Theological Content - Flannery O'Connor

Essay by RkrosebudA+, March 2005

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Through imagery and dialogue Flannery O'Connor explores the theme of religion in her short story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." Some recurring images and symbols include Christ, nature, physical ailments, and the automobile. O'Connor's writing is not presented in such a way that it is preachy, but rather is presented in a way that makes the reader think about the truth in religion specifically the honorable and honest aspects of faith itself. Her writing in this story involves themes of spirituality going beyond formal religion in many ways.

The old woman, Mrs. Crater, and her daughter, Lucynell, are approached by a one armed man, Mr. Shiflet, a man whose name even seems to be offered as suspicious and less than trustworthy. O'Connor portrays Shiflet as both the embodiment of Christ and an immoral, utterly selfish troublemaker. He gives the women little reason to trust him yet this keeps them interested even more, thus providing the reader with the dual nature of formal religion as it teaches one thing but does another.

The writer first introduces the reader to Shiflet as a harmless and generous tramp. For example, he forms a crooked cross against the sky with both is whole and short arm. He appears to be a shadow of Christ figure in sun, but with one arm, it may be that he is a defective Christ. As Mr. Shiflet describes sleeping the automobile like the monks sleeping in their coffins is an excellent reference to theological content.

Shiflet is a carpenter by profession, a possible reference to Jesus, and the reader sees him performing a miracle of reviving when he repairs Mrs. Crater's long-dead Ford even though the old woman did not have the money to pay him for the repairs. The reader can see this as...