Compare the characters of Mr. Shiflet and Arnold Friend. What do they represent?

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Mr. Shiflet is a character in Flannery O'Connor's "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." Arnold Friend appears in Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been." Both characters are strange men who appear suddenly in the lives of young women and take advantage of them to achieve their own desires, but each character has a different relationship to their story's theme of a fall from grace or innocence.

Mr. Shiflet appears suddenly in the life of Mrs. Lucynell Crater and her daughter, also named Lucynell. Mrs. Crater attempts to trick Mr. Shiftlet into marrying her daughter, who is deaf and mute, and Mr. Shiftlet takes advantage of this situation to trick Mrs. Crater into giving him his real desire—their car. He departs with Lucynell, but he leaves her alone and helpless in a diner before escaping to Mobile.

Arnold Friend appears at Connie's house when her parents aren't home. Connie has been trying to appear mature and sexual to boys, but she is frightened by Arnold. His age is impossible to figure out, and he knows things he shouldn't know. It's hard to tell if he is even human or real. Like Mr. Shiftlet did to Lucynell, Arnold ends up taking Connie away in his car, with her knowing she won't see her parents again. We don't know what happens after they leave, but it is implied it is as bad, if not worse, than what Mr. Shiftlet does to Lucynell.

Flannery O'Connor's writing is filled with religious themes, and she often uses irony to poke fun at characters who believe they are good but behave badly. Like many of her characters, Mr. Shiftlet is offered a chance at grace, in this case through a simple life with Lucynell. However, he chooses to selfishly abandon her for his own desires, giving into what can be called, in O'Connor's Christian context, a "sinful" way of life. The life he chooses to save is his own, but he does not "save" himself in a Christian context. He represents the common modern man, whose freedom allows him to choose between what O'Connor delineates as a "good" life or a "bad" life.

In Oates's story, however, Arnold Friend is not the person being offered a chance to choose an innocent and pure life, but rather the figure who is trying to coax another character, Connie, into an adult life of "sin." Just as Lucynell and the car represent Mr. Shiftlet's choices, Connie can go into the car with Arnold Friend, or she can stay home and wait for her parents to return. She ends up going with Arnold—though her hand is forced much more than Mr. Shiftlet's hand is forced. A common interpretation of Oates's story reads Connie as growing up and entering adulthood in the turbulent 1960s, which can explain why she has less of a chance than Mr. Shiftlet to make a different choice. Arnold Friend represents the force that is making Connie grow up so quickly and dangerously. Unlike Mr. Shiftlet, he is not the protagonist who is making choices about his life; it is the atmosphere and culture that are causing Connie to make certain choices about her own life.

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