How does O'Connor show tragedy in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"?

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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O'Connor often writes with religion as an underlying theme in her work.  In "The Life you Save May Be Your Own", the theme of redemption is applicable to the character of Mr. Shiftlet.  When he ends up in the home of Mrs. Crater, and marries Lucynell, he in fact, has an opportunity for redemption from his empty, meaningless life.  

Mr. Shiftlet almost makes it, but after he and Lucynell, now married,  go to the Diner and she falls asleep, he abandons her. 

"The boy behind the counter states that Lucynell looks like "an angel of God." Mr. Shiftlet states that he had to make Tuscaloosa, and leaves Lucynell in the restaurant."  

The tragedy is that Mr. Shiftlet had redemption in his hands and he abandons it.  After he leaves Lucynell behind, he picks up a boy that is hitchhiking.  He tries to have a conversation with the boy.  In a reflective mood, Mr. Shiftlet, talks about his mother, the boy turns to him angrily shouting that his own mother is no good.  The boy tells Shiftlet:

"You go to the devil!" he cried" 

By the end of the story, Shiftlet is seeking redemption again, praying

"Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!"

As Shiftlet rushes down the road, he is once again looking for meaning in his life, seeking God's help in his chaotic, mixed up life, now more complicated than before.