Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sundays: Flannery O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Each Sunday I’ll write about a short story available online. If you read the story, please add your thoughts in the comments!

Confession: I have not read much of Flannery O’Connor’s work.

This is a common theme around Fat Books & Thin Women: in high school one of my teachers had us read a few of O’Connor’s short stories. Disgusted with the establishment, dreaming of spending my life Not In School, I decided pretty quickly that I didn’t like O’Connor’s work. I wasn’t, you might imagine, too concerned with coming up with an honest reason for not liking her stories; that a teacher would make me read it was reason enough.

As with so many other things that my 16- to 18-year-old self did or thought, I was wrong on this front. O’Connor’s stories are amazing, not bad, and as a purveyor of the Southern Gothic she comes up with characters I’m not sure I could believe in coming from any other writer.

In “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” we have Mr. Shiftless, a one-armed tramp who appears one night on the property of the Lucynell Craters (mother and deaf-and-dumb daughter). Mr. Shiftless does some odd jobs around their home in return for food and a place to sleep in the back of their broken-down car, which he fixes. The elder Lucynell conspires for Mr. Shiftless and her daughter to marry; they do, and she gives Mr. Shiftless $17.50 to pay for a weekend honeymoon.

O’Connor’s descriptions kind of blow me away. Here’s Mr. Shiftless:

His face descended in forehead for more than half its length and ended suddenly with his features just balanced over a jutting steel-trap jaw.

The elder Lucynell is described as being “about the size of a cedar fence post.”

And then we have the sun and the moon; the sun “which appeared to be balancing itself on the peak of a small mountain” as it sets over a building, and the moon which appears “in the branches of the fig tree as if it were going to roost there with chickens.”

Read “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”


I LOVE Flannery O’Connor. She had such an interesting life, and her stories are so haunting. I especially like A View of the Woods from the Everything That Rises Must Converge collection. I hope you do read more of her!

Comment by She

Thanks for sharing, this was my first Flannery O’Connor! I definitely enjoyed it – I could really see it (or at least my conception of it, which is good enough). I really liked this line: It doesn’t tell you about the set of the hat but I like the possibility of to recognizing that someone just left somewhere for good due to the set of their hat. Very suggestive.

And I like this feature! It’s such a great idea and a good way to get people to read new things without having to commit.

Comment by Jennifer Marcketta

i love that line too :)

i like writing these things because i’m reading so many more short stories than i was a few months ago. i used to read story collections CONSTANTLY, but then drifted over to novels…it’s nice to get back to them, and to be able to read a complete story in a single sitting.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Forgot to copy/paste the quote: “his hat was set on his head in a way to indicate that he had left somewhere for good.”

Comment by Jennifer Marcketta

I’m glad I came across your post, because this is the first time I’ve read anything by Flannery O’Connor. Her writing style is so unique, and I completely agree with what you said about her characters. :)

Comment by Darlyn

Such a great choice. Her collected works are worth getting – she’s awesome all around, even in the earliest works. We Georgians are absurdly (and justifiably) proud of her.

Comment by Lulu

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