The Life You Save May Be Your Own

by Flannery O’Connor

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How do Mr. Shiftlet and Mrs. Crater exploit each other in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"?

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Shiftlet and Mrs. Crater both attempt to take full advantage of each other in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" by Flannery O'Connor.

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Mr. Shiftlet is a disabled drifter, a wandering tramp with no permanent place to call home. So when he rocks up at Mrs. Crater's farm, he sees a great opportunity to find somewhere to lay his hat. As someone who's disabled, he clearly understands just how difficult it will be for Mrs. Crater to find a suitable husband for her deaf daughter, Lucynell. Shiftlet preys upon Mrs. Crater's difficulties, making himself indispensable. He doesn't really care about Lucynell, or about Mrs. Crater, for that matter; he just looks at them both as meal tickets. Shiftlet's onto a good thing here, and he intends to exploit it for all it's worth. In return for taking Lucynell off her mother's hands, he'll receive a car, some money, and a regular place to stay.

Mrs. Crater, for her part, regards Shiftlet as nothing more than a means to an end. She exploits him by using his skills as a handyman around the farm. Among other things, this allows her to size him up as potential son-in-law material. Looking after a deaf young lady like Lucynell is a bit of a struggle for Mrs. Crater, and so she sees Shiftlet as the answer to all her prayers. Mrs. Crater is not thinking here of what is best for Shiftlet or even for her daughter; she is only thinking of what is in her own best interests.

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Mr. Shiftlet exploits Mrs. Crater's overwhelming need to provide herself with a caretaker for her property and a husband for her deaf and dumb daughter Lucynell. One of the first things Mr. Shiftlet notices on Mrs. Crater's property is the Ford automobile in the shed. His "sharp glance" seems to be drawn to the car in the opening section of the story. He even claims he can fix the car if Mrs. Crater will allow him to do so. Once the car is running, Mrs. Crater offers Mr. Shiftlet the automobile, her daughter, and the property upon her death, if Mr. Shiftlet will marry Lucynell. The two bargain over Lucynell like she is a piece of property. Ultimately, Mr. Shiftlet agrees to the marriage. Both seem to get what they want, but Mrs. Crater underestimates Mr. Shiftlet's need to wander. He simply uses Mrs. Crater and Lucynell to obtain a car, the means to continue his drifting.

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