76 pages 2 hours read

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor


Fiction | Novella | Middle Grade | Published in 1991

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Moral Ambiguity: “What’s right?” Law, Culture, Religion, or the Heart?

Marty’s mission to save Shiloh forces Marty to examine his personal ethos in the face of moral ambiguity. Marty acknowledges that “…right and wrong’s all mixed up in my head” (61). Marty receives conflicting messages about what is right and wrong from separate standards: the letter of the law, cultural norms, and his Christian faith. Unlike his dad, Marty knows that the situation is “not all so black and white as Dad makes it out to be, neither.” (85). Marty makes his ethical decisions based on his sense of justice and his belief in the value of all life.

The law simply states that Shiloh does not belong to Marty. Dad, though sympathetic to Marty’s feelings, sides with the law and local tradition, adding that the dog’s welfare is not their business. Dad believes that Marty must return the property that he does not own. For him, the answer is black and white. Marty, although respectful of the law—he is willing to take Judd’s animal abuse to court, risking community censure—argues that the dog is more than just property, he is an object worthy of love. Marty believes that his right to own Shiloh is higher than Judd’s because Marty loves Shiloh; Judd just paid money for the beagle.