Tom Shiftlet, a drifter, wanders onto the farm of Lucynell Crater and her deaf, retarded daughter, also named Lucynell. Mesmerized by the beauty of the sunset, Shiftlet raises his arms to the sky, forming a crooked cross with his body, and holds this saviorlike pose for nearly a minute before introducing himself. Mrs. Crater can see from a distance that Shiftlet is a tramp and is not afraid of him. While the daughter looks on innocently, Shiftlet and Mrs. Crater converse seriously. He asks her many deep questions that she does not answer, such as “What is a man?” and makes proclamations such as “The world is almost rotten.” During this entire philosophical conversation, Shiftlet cannot keep his eyes and thoughts off an old automobile parked in the shed, which he would love to have; likewise, Mrs. Crater is sizing him up as a handyman for her farm and a potential son-in-law.
Shiftlet ingratiates himself, teaching Lucynell her first word, “bird,” and performing fix-up duties, including repairing and painting the late Mr. Crater’s automobile and roofing the garden house. Mrs. Crater slyly offers Shiftlet the car, some money, and a home if he will marry her daughter. In their first conversation, Shiftlet tells Mrs. Crater that he would not marry unless he could find an innocent woman among all the trash. Mrs. Crater points out that Lucynell, in her deaf, childlike state, is as innocent as one can be. After haggling over such issues as how much...
(The entire section is 568 words.)