The Life You Save May Be Your Own

by Flannery O’Connor

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What two agreements do Mr. Shiftlet and Mrs. Crater make?

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Mr. Shiftlet and Mrs. Crater make two agreements, but Mr. Shiftlet breaks the second one by abandoning Lucynell and not fulfilling his promise of paying for their marriage trip.

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The first agreement that Mr. Shiftlet and Mrs. Crater make is that if Mr. Shiftlet works around Mrs. Crater's place, she can feed him and give him a place to stay. However, she cannot pay him. They both fulfill their end of the deal, and Mr. Shiftlet repairs the front and back steps of Mrs. Crater's house, fixes a fence, and even teaches her deaf daughter to say "bird."

The second agreement they make is that if Mr. Shiftlet marries Lucynell, the daughter, he will be able to stay in the house and wed the most innocent girl in the world. Mrs. Crater also gives him money to paint their old car and agrees to give him money for a wedding trip. It is during this trip that Mr. Shiftlet abandons Lucynell and does not live up to his end of the bargain.

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In “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” Mrs. Crater and Mr. Shiftlet prove to be conniving, manipulative, and scheming people. Throughout the story, both characters bargain with each other in hopes of achieving their various desires.

The first agreement is that Mr. Shiftlet may stay on the Crater’s property if he agrees to work. In the discussion, Mrs. Crater tells Mr. Shiftlet, “I told you you could hang around and work for food . . . if you don’t mind sleeping in that car yonder” (O’Connor 1084). In this agreement, both characters seem to be getting something they want. Mr. Shiftlet appears to be a vagabond, needing shelter and food. Mrs. Crater, judging by the dilapidated home and car, needs help maintaining her property.

The second agreement, coming later in the story, is that Mr. Shiftlet will agree to marry Lucynell if Mrs. Crater paints the car and gives him money for a weekend trip. This agreement is much more improper than the first because, essentially, Mrs. Crater bribes Mr. Shiftlet, with a new paint job and seventeen dollars and fifty cents, so he will marry her disabled daughter. However, the plan does not succeed. Mr. Shiftlet drives away with Lucynell, eventually leaving her alone at a diner. Mother and daughter are now separated with little hope of ever reuniting.

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