The Life You Save May Be Your Own

by Flannery O’Connor

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In The Life You Save, is Mr. Shiftlet or Mrs. Crater a hypocrite?

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I feel that Mr. Shiftlet is a bigger hypocrite.  In the story he tells Mrs. Crater, "never let anyone take your daughter away" and then he not only takes her away but dumps her at a roadside diner, The Hot Spot.  One would expect this to be a, not so innocent place, but it turns out to be a diner.  This goes back to Mrs. Crater telling Mr. Shiftlet, "you want you an innocent woman, don't you?" It shows a contradiction between Lucynell being the innocent and not a woman, but a girl of fifteen or sixteen, and dropping her off at such a poorly named establishment.

Then he picks up a boy hitchhiking and tells him, "Son, I got the best,old mother in the world so I reckon you only got the second best."  "My mother was an Angel of Gawd."  He goes and quotes the boy from the diner in his reference to Lucynell.  He makes these comments so he sounds good to everyone else and he is not sincere with what he says.  He uses his words to get what he wants and then moves on to the next town.  He also uses people and then discards them without a thought for their feelings or well-being.  Everything Mr. Shiftlet says contradicts what he does in reality. 

Living on an isolated farm all her life with a handicapped daughter, Mrs. Crater is not very smart in the evil ways of the world.  She doesn't really know any better.  She is easily manipulated by Mr. Shiftlet and his sweet-talking words.

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"Hypocrite" is a very specific word. That sounds like they are both claiming to be one thing and secretly doing or believing something else. If I had to say yes or no to that question, I'd say yes, they are both hypocrites, especially Shiftlet. He makes greater claims about being a good person, relating himself to monks early in the story and relating himself to angels later on, but then leaving Lucynell. Crater seems more like someone who takes advantage of a situation. She doesn't make the same size claims to goodness, but she does try to get Shiftlet to take her daughter off her hands, while claiming to not want her to go.

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