Monday, 13 October 2014

Flannery O'Connor, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" (1955) - selection and text analysis of excerpts

illustration by Olivia Huyhn


  1. The life you save may be your own, by Flannery O’Connor.
    Source (consulted on the 14th of Oct):
    Favorite excerpt:
    Final sentence of the 3rd paragraph:
    (…) He seemed to be a young man but he had a look of composed dissatisfaction as if he understood life thoroughly. (…)
    This particular sentence struck me because, on the one hand, there is an obvious contradiction between a young man and someone who understands life fully; and, on the other, one could say this young man had a rough time in life, which we perceive through his piercing look. That is to say he already knows how tricky and unfair (composed dissatisfaction) life can be. It allows us to catch a glimpse of what is to come. Despite being an honest man at first sight, he is selfish and concerns only about himself – maybe because of the life he had -, but, at the same time, he is not proud of his selfishness (later on this story, he shows how sorry he is for having left his mother, his roots.)
    Concerning the narrators’ language, “seemed” or “as if” show us it is a possibility, something which might have happened. In this particular context, “what you see is what you get”. In other words, Mr. Shiftlet learned one is always alone and has to learn to live alone, trusting no one. He has the ability of deceiving others in order to trust him but, in the end, he is the one who should not be trusted. He himself says this further along: “Lady, a man is divided into two parts, body and spirit."
    "A body and a spirit," he repeated. "The body, lady, is like a house: it don't go anywhere; but the spirit, lady, is like a automobile: always on the move, always . . ." (…) [sic]
    Regarding the language of this last excerpt, we see the story is set probably in the south – lack of correct verb flexion, divided roles between man and woman. Although, in spite of the language, we can see this is a man who has bared a lot of thought about life, and he is able to demonstrate it very well. He identifies himself with movement, a free spirited man, a loner, without roots nor home – his body is his house.
    The whole story, as in Kerouack’ On the Road, is a picture of life in the fifties, where a woman is bound to a role and a man is bound to another.

  2. O excerto que seleccionei para analisar encontra-se no terceiro parágrafo da página 48 (2207): "He (...) taught Lucynell, who was completely deaf and had never said a word in her life, to say the word "bird"."
    Alguém que ensina algo a outro revela alguma sensibilidade e demonstra preocupação, concentração e cuidado, ao partilhar o seu conhecimento. Quando lemos este excerto, podemos perceber que Shiftlet deu atenção suficiente a Lucynell para lhe ensinar uma palavra, tendo ela nunca falado em toda a sua vida. Esta atitude não parece a de alguém que é despreocupado com os outros e de quem tem atitudes moralmente incorrectas. "Bird" (=pássaro) pode representar o Espírito Santo, querendo isto dizer que Shiftlet confronta o bem e o mal em si mesmo.

  3. “She looks like an angel of Gawd, he murmured”
    “My mother was a angel of Gawd”.

    The repetition of this expression is very evocative as it implies various meanings. The first time it is said is by a boy behind the counter, referring to Lucynell; the second time is Shiftlet himself who uses it to describe his mother. The fact that he repeats what he has heard very recently can mean two things: that for him Lucynell is comparable to his mother, who was very much important and good to him, and in this case we may wonder why he would choose to leave such a meaningful person for the second time; or that he is so mentally disturbed that he is once again lying and thus uses the first suitable expression ( that was still fresh in his mind, since he had heard it very recently) to create a narrative so powerful and apparently truthful that he may even start to believe in it himself: he actually cries when he says “ My mother was an Angel of God”. He didn’t have to mention his mother, there was no actual need to, so the fact that he chose to describe her so intensely and emotionally is significant. This ambiguity in the reason for the repetition of this expression intensifies the uncertainty that the reader feels all throughout the text and until the very ending about who Mr. Shiftlet actually is: a lonely person from a small town, someone simple and uneducated (The way he says Gawd indicates somewhat of his social context), who has suffered very much in life and had to make incredible sacrifices, like leaving his mother; or a twisted, malicious being who makes up lies as he goes and manipulates others in order to get what he wants ( a car, money, amusement).