in Sondheim's output, because of its intricate reworking and development of small musical motifs. In particular, the opening words, "I wish", are set to the interval of a rising major second and this small unit is both repeated and developed throughout the show, just as Lapine's book explores the consequences of self-interest and "wishing.
In many instances, the characters' lines are delivered with a fixed beat that follows natural speech rhythms, but is also purposely composed in eighth, sixteenth, and quarter note rhythms as part of a spoken song. Sondheim drew on parts of his troubled childhood when writing the show. In , he told Time Magazine that the "father uncomfortable with babies [was] his father, and [the] mother who regrets having had children [was] his mother.
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