The Life You Save May Be Your Own

O'Connor, Flannery

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol
  • Date of entry: May-11-2004
  • Last revised: Aug-30-2006


A one-armed tramp, appropriately named "Mr. Shiftlet," walks up to a run-down farm where an old woman and her retarded daughter, Lucynell, are sitting on the front porch. Lucynell cannot talk. Mr. Shiftlet persuades the old woman to hire him for work around the farm and for repairing a car. She says she can feed him but not pay him. Over a period of a few weeks he repairs the car (which is what he really wants) and offers to marry Lucynell if her mother will give him some money.

After the wedding Mr. Shiftlet takes Lucynell on a honeymoon, but abandons her in a country diner the first day, claiming she’s a hitchhiker. As he drives towards Mobile, he picks up a boy and begins to lecture him about being good to his mother. The angry boy jumps out of the car, and Mr. Shiftlet prays that God will "break forth and wash the slime from this earth."


This "gothic humor" story finds two unsavory characters using each other. Mr. Shiftlet wants the car; Lucynell’s mother wants to get rid of Lucynell in some "clean" way. In the end, they both get what they want, while Lucynell is left dozing in some diner, unable to communicate, miles from home. The ironic tone all through this work is both humorous and painful. While Mr. Shiftlet mouths prayers, his behavior is totally selfish.


Original copyright: 1953

Primary Source

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories


Harcourt, Brace

Place Published

New York



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