Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Life You Save May Be Your Own” was part of Flannery O’Connor’s book A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), a collection that demonstrates her skill at using irony, violence, and the grotesque to create opportunities for redemption in the lives of characters who are often comical and always spiritually adrift in a realistic, yet highly symbolic world. O’Connor demonstrates humankind’s need for the mysterious grace of God, a gift that is offered suddenly in ordinary settings. Violence is a means to wake up characters to their own moral deficiency, to burn away their virtues so that there is nothing left but a humbled self, standing in perfect readiness to accept redemption.
Shiftlet indeed becomes a savior to Mrs. Crater by fixing up her farm. He also unintentionally delivers a moment of grace to her when she seems to acknowledge her feelings for her daughter for the first time, as Shiftlet is about to drive away with her. She says tearfully, “I ain’t ever been parted with her for two days before.” It is too late for Mrs. Crater: In her ambition to acquire a son-in-law, she seals Lucynell’s fate by marrying her off to Shiftlet.
Shiftlet’s own spiritual redemption is still a possibility. Throughout much of the story, he seems harmless, amiable, cheerfully performing his tasks on the Crater farm; however, his preoccupation with the automobile makes it easy to guess at his ulterior motives. His need and potential for...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Life You Save May Be Your Own Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Search for the Meaning of Life
When Shiftlet approaches the Crater’s farm, it is not clear what type of person he is. What is apparent is that he is searching for something. By marrying Lucynell and then abandoning her, he has missed an opportunity to experience redemption (an event symbolized by the ‘‘guffawing peal of thunder’’ and his anguished plea to God at the end of the story). Shiftlet has failed to bring meaning into his transient life. He entered the Craters’s lives as a lonely wanderer, and he leaves it the same way.
Given the gradually increasing interest he shows in money and Mrs. Crater’s automobile, perhaps Shiftlet believes that such material possessions might bring meaning to his life. By the end of the story, he has obtained these things, as well as a wife who can perform household chores and who, as a mute, ‘‘can’t sass [him] back or use any foul language,’’ as Mrs. Crater tells him. But none of these things bring meaning into Shiftlet’s life. He wanders on towards Mobile (notice the double meaning of the town’s name), where he will likely continue to live a life devoid of significance.
While on the surface, the automobile and wedding gift in ‘‘The Life You Save May Be Your Own’’ seem unimportant, they in fact reveal a world in which money has become more important than people or spiritual peace. From the beginning, it is clear that Mrs. Crater is...
(The entire section is 972 words.)