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a cloud, a hat, and a turnip

A cloud, the exact same color of the boy's hat and shaped like a turnip, had descende over the sun, and another, worse looking, crouched behind the car.
O'Connor, ''The Life You Save May Be Your Own'' -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

I've been thinking about our last conversation in class today, and I've finally come to a conclusion: I think the cloud symbolizes Mr. Shiftlet's guilt. This interpretation also helps me understand Shiftlet's actions in picking up the hitchiker. I think he picks up the hitchiker becuase he feels slightly guilty for leaving Lucynell behind and he attempts to compensatate for these actions by saving the boy. So, when the cloud hovers over him, the same color as the boy hitchiker's hat, he is not only reminded of his guilt but his failed attempt to reedeem himself...hence the turnip shape of the cloud which represents the bitterness of his failed attempt. So, "the rotteness of the world that was about to engulf him" was on one level his own guilt, on another level the realization that all the wrongdoings of the world cannot be convered up with good deeds. Furthermore, when Shiflet raises his arm (his symbolically deformed arm?) and puts it back on his chest crying out, "Oh Lord!...Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!" he is ironically one of those slimeballs. I think this whole analysis goes back to my original idea that O'Connor was depicting sinful people purposefully becuase she wanted to depict an imperfect society. She didn't want to depict a world in which everyone is the perfect little Christian; instead, she wanted to depict a world in which real people truly struggle between good and evil.

Comments (4)

Bethany Bouchard:

Wow. You really helped clear a lot of things up for me about this story by writing this blog. I seriously had no idea why all these things happened that just seemed ridiculous and random and had no visible connections. I'm not a fan of Flannery O'Connor's work. I don't know why, but her stories are really hard for me to get into and interpret. The part that made the least sense to me in the story was the part at the end about the hitchhiker boy and his turnip hat, but what you said makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

Ellen Einsporn:

I can agree that Flannery O'Connor can be confusing, but I think that just makes finally "getting it" even greater.

Good attitude, Ellen! I already thanked you for your contributions in class, and now I'll thank you for a helpful post online.

Keep up the good work!

Ellen Einsporn:

Thanks, Dr. Jerz!


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