The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 12th grade February 2008

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Flannery O'Connor's style of southern gothic writing, with her background of Christianity, collaborate for some controversial and unorthodox symbolism. In her short story The Life You Save May Be Your Own, O'Connor incorporates numerous symbols to emphasize her theme. O'Connor's use of symbolism filters into the names and traits of her characters, the dimensions of her setting, and the events of her plot.

Mr. Shiftlet is a man who doesn't know what he wants. Throughout the story, his views on life vary from righteous to self-absorbed. In the beginning of the story, he preaches to mother Lucynell about the evil of the world, citing how doctors can cut out a human heart and still know nothing about it. He claims that money holds no importance and that the simple life is the only thing worth merit. As he gains the trust of the Lucynells, he eventually marries the deaf daughter, Lucynell.

Her innocence is all that the Mr. Shiftlet needs. Once married, Mr. Shiftlet shifts his view on life, abandons the girl at a café, and convinces himself that the automobile he reconstructed, is now his happiness. After leaving the café, he picks up a hitchhiker, obviously running away from home. Mr. Shiftlet returns to his modest view of life preaching about his mother and how he wishes he were still with her. Mr. Shiftlet's tendency to change his views is an example of O'Connor using symbolic names.

Characters themselves are also used a symbols in O'Connor's writing. Daughter Lucynell represents Jesus Christ. Not because of her disabilities, but because of her immaculate innocence and ultimate crucifixion. Lucynell represents all that is good in the world. In a sense, Mr. Shiftlet represents the cross she is hung on. When Mr. Shiftlet is first introduced, he is compared to...