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Nostalgic finales just seem too good to be real with the quaint happy endings that typically conclude fairy tales; not with Flannery O'Connor's writings, which depict sarcasm with disquieting twists and mordant characters. One of O'Connor's most successful works, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" epitomizes her writing style that is characteristically seen by many as grotesque and sardonic. This short story represents the antithesis of a fairy tale, ingeniously warping its vital elementsdamsel in distress (Lucynell, the daughter), the mother (Mrs. Lucynell Crates), and knight in shining armor (Mr. Shiftlet)to make its readers see the latent malevolence of all human beings. Utilizing a keen consideration on each fictional component in the story, O'Connor conveys her message effectively by contrasting hideousness against pulchritude. She makes effectual use of liars to demonstrate the truth. O'Connor's deep perspective is evident in the way she inflicts ruthless challenges to the characters in the story.
The damsel in distress of this story in no way exemplifies a charming lady typical of any fairy story. If anyone is asked to delineate the female protagonist of any story, one may picture a girl with long blonde hair with dreamy blue eyes that project an angelic presence. An angelic quality is perhaps the only positive trait that Lucynell possesses. Albeit overall Lucynell does not possess a character that one wishes to be portrayed as, this character remains the only trace of purity and redemption in the story. As adverse as Lucynell's naïveté may be, one will be culpable of betraying such sort of innocence. This is the reason that Shiftlet's desertion of Lucynell makes him guilty for conning the trust of an innocent woman. Thus, O'Connor attempts to admonish every young naïve lady of her inherent vulnerability that presents an opportunity of being taken advantage of by any deceptive, malicious person. As a message to every woman, O'Connor conveys the unreality of any woman embodying the illusory qualities that is depicted in fairy stories. Albeit not of the same intensity as Lucynell's tribulation, every woman possesses imperfections that set her far apart from the divinity portrayed by maidens in fairy stories. Since no such goddess of beauty actually exists in reality, O'Connor employs the other extremethe antithesis of an enchantressto thwart expectations.
The mother of a fairy story is usually categorized into two: either as a wicked stepmother or a fairy god mother. In "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," the character Mrs. Crater does not match any of these canonical classifications. The character is neither absolutely negligent nor nurturing. Nevertheless, Mrs. Crater is the only character in the story that possesses the conscious control to choose between innocence or ambition, and right or wrong. The mother principal objective in mind is to have her daughter marry off her to any chap who will have her. The arrival of Mr. Tom L. Shiftlet at the rugged farm is perceived by Mrs. Crater as an opportunity to finally get her daughter to tie the knot. Notwithstanding the same amount of keenness as Mr. Shiftlet does, Mrs. Crater deliberately disregards the fact she was getting her daughter to marry a man with dubious characteristics. Mrs. Crater's decision to choose "bad" over "good" is a metaphorical evidence of the unreality that the right answer is always the final one. Most mothers usually assure their daughters that, "all I want is your happiness." But in the story, Mrs. Crater's actions and decisions evidently point to the absence of any wish for her daughter's happiness by pairing her up with a conning and deceptive stranger. By satisfying her own selfish ambitions first, Mrs. Crater evidently shows that she would instead selfishly make herself happy prior to every wishing the same for her own daughter. Perhaps it is true that at her age, Mrs. Crater's lone aspiration in life is to witness her daughter getting married. Thus, Mrs. Crater is engaged in a sin that each one of us is similarly guilty of, albeit this sin may not be as derisive as mankind consistently commits, still Mrs. Crater is accountable for her symbolic blindness, pride and greed
If one delineates the male protagonist of a fairy story, one would imagine a strong, captivating, and clever gentleman carrying a smile "that would melt the heart of any damsel in distress. O'Connor's description of the character, Mr. Shiflet, would immediately insinuate a diabolic character atypical of a canonical hero. At the start of the story, Shiftlet seems to embody a Christ-like persona. O'Connor utilizes powerfully suggestive terms Tom L. Shiftlet's characteristics are far fetched from a fairy-tale knight in shining armor. Shiftlet endeavors to acquire the provisional trust of others, Shiftlet typifies a pseudo-Christ as con man, easily betraying those who put their faith in them. Fairy-tale heroes must base their decisions upon the righteous desires of his honest heart. Although Shiftlet was offered a great opportunity to perform Christ-like acts of service, he relinquishes it because of his selfish demeanor. Shiftlet demonstrates O'Connor's typical wicked characters. Shiftlet is a perfect manifestation of a duplicitous person and possessing enough money to cover who possess an integrated image of Christ and man.
The moral of the story is clearthat fairy tales exist only in our dreams and ideals. Every practical situation bears the harsh capacity that it is not immune to fault that will afflict characters from searching their surreal ending. In reality, bad commonly prevails over the good. Whereas most other fictional tales tell of characters that possess an altruistic concern for other people's happiness, this story proves ambition, greed, and sole concern for selfishness but also the painful but true situation that As Flannery O'Conner warns, "one will assuredly encounter adversity, dishonesty, or untrustworthiness that will keep one from his coveted fairy-tale life."
O'Connor, Flannery. "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." The Realm of Fiction: Seventy-Four Stories. Ed. James B. Hall and Elizabeth C. Hall. New York: McGraw, 1987. 488-489.
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"The Life You Save May Be Your Own: Antithesis To A Fairy Tale." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Oct 2014