In "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," why does Shiftlet leave Lucynell at the diner?Please include the significance of this act.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Critics such as Tom Deignan and Mark Edelstein concur that Flannery O'Connor, in her works, satirizes contemporary man, who in his perversity, makes great efforts to escape his salvation. Desirous of materialism represented by Mrs. Crater's car, over the spiritual, which is represented by Lucynell, who is described as "an angel of Gawd," Shiflet leaves the innocent girl behind at the eating place significantly called "The Hot Spot," a nomenclature suggestive of hell.

Despite Shiftlet's waving of his arms in the sign of a cross as he marvels at the beautiful sunset and his remarks that the "world is almost rotten," his is, indeed, "a crooked cross" that he makes as he says he would "give a fortune" to be able to see the sun set so magnificently every evening.  Nevertheless, his "pale sharp glance" passes over everything in Mrs. Crater's yard, settling on the automobile, the object of his desire. Soon, Shiflet learns that if he agrees to marry Lucynell, he will be able to own this automobile that he subsequently repairs and paints.  Thus, when Mrs. Crater exclaims, "You got a prize!" her words are ironic as Shiflet perceives the material object, the car, as his prize, when it truly is the angelic Lucynell that is the greater reward. As he drives away with Lucynell, he thinks not of her, 

Shiflet imagined a terrific climb and dip and swerve that went entirely to his head so that he forgot his morning bitterness. He had always wanted an automobile but he had never been able to afford one before.  He drove very fast because he wanted to make Mobile by nightfall.

Then, when he abandons Lucynell at the diner, calling her a mere hitchiker, Shiftlet rejects innocence in the form of Lucynell with her eyes "as blue as a peacock's neck"--peacocks symbolize the spiritual--and turns to materialism in the form of the automobile.  Yet, he senses his loss as he feels "alone" and "oppressed."  And, as "the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him," the rain even eludes him, striking only the rear of Mr. Shiflet's car. 

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The Life You Save May Be Your Own

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