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In the short story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" by Flannery O Connor we are given very little information about the young lady who lives alone with her aged mother. It is therefore very important to return to the beginning of the short story and glean every bit of information that we can about Lucynell's character and background because this is the only way the author gives us to make assumptions about her personality. We must presume that, because short story writers must be very economical with their words, every part of any description given is highly significant.
The first thing we learn about Lucynell is that she is probably a fully grown young woman. We can guess this because her mother is described as an "old woman." We then find out that Lucynell may be visually impaired as she "cannot see far in front of her." This fact, along with the next piece of information that she is "playing with her fingers" gives us our first clue about her psychological and social vulnerability as these are not the attributes and actions of a confident and independent young adult. Some readers may begin to wonder whether the young woman has a learning disability, especially as the profile becomes more developed. If she has learning challenges then it is possible that she may be very anxious, dependent and vulnerable in her psychological profile.
The next part of the description seems to confirm the reader's first guess about Lucynell's learning issues. She is described as a large girl, almost as if she is fully grown but acting like a child:
"The daughter, a large girl in a short blue organdy dress, saw him all at once and jumped up and began to stamp and point and make excited speechless sounds."
The reader is led to wonder whether Lucynell has speech difficulties as well. She also becomes overexcited about the arrival of a visitor, as a small child might be. An adult would be more matter of fact and take it in their stride. Her hands are described as "fat helpless hands," suggesting and perhaps confirming her dependency. This means that she would be psychologically vulnerable and probably unable to make safe and wholesome decisions about her own life. She has a cautious sly look which may mean that she has learned to look to adults for direction even when she is curious. She does not thank the visitor for the chewing gum but continues to stare at him instead, suggesting she is unaware of social conventions.
From the author's description, it seems that the unfolding events of the story may hold hazards for this young person in that she will be unable to have any agency in her own life because she is unable to keep herself safe without competent and well-intentioned adult support.
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