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"?

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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.

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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.

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