Fate and Raindrops

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"After a few minutes there was a guffawing peal of thunder from behind the fantastic raindrops, like tin-can tops, crashed over the rear of Mr. Shiftlet's car.  Very quickly he stepped on the gas and with his stump sticking out the window he raced the galloping shower into Mobile."

-From Flannery O'Connor's "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" page 62 from  A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories 

When I read this line, I thought that this really summed up Mr. Shiftlet's attitude towards his own life and fate.  Mr.  Shiftlet is not an inherently bad person.  He has obviously not had a wonderful childhood or past, yet he seems to have overcome his past.  He is friendly and open to the old woman and Lucynell, and he does do a lot for them for little payment.  Some may say that the fact that he steals the old woman's entire savings and leaves her daughter in the diner is a horrible thing to do, and it undoubtedly is; however he could have done much worse to both women.  I think he does steal their money and, basically, the daughter because he is desperate, and I really think that O'Connor wants him to be pitied as much as she wants the old woman and Lucynell to be pitied when he robs them.  Mr. Shiftlet even picks up a boy and basically helps him to realize that he misses his mother.  The boy jumps out of the car, and although it is never explicitly stated, the reader knows that Mr. Shiftlet's words about his own supposedly wonderful mother make the boy jump out of the car to return home.  I would say that Mr. Shiftlet is actually an inherently good person who is misdirected.  But who is he misdirected by? 

I think that he is misdirected mainly by himself.  Perhaps, once his disability caused society to label him as an outsider.  Perhaps he is unable to find a job, thus is desperate for money for food, shelter, clothing, and even interaction and employment.  However, now I think that it is he who banishes himself from society.  He accepts what he thinks is fate in life: to always be wandering alone.  Even his name, Mr. Shiftlet, implies shifting or movement from place to place, and even the shift between being a decent person and a terrible person.  I think that the quote above really shows that he refuses to accept the possibility of any life that is not solitary and continuously moving. 

The rain in this quote could be interpreted as a symbol of baptism, or rebirth.  Mr. Shiftlet could have had a new life with the old woman and Lucynell.  He could have had affection, friendship, worth, and even happiness, but he chooses to run away, "to race the galloping shower" away from these fates and into his old pattern of the solitary wanderer.  Anyone who refuses to take their life into their own hands and work for their one’s own and others' happiness really should be pitied because they are allowing, or in Mr. Shiftlet's case, forcing themselves to have a depressing and unlived life.

However, the "galloping shower" could also be viewed as the four horsemen of the apocalypse in Revelations in the Bible.  These horsemen bring about disease and despair.  Perhaps O'Connor wants us to think that Mr. Shiftlet is running away from a situation that is to him comparable to the end of the world.

 

What do the rest of you think about Mr. Shiftlet's fate? Is he accepting it or is he trying to avoid it?  What does the rain symbolize in the very last sentence? What is the fate that O'Connor gives him anyway?

 

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