The Life You Save May Be Your Own Summary

One-armed drifter Tom Shiftlet wanders onto Mrs. Crater's farm in Alabama. He stops to watch the beautiful sunset and lifts his arms up to it in the shape of a cross. Mrs. Crater and her daughter Lucynell greet him on the porch. Shiftlet has his eye on the late Mr. Crater's old automobile, and Mrs. Crater wants someone to marry her daughter.

  • Shiftlet works for Mrs. Crater as a repairman. He performs small tasks around the farm and spends a lot of time repairing the rusted old automobile. He also teaches the deaf Lucynell her first word: "bird."
  • Mrs. Crater makes a deal with Shiftlet: if he marries Lucynell, she'll give him the car, pay for a new coat of paint, give him some money for a brief honeymoon, and allow him to move in permanently. He accepts her offers and marries Lucynell that Saturday.
  • After the wedding, Shiftlet and Lucynell leave for their honeymoon. Shiftlet grows increasingly depressed and describes the world as "rotten." At a restaurant called The Hot Spot, Shiftlet abandons Lucynell, who has fallen asleep while waiting for her food. On the way to Mobile, he picks up a hitchhiker who tells him to "go to the devil" before jumping out of the moving vehicle.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Tom Shiftlet, a drifter, wanders onto the farm of Lucynell Crater and her deaf, retarded daughter, also named Lucynell. Mesmerized by the beauty of the sunset, Shiftlet raises his arms to the sky, forming a crooked cross with his body, and holds this saviorlike pose for nearly a minute before introducing himself. Mrs. Crater can see from a distance that Shiftlet is a tramp and is not afraid of him. While the daughter looks on innocently, Shiftlet and Mrs. Crater converse seriously. He asks her many deep questions that she does not answer, such as “What is a man?” and makes proclamations such as “The world is almost rotten.” During this entire philosophical conversation, Shiftlet cannot keep his eyes and thoughts off an old automobile parked in the shed, which he would love to have; likewise, Mrs. Crater is sizing him up as a handyman for her farm and a potential son-in-law.

Shiftlet ingratiates himself, teaching Lucynell her first word, “bird,” and performing fix-up duties, including repairing and painting the late Mr. Crater’s automobile and roofing the garden house. Mrs. Crater slyly offers Shiftlet the car, some money, and a home if he will marry her daughter. In their first conversation, Shiftlet tells Mrs. Crater that he would not marry unless he could find an innocent woman among all the trash. Mrs. Crater points out that Lucynell, in her deaf, childlike state, is as innocent as one can be. After haggling over such issues as how much...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

The Life You Save May Be Your Own Part 1 Summary

Part I: Meeting
An old woman and her daughter sit quietly on their porch at sunset when Tom Shiftlet comes walking up the road...

(The entire section is 323 words.)

The Life You Save May Be Your Own Part 2 Summary

Part II: Resurrection
Once Shiftlet moves into the Crater’s farm, he fixes a broken fence and hog pen, teaches Lucynell how to...

(The entire section is 438 words.)