The Life You Save May Be Your Own

by Flannery O’Connor

Start Free Trial

What are Lucynell's disabilities? What does Mr. Shiftlet do while living on the farm, and why do the three main characters go to town together in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" by Flannery O'Connor?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first disability the narrator notes is that Lucynell has poor distance vision. While her mother is able to spot Mr. Shiftlet at a distance, her daughter "could not see far in front of her and continued to play with her fingers." Lucynell is both deaf and unable to clearly verbally communicate, evidenced by her reaction to Mr. Shiftlet's arrival; she could only "stamp and point and make excited speechless sounds." Lucynell is also socially immature; when Shiftlet lights a cigarette, her response is childish and inappropriate as she "make[s] loud noises . . . point[s] to his hand and shake[s] her finger at him." Lucynell's intellectual deficits are undefined, though Mrs. Crater does tell Shiftlet that Lucynell would not know what a hotel is.

While he stays on Mrs. Crater's farm, Mr. Shiftlet repairs the garden roof, a fence, and the front and back steps. He builds a hog pen. And after a few days of tinkering, he is able to get Mrs. Crater's automobile running again after it has been sitting, disused, for more than a decade. As Lucynell has been watching him work, he has somehow also taught her to say the word "bird."

The trio go to town after Mrs. Crater observes that "you and her and me can drive into town and get married." By this, she means that Lucynell and Shiftlet can marry. And on Saturday, they do, with Mrs. Crater there as a witness to the ceremony.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Lucynell is Mrs. Crater's daughter. She is deaf, dumb, and probably suffers from some intellectual impairment, too. Lucynell appears to be childlike in most ways, even though Mrs. Crater tells Mr. Shiftlet that Lucynell is "smart" because she can "sweep the floor, cook, wash, feed the chickens, and hoe." Mrs. Crater claims Lucynell is fifteen or sixteen years old, but O'Connor reveals she is closer to thirty, but looks much younger because of her innocence. Apparently, Lucynell has spent her entire life with her mother on their property.

Despite the fact that Mr. Shiftlet is missing one arm, he is quite the handyman. He makes several repairs to Mrs. Crater's property, including patching the back steps, building a new hog pen, and restoring a fence. He has also had time to teach Lucynell, who had never uttered a word before, how to say "bird" (an appropriate word because Shiftlet was eventually planning on flying away by stealing Mrs. Crater's car). Shiftlet also fixes the Ford automobile with a new fan belt.

After Mrs. Crater offers the car and her property to Mr. Shiftlet when she dies, he agrees to marry Lucynell. She also lets Mr. Shiflet take Lucynell to a hotel for a honeymoon. The three go into town for the wedding, a simple ceremony performed in the "Ordinary's Office." Afterward, Shiftlet is described as "morose and bitter." He eventually dumps Lucynell at a roadside cafe and takes off with Mrs. Crater's car.   

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team