The Use of Modernism in Flannery O'Conner's "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"

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In her story, “The Life You Save may be your own”

Flannery O'Connor uses multiple and different approaches to her fiction. Just like in most of her fictional works, she presents double-edged ideologies in the sense that there are at least two opposite ways to analyze her fiction. Being a writer in the modernism literary period, O’Connor presents it in her story. Modernism is theology term which is defined as the approach of integrating old religious teachings to fit into the contemporary concepts. It can also include any relations of a current story with traditional writings, art or music. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the aspects of modernism used in “The Life You Save may be your own.”


After Mr. Shiftlet strikes a deal with Mrs. Crater, he expresses his liking for the car, which the lady allows him to sleep in. The aspect of modernism is presented when Mr. Shiftlet comments that, "the monks of old slept in their coffins,” to which she answers that the monks were not as advanced. Lucynell is likened to “a pearl of great price,” which according to the bible is like the kingdom (O'Connor 200). However, this is only according to Shiftlet. This can be further described by her innocence and inability to speak, thereby making her pure and free from incorrect words. On the other hand, Mrs. Crater views her daughter as the pearls that should not be cast before swine, lest they trample them under their feet.

After abandoning the woman, he has just married in a diner before they reach their destination of the honeymoon, Mr. Shiflet runs into a hitchhiker and carries him in his car. However, after a few confrontations, the boy accuses Mr. Shiftlet of being evil, and he jumps out of the moving car. At this point, he fills that the world is rotten and it is about to engulf him. He then puts his hand on the breast and prays, “Oh Lord! Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!” A few minutes there is thunder and rainfall (O'Connor 198). This part alone implies the aspect of modernism in the story. There are multiple biblical stories where God manifests himself in the form of thunderstorms. With this, one can conclude that the Lord may have listened to his prayer and showed himself through a sign, which was thunder and rain. After this manifestation, Mr. Shiftlet speeds off towards Mobile, his destination.

Regardless of Mr. Shiftlet’s sins he still has the heart to try and save a young boy from his bad life. Taking a religious perspective, bad people are punished for their sins while the ones that are righteous receive the grace and glory of the Lord. Mr. Shiftlet, in his mysterious character, has a stroke a bargain to get a car and take Lucynell for a wife. However, he does not honor his end of the bargain because he abandons her while she sleeps to wait for food. Religious writings from the bible show us men who were initially cruel, yet they get a portion of the grace because of one good deed. This is exactly what happens in the story. This reflection leads us to review the title of the story, “The Life You Save may be your own.” By the slight attempt to save the hitchhiker’s life, Mr. Shiftlet redeems his own life. Regardless of his previous undoing, he still murmurs a prayer, which is responded to by a sign (O'Connor 205).


The aspects of modernism are portrayed throughout the story by the characters’ interests for material things, and the consequences of these interests. Most of the symbols used in the story are linked to Christian art and divine representation.

Works Cited

O'Connor, Flannery. "The Life You Save May Be Your Own."The Kenyon Review 15.2 (1953): 195-207.

November 24, 2023

Art Literature

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