The Life You Save May Be Your Own

by Flannery O’Connor

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Part 1 Summary

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Part I: Meeting
An old woman and her daughter sit quietly on their porch at sunset when Tom Shiftlet comes walking up the road to their farm. Through carefully selected details, O’Connor reveals that the girl is mute, that the old woman views Shiftlet as ‘‘a tramp,’’ and that Shiftlet himself wears a ‘‘left coat sleeve that was folded up to show there was only half an arm in it.’’ The two adults exchange curt pleasantries. ‘‘I’d give a fortune to live where I could see me a sun do that every evening,’’ Shiftlet states, looking at the sunset, to which the woman coolly answers, ‘‘Does it every evening.’’ Shiftlet surveys the run-down farm and inquires about a rusted automobile, which has not worked in years. ‘‘Nothing is like it used to be, lady,’’ Shiftlet observes. ‘‘The world is almost rotten.’’ Again the woman’s response is abrupt: ‘‘That’s right.’’ Their disturbing conversation continues along the same lines, with additional important allusions to nature. Shiftlet then reveals that he is a carpenter, which suggests that he may be of some use to Mrs. Crater around the farm. Shiftlet’s occupation identifies him with Jesus Christ, who was also a carpenter. Mrs. Crater offers him shelter in exchange for work but warns, ‘‘I can’t pay.’’ Shiftlet says he has no interest in money, adding that he believes that most people are too concerned with money. Sensing not only a handyman but a suitor for her daughter, Mrs. Crater asks if Shiftlet is married, to which he responds, ‘‘Lady, where would you find you an innocent woman today?’’ Mrs. Crater then makes known her love for her daughter, adding, ‘‘She can sweep the floors, cook, wash, feed the chickens, and hoe.’’ Mrs. Crater is clearly offering her daughter’s hand to Shiftlet. For the moment, however, he simply decides to stay on the farm and to sleep in the broken-down car.

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Part 2 Summary