In "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," why is Mrs. Crater not afraid of Mr. Shiftlet when she sees him?

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gpane's profile pic

gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The old woman, Mrs Crater, is not afraid of Mr Shiftlet as he cuts a rather poor and solitary figure: 

She could tell, even from a distance, that he was a tramp and no one to be afraid of. 

Furthermore, he has only one arm, and is described as ‘gaunt’: physically, therefore, he would appear to pose no threat. Later, she bluntly points out the fact that a man like him has few, if any, opportunities in the world:

Lemme tell you something: there ain’t any place in the world for a poor disabled friendless drifting man. 

Mrs Crater appears quite curt with her visitor, but that seems to be her nature. She is a dried-up, emotionless figure, and her speech, stripped down to the bare essentials, reflects this. She is interested only in immediate practical matters, like the business of recruiting Mr Shiftlet to do odd jobs for her. This is the reason why she pushes him into marrying her daughter, in order to secure a permanent son-in-law and handyman combined. He flouts her, however, by driving off for good in her old car after fixing it.

Both Mr Shiftlet and Mrs Crater, like many of O’Connor’s characters, appear decidedly odd, even rather grotesque, living on the margins of society and seemingly without any normal warm human connections. 

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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When Mrs. Crater sees Mr. Shiftlet, she is not afraid of him, because she believes he is simply a tramp and "no one to be afraid of." His left coat sleeve is folded up, indicating that he has only half an arm, and he is so thin that the breeze is able to push him sideways. He is hardly a menacing presence. When Mr. Shiftlet ambles up to her house, Mrs. Crater assesses that he is a meek and harmless person. She, on the other hand, is "about the size of a cedar fence post," and she seems solid and powerful. Though Mrs. Crater lives in a desolate place with only her daughter, who is deaf and mute, and Mrs. Crater has never seen Mr. Shiftlet before, she judges him innocuous. Mrs. Crater soon sees Mr. Shiftlet as a potential handyman and carpenter around her farm and as a potential husband for her daughter, so she is increasingly welcoming towards him. 

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