The Life You Save May Be Your Own

by Flannery O’Connor

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Characters

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Lucynell Crater
Lucynell Crater is Mrs. Crater’s mute daughter who eventually marries Tom Shiftlet. Though she is almost entirely silent, she plays a pivotal role as a symbol of innocence, an ‘‘angel of Gawd’’ whom Shiftlet rejects, forcing him to confront his own emptiness.

Mrs. Crater
An old, toothless woman trying to marry off her mute daughter and secure Shiftlet’s services as a handyman, Mrs. Crater is abrupt and manipulative. She speaks of her undying love for her daughter while trying to pass her off on Shiftlet, whom she attempts to win over with material goods. Even her name suggests the emptiness of her character. At the end of the story she appears to have been outsmarted by Shiftlet, who has taken both her car and her daughter.

Tom T. Shiftlet
The pivotal figure in the story, Shiftlet is a onearmed drifter who wanders into the Crater family’s life. Shiftlet even admits that he may be lying about his real name. This ambiguity has led to divergent critical readings of Shiftlet as a character. Presented at first as a lost, Christ-like figure who asks poignant questions and appreciates nature’s beauty, Shiftlet can be viewed as either corrupted by Mrs. Crater’s opportunism, or as a sinister and calculating figure who feigns naivete to gain access to the Crater family’s possessions. The latter interpretation is supported by his name, which suggests a ‘‘shifty’’ nature. By the story’s conclusion, Shiftlet is spiritually bereft. He has opted for the emptiness of the nomadic lifestyle that led him to the Craters in the first place.

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