The Life You Save May Be Your Own

by Flannery O’Connor

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Part 2 Summary

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Part II: Resurrection
Once Shiftlet moves into the Crater’s farm, he fixes a broken fence and hog pen, teaches Lucynell how to speak her first word (‘‘bird’’—a recurring symbol in O’Connor’s fiction), and, most importantly, repairs the automobile. ‘‘With a volley of blasts it emerged from the shed, moving in a fierce and stately way. Mr. Shiftlet was in the driver’s seat. . . . He had an expression of serious modesty on his face as if he had just raised the dead.’’ At this moment, when Shiftlet most clearly appears to be the bearer of heavenly powers, Mrs. Crater offers Lucynell to him. He replies, however, by stating, ‘‘It takes money,’’ suggesting that he is perhaps changing and becoming more interested in money. Soon he compares the human spirit to an ‘‘automobile,’’ and his smile turns into ‘‘a weary snake.’’

Earlier allusions to nature’s beauty have given way to nature’s darker side. In her desperation to gain Shiftlet’s services and marry off her daughter, Mrs. Crater offers Shiftlet a small sum. In this symbolically important car, the three of them drive into town, and Shiftlet and young Lucynell are married. Shiftlet’s once mournful philosophical inquiries suddenly become bitter now that he has taken a wife and some money. The newlyweds then set off on their honeymoon.

Part III: Abandonment
The newlyweds stop at a diner, and in the middle of eating, Lucynell passes out. ‘‘She looks like an angel of Gawd,’’ says the boy serving food at the diner, to which Shiftlet simply responds, ‘‘Hitchhiker.’’ He pays for lunch and abandons Lucynell.

Afterwards Shiftlet ‘‘was more depressed than ever’’ and he ‘‘kept his eye out for a hitchhiker.’’ As a storm is breaking in the sky, Shiftlet sees a road sign that reads, ‘‘Drive carefully. The life you save may be your own.’’ Shiftlet then offers a ride to a boy who did not even have his thumb out.

Shiftlet tries to make conversation, telling stories about his sweet mother, who is—as the boy at the diner called Lucynell—’’an angel of Gawd.’’ But the boy does not buy Shiftlet’s sentimentality. ‘‘My old woman is a flea bag and yours in a stinking polecat,’’ he snaps, before leaping from the car. Shocked, Shiftlet ‘‘felt the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him,’’ exclaiming, ‘‘Oh Lord! Break forth and wash the slime from the earth!’’ The rain finally breaks, with a ‘‘guffawing peal of thunder from behind and fantastic raindrops, like tin-can tops, crashed over the rear of Mr. Shiftlet’s car.’’ Shiftlet speeds off to Mobile, Alabama.

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Part 1 Summary