In the story, Mrs. Crater thinks that she does not need to be afraid of Mr. Shiftlet because he looks like a defenseless tramp.
When Mr. Shiftlet approaches, Mrs. Crater is sitting on the porch with her daughter, Lucynell. Both mother and daughter share the same name. Mr. Shiftlet's harmless demeanor leads Mrs. Crater to think that she has nothing to fear from this stranger. After all, one sleeve is folded up to reveal that he only has half an arm on his left shoulder. When he walks, it looks as if the wind is pushing him along.
Later, Mr. Shiftlet tells Mrs. Carter that he is twenty-eight years old and that he is a carpenter who has lived a 'varied life.'
He had been a gospel singer, a foreman on the railroad, an assistant in an undertaking parlor, and he had come over the radio for three months with Uncle Roy and his Red Creek Wranglers. He said he had fought and bled in the Arm Service of his country and visited every foreign land and that everywhere he had seen people that didn't care if they did a thing one way or another. He said he hadn't been raised thataway.
Painting himself as a man of dignity, integrity, and 'moral intelligence,' Mr. Shiftlet manages to lull Mrs. Crater into careless security; she thinks that she will get a handyman for her property and a prospective husband for her daughter, but Mr. Shiftlet has other plans. As the story progresses, we realize that Mr. Shiftlet is after Mrs. Crater's prized automobile. Slyly, he manages to restrain his feelings long enough to marry the younger Lucynell and to take her on a supposed honeymoon. However, after a short drive, he ditches his new bride at a local diner before driving off to Mobile alone.