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Sara Sarcona

Mrs. Dill

American Literature

26 February 2018

Tom Shiftlet’s Senile Scramble for Redemption

Flannery O’Connor was a devout Roman Catholic throughout the course of her lifetime

and implemented religious and weather symbolism on numerous occasions in her short story

titled “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” Tom Shiftlet, the very sketchy man who

approaches the elder Lucynell and her mentally challenged daughter at the beginning of the

story, represents the Antichrist because he enjoys conning and manipulating people in order to

get whatever it is that he desires. However, Shiftlet meets his match once he comes across the

elder Lucynell Crater, who ultimately prostitutes her innocent, angelic daughter in return for a

few minor home improvements.

When Tom Shiftlet drives the younger Lucynell Crater to The Hot Spot while they are on

their honeymoon, “[t]he early afternoon was clear and open and surrounded by pale blue sky”

(O’Connor 679). The clear skies and beautiful weather symbolize how God is blatantly offering

Tom Shiftlet, the Antichrist, a chance to redeem himself for his sins by caring for the sweet and

innocent Lucynell. Rather than becoming the wholesome husband that the younger Lucynell

Crater needs, Tom Shiftlet chooses to abandon her at The Hot Spot and drives away with the

Crater family’s car. In effect, Shiftlet overlooks his only opportunity at redemption and decides

to continue on with his crooked, wayward lifestyle.

Clouds begin to form along the horizon as Shiftlet’s mood alters to a depressed state. A

rainstorm or a “dark and stormy evening has worlds of atmosphere and mood” (Foster 70). For
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this reason, the approaching storm symbolizes both Shiftlet’s change in mood and the fact that

God has officially rejected him. In a feeble attempt to redeem himself after leaving behind the

younger Lucynell, Shiftlet picks up a wayward hitchhiker and confesses that he regrets having

ever left his dear mother and even goes so far to claim that she “was an angel of Gawd”

(O’Connor 680). Shiftlet’s confession indicates that his mother symbolizes Heaven and how he

desires to return to her; therefore, this scene ultimately mirrors the instance in the Holy Bible

where Lucifer begs God to allow him to return to Heaven. Regardless of how affectionately

Shiftlet spoke of his ethereal mother, the hitchhiker snapped and exclaimed, “You go to the

devil! My old woman is a fleabag and yours is a stinking polecat!” and hurdled himself out of the

moving car (681). Obviously, the hitchhiker portrays God and how he denies Shiftlet forgiveness

and passage into Heaven. Moreover, the hitchhiker’s ejection from the car symbolizes how God

shunned Lucifer for his sins. Hence, Shiftlet is being eternally punished for abandoning Lucynell

at The Hot Spot.

Immediately after the hitchhiker leaps into the ditch, the storm seemingly grows closer

and even more violent than before. O’Connor inserted this detail into her story to emphasize how

God is livid with Tom Shiftlet’s actions. For instance, in the story of Noah’s Arc, God unleashes

“Noah’s flood, the big eraser that destroys but also allows a brand-new start” (Foster 71). Shiftlet

then begins to follow the storm into Mobile Alabama, which emphasizes just how determined he

is to redeem himself. Shiftlet overlooks the fact that the storm represents God’s wrath and chases

it because he believes that the rain will purify him. The fact that Shiftlet is desperately

attempting to pursue redemption reveals that he is completely aware of all of the sins he has

committed and that he wishes for God to “‘[b]reak forth and wash the slime from this earth!’”

(O’Connor 681). In other words, Shiftlet despises himself and is ashamed that he perpetrated so
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many wrongful deeds. In summation, Tom Shiftlet is chasing the storm into Mobile, Alabama,

because he mistakenly feels that it represents his chance at redemption when, in reality, it

represents God’s unforgiving wrath.