03 October 2008

“The Life You Save May Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor (Southern Literature)

The “heart of the story” lies with the possibility of transformation in Mr. Tom T. Shiftlet. He is a wanderer. He approaches the home of an old woman and her mute daughter, Lucynell Crater, as the sun is setting. They live on a dilapidated plantation that is in need of repair. The old woman does not see him as a threat. The woman attempts to marry off her mute daughter by offering him material gain. She wanted someone to aid her in the maintenance of the estate. The transformation of Mr. Shiftlet occurs in three parts as they relate to Lucynell. Initially, he rejects the mute woman. It is only after he envisions material gain that he considers the young woman. He states, he “always wanted an automobile but he had never been able to afford one before.” He moves into their home. Then he marries Lucynell. He does maintenance around the estate and on the car and teaches Lucynell a word. He leaves her in the end. He is not whole physically or emotionally; he is missing part of his left arm. If he had chosen to remain with Lucynell they could have filled the voids within their lives. They could have met each other’s needs.

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