In 'The Life You Save May Be Your Own,' what are some ways that images of God, Satan and Christ surface during the story?
Imagery relating to God, Satan and especially Christ surfaces rather unexpectedly in a generally spare and matter-of-fact narrative. Lucynell Crater, the sweet and literally dumb girl is described by an admirer as looking 'like an angel of Gawd'. It is likely that he does not recognise her disability at this point as she is asleep, but the reference serves to highlight her pure and innocent quality, which shines out in a world which appears generally grim and sordid in the story.
Lucynell's mother and Mr Shiftlet, the disabled drifter who turns up at the Crater home, are the two other principal characters; and their treatment of Lucynell appears dubious at best. Mrs Crater pushes Mr Shiftlet into marrying her simply because he is a handyman and she wants him permanently settled in the house to do odd-jobs for her. Mr Shiftlet, meanwhile, only agrees to the marriage because he has his eye on the Craters' broken-down automobile, which he fixes up and, on the pretext of taking Lucynell to celebrate their marriage, drives off in it. It is only the car he wants, not Lucynell; he abandons her in the next town.
Both Mrs Crater and Mr Shiftlet therefore appear somewhat callous and materialistic, living out their mean and lonely lives. While he is formulating his plans to steal the automobile, Mr Shiftlet's smile is likened to a 'snake waking up by a fire'. The snake imagery hints at the diabolical nature of what he is planning to do, However, and rather surprisingly perhaps, he more often attracts Christ-like, rather than satanic imagery. When he first arrives at the Crater home he stands swinging out his arms so that 'his figure formed a crooked cross.' 'Crooked' is significant, referring literally to his disabled arm, but also to his nature. Later, when he manages to get the Craters' car going again, he is described as looking 'as if he had just raised the dead'.
These Christ-like references to Mr Shiftlet are ironic, but it is possible also to feel pity for such characters as Mr Shiftlet and Mrs Crater; they are essentially lonely, abandoned, odd and unfulfilled individuals, like many of O'Connor's characters.