Use of Symbolism in The Life You Save May Be Your Own The symbolism that Flannery O Connor uses in The Life You Save May Be Your Own, illustrates the spiritual struggles between good and evil that we as human s face. The main character, Mr. Shiftlet, embarks on a journey of spiritual means by walking on both the paths of salvation and damnation. Mr. Shiftlet is given countless opportunities to turn himself around and to proceed in the right direction, on the path of salvation.
As in the story, these moments that give us a chance for salvation encompass our own lives. Unfortunately, Mr. Shiftlet does not stay on the right path for very long. He finds himself, time and time again, heading towards his own damnation. There are symbols throughout The Life You Save May Be Your Own, that lead one to believe that Mr.
Shiftlet is ill fated. Mr. Shiftlet s acquired characteristics exemplify this, “His left coat sleeve was folded up to show there was only half an arm in it” (910).
Shiftlet’s arm, or rather stump, is a physical deformity that represents a manifestation of his soul. Mr. Shiftlet proves to be flawed by making poor choices and only wanting to achieve his own satisfaction. “He [Mr. Shiftlet] swung both his whole and his short arm up slowly so that they indicated an expanse of sky and his figure formed a crooked cross” (910).
This “crooked cross” is a perversion of religion that is a clue to the future damnation that Mr. Shiftlet will soon face. Mrs. Crater directly advises Mr.
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Shiftlet that “there ain’t any place in the world for a poor, disabled, friendless drifting man” (915).
This symbolizes the fate of Mr. Shiftlet and he does realize the truth behind the cruel words. “The ugly words settled in Mr. Shiftlet’s head like a group of buzzards in the top of a tree” (916).
Those buzzards are ready to attack their prey.
Mr. Shiftlet is aware that he must face his end. Mr. Shiftlet later states that “the monks of old slept in their coffins!” (913).
So the symbol in this is the car being Mr. Shiftlet’s coffin and part of his spiritual struggle.
There are symbols in this story that represent general moral struggles between good and bad and also Mr. Shiftlet makes attempts to do well as he ” taught Lucynell, who was completely deaf and had never said a word in her life, to say the word bird” (913).
Mrs. Crater’s name happens to be a symbol in itself.
She’s an old woman who has this emptiness and it directly states that “She was ravenous for a son-in-all” (913).
Just as the word crater means a hollow, empty, portion of the earth. Mr. Shiftlet s name is also a symbol, meaning shifty, or not trustworthy.
Young Lucynell Crater is an innocent girl brought in the story as a reminder of all that is good in the world. The waiter at the restaurant, in which Mr. Shiftlet left her, said, She looks like an angel of Gawd (917).
There are symbols in this story that represent the damnation that Mr. Shiftlet is faced as a consequence to his actions. The first symbol is when he manages to get the car to work.
“He had an expression of serious modesty on his face as if he had just raised the dead” (915).
Even as he s taking sweet Lucynell, the Angel of Gawd to her final resting place he s given human aspects as He became depressed in spite of the car (917).
And he continues experiencing this depression until he comes across a hitchhiker. Mr.
Shiftlet ignores his warning when occasionally he saw a sing that warned: Drive carefully. The life you save may be your own (918).
At last, there is hope for him yet. He picks up a hitchhiker on the road, in an attempt to release the guilt that he feels over leaving Lucynell and a saving opportunity to redeem himself. The two converse and Mr.
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Shiftlet is remembering his own mother, an angel of Gawd he took her from heaven and giver to me, and I left her. (919).
Mr. Shiftlet has so much guilt built up over Lucynell but he will not turn around. The boy replies, You go to the devil my old woman is a fleabag and yours is a s kinking polecat! (919).
The storm approaches and Mr. Shiftlet exclaims Oh Lord break forth and wash the slime from the earth. (919).
And with his stump sticking out of the window, the rain beats down on his car, cleansing the earth of the evil.
Attempting to wash Mr. Shiftlet off of the earth. One last symbol is the setting, which seems to be rather unimportant and desolate, but there is this amazing sun set that makes this place special. It really doesn t matter where you go, if you re in a large city or out in the country, there is still a sun set, symbolizing an opportunity to do good that will be found. We are faced with these decisions and opportunities to do well, and we can choose to leave them or take them.
We can choose to ignore the things that may symbolize an opportunity. ” He [Mr. Shiftlet] wished he lived in a desolate place like this where he could see the sun go down every evening like God made it to do.” (912-3).
Basically there s a thin line between the roads to damnation and salvation. Each and everyone one of us has crossed that line at one time or another, the question is however, how long you remain on one side and are you doomed to your own destiny.