The Life You Save May Be Your Own Theme

What is the overall theme in the short story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"?

Expert Answers
pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the themes that plays a critical role in the story is the connected themes of religion and corruption.  There is religious symbolism in the story, Lucynell is referred to an an angel, Shiftlet cannot see this aspect about his wife, but all the other people in the diner can see that she is holy.

Mrs. Crater wants Shiftlet in her home so that he can fix broken things, she bargains with him and offers her daughter, indicating that people are less important than things.  The mother does not seem to find it wrong to offer her mute daughter to an odd stranger. 

The car seems to have more value in the story than Lucynell. And finally when Shiftlet leaves Lucynell at the diner, it is the final act of corruption.  He takes the car and leaves his wife who resembles an angel.  He abandons his salvation, Lucynell, only to grasp the material and continue wandering looking for meaning.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main theme in this story is the quest for meaning. This need to find out what life means is common to O'Connor's works. In this story, it shows up in Shiftlet's wandering. In moving around, he isn't just traveling. He's looking for something, some meaning to it all. The meaning of life shows up in other symbolic ways as well—in what Lucynell is called (an angel), in the sign by the side of the road, and so on.

lwbudd | Student

One of the major themes of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” is that corruption destroys people. Mr. Shifflet is corrupt deceiving Mrs. Crater into giving him the car and marrying her imbecile daughter in order to make the deal. Mrs. Crater is corrupt in her efforts to have a man around the house using the car as a carrot on a stick to get Mr. Shifflet tied down by marrying her daughter. In contrast Lucynell is refered to as an “angel of Gawd” and Mr. Shifflet thinks of the mother that taught him to do right as an “angel of Gawd”. The end result of the corruption is that Mrs. Crater is left alone, no one to help around the farm, no daughter to provide companionship, and no car to use as bargaining power. Mr. Shifflet is left alone with his guilt as he leaves Lucynell at the restaurant. He later picks up a hitch hiker and belatedly seems to have an epiphany of morality only to have it back fire as he charges the hitch hiker with his own guilty behavior, seeking to pluck the splinter out of the eye of another while harboring a plank in his own. So Mr. Shifflet drives on into the rain and thunder that seems to be heaven crying and rebuking his selfish corrupt behavior which is causing destruction in other’s lives and destroying his own as well.

dedeborczak | Student

the theme of the story 'the life you save may be your own' is that mr.shiftlet has abandon his wife in times of troubles when he needs his wife the most. but he dint care he left her and took the car with him. he never learnd the meaning of life. he was searching the meaning of life but never found it. the old lady thought he could fix many broken things in the house so she made him stay and gave her only child to him to merry.

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The Life You Save May Be Your Own

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