O'Connor, ''The Life You Save May Be Your Own'' -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study) "'Oh Lord!' he prayed. 'Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!'"
I totally agree with Mackenzie that Mr. Shiftlet is a Christ figure. Like the Misfit in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Christ figures don't always have to be good with Flannery O'Connor. In fact, I can sort of compare his abandonment of Lucynell to the Crucifixion. While it seems like he just leaves Lucynell to fend for herself, he actually leaves food for her and then leaves the person working at the counter to take care of her. It's kind of like when Jesus left mankind but still provided for them (by way of redemption and forgiveness). The waiter is kind of like Peter, when Jesus said to Peter, "Upon this rock I build my church," leaving instructions for mankind to be taken care of after he leaves. Also, Lucynell falls asleep before he leaves, just like when the disciples fell asleep the night that Judas betrayed Jesus. At the end of the story, "Mr. Shiftlet felt that the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him," almost like he's taking on all the sins of the world. Water, often signifying baptism or redemption, occurs in the last paragraph when "fantastic raindrops" hit Shiftlet's car, symbolizing spiritual cleansing.
I feel like Mr. Shiftlet represents the need to let go. Repairing the car is like repairing his soul, so that he will be able to move on and leave everything else behind. He even says that "the spirit, lady, is like a automobile: always on the move, always." While it does seem terrible that he left Lucynell alone without a reasonable means to get back home, she also was being trapped by her mother, who didn't want her to ever leave or have a life of her own. In order to be free and spiritually at peace with yourself, you can't cling on to people the way that the old woman clung on to Lucynell. The title definitely seems to push this idea of taking your life into your own hands and not unhealthily clinging onto possessions or people. Like Jesus, Mr. Shiftlet weaned people off their unhealthy, possessive ways in order for their souls to grow. Then he just took off into the sunset, leaving mankind with a new perspective on life to deal with as best they could. The fact that Flannery O'Connor could make a character as unsavory as Mr. Shiftlet a Christ figure just goes to show how bold a writer she was. Go Flannery!