How would you describe morality in the story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" as it concerns Mr. Shiftlet?

Expert Answers
dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To Mr. Shiftlet, morality is something he has been taught and of whose importance he is well aware, but he cannot grasp it in his own life because of the strength of his own baser appetites.  He refers to how his "dear mother" raised him, teaching him "his first prayers at her knee" and showing him "what (is) right and what (isn't)", yet his actions belie the strong upbringing of which he is so proud.  Mr. Shiftlet seems to possess a modicum of basic decency, treating the younger Lucynell with gentle respect when he first arrives on the farm, and ironically seeking to fulfill "his responsibility to to others" once he has a car, but in between, he has no problem extorting money shamelessly from Mrs. Crater and abandoning Lucynell outright in order to gain possession of that car, the symbol of material satisfaction.  Mr. Shiftlet is an enigma, a man who hungers for the peace that goodness and a moral life would bring, but who cannot attain it because of his own appetites.

It appears that the author, in having Mr. Shiftlet tell Mrs. Crater about the impossibility of knowing the human heart, and the conflict between body and spirit, is making a comment on the human condition.  With his baser desires at odds with his "moral intelligence", Mr. Shiftlet is doomed to live life unfulfilled, and he prays in anguish that the Lord "break forth and wash the slime from the earth". 

Read the study guide:
The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question