Why does Mrs. Crater assume that Mr.Shiftlet is no one to fear in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the grotesques of O'Connor's "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," Tom T. Shiflet appears as a tramp who appreciates the beauty of nature; he carries carpenter's tools and moves his body so that his "figure formed a crooked figure of a cross."  All the time that Shiflet talks of the beauty of the sunset and himself, Mrs. Crater, whose name suggests her emptiness, watches in a detached manner, unintimated by the man: "The old woman rocked to and fro without comment." She simply evaluates this one-armed man as a prospective husband for her mute daughter and as a handyman around her home. 

Shiflet is loquacious, a characteristic sometimes not typical of someone who is devious. His greatest interest seems to be in the old Ford that has not run in years.  So, Mrs. Crater thinks that she can make use of Shiftlet and get him to repair many things, while urging him to marry her daughter, as well.  With all this on her mind, the empty and uneducated Mrs. Crater does not entertain any worries, only focusing upon her own self-serving desires of marrying off her disabled daughter and relieving herself of this burden.

Critic Mark L. Elderstein writes that O'Connor is a modern satirist who perceives all people as grotesques.  He writes,

She does not try to show man his own face but the face of a stranger, a comic and grotesque face that bears a disturbing resemblance to his own.

This face is the face of both Mrs. Crater and the materialistic Tom Shiftlet. Two grotesques, there is an affinity to each other; however, by the same token, they each try to fool the other.  Mrs. Crater is not intimidated by Shiftlet because she perceives much of herself in him. 

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The Life You Save May Be Your Own

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