What does Mr. Shiftlet want from Mrs. Crater? How do you know?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After arriving at Mrs. Crater's, Shiftlet spots her old, rusted automobile and covets it.

Critic Mark L. Elderstein writes that O'Connor is a modern satirist who perceives all people as grotesques in her Southern Gothic stories.  He writes,

She does not try to show man his own face but the face of a stranger, a comic and grotesque face that bears a disturbing resemblance to his own.

This face is the face of both Mrs. Crater and the drifter Tom Shiftlet. These two grotesques feel an affinity for each other. In fact, because they are so similar in nature they work at fooling each other.  It follows, then, that Mrs. Crater is not intimidated by Shiftlet when he appears on her property because she perceives much of herself in him. 

When he reaches Mrs. Crater and her daughter, Shiftlet pretends to be religious and philosophical, but his

...pale sharp glance had already passed over everything in the yard...and had moved to a shed where he was the square rusted back of an automobile. "You ladies drive?" he asked.

As the older woman talks, Shiftlet scrutinizes the automobile, "he studied it like it was a day-old chicken" as he describes a doctor in Atlanta who studied a human heart. After he is hired to fix things around Mrs. Crater's house, he tells Mrs. Crater that he works on her land because he is interested in it, even the car. He also works on the automobile until he has it running. At night he sleeps in the back of the car. 

Finally, Mrs. Shiflet decides that she can capitalize on Shiflet by using him to fix things if he becomes the husband of his daughter. He agrees, provided he can take her on a trip. So Mrs. Crater gives him some money; then, he and Lucynell are married and on their honeymoon trip. But Shiftlet is unhappy despite getting the coveted car. But when they stop for lunch, Shiflet abandons Lucynell and leaves with just his car, which is what he has always wanted.

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The Life You Save May Be Your Own

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