In “The Life You Save may be Your Own,” Flannery O’Connor descriptively characterizes the battles within oneself with the characters of Mrs. Crater, Tom Shiftlet, and Lucynell Crater. The realistic and truthful tones of their actions suggest that through personal obstacles and flaws, triumph can be obtain by being truthful. All three characters of the story are realistic and truthful in a different way.
Mrs. Crater could be considered the most truthful character in the entire story. She does not avoid the truth of her daughter’s mental capacity and understands that most men would not even consider Lucynell marriageable. Her grasp of this truth allows for her realistic approach to Mr. Shiftlet and her proposal of the car to him for his acceptance of Lucynell. She expresses her knowledge of Shiftlet’s distaste openly. With her candid acknowledgement, she is able to be frank with others and able to acquire her goal for her daughter. The realistic and truthful nature of this woman creates the opportunity that her preparations of many years meet.
Tom Shiftlet’s inability to be as truthful as Mrs. Crater descends him into something that he does not want to be. His unrealistic desire for both the car and for his freedom creates a major dilemma that he cannot fix justly. He is forced to abandon Lucynell at a roadside diner, because he cannot live without his freedom and wants to keep the car that was in exchange for his lifelong care to her. His dishonesty to himself and to Mrs. Crater places him in this situation of either disloyalty to a promise or disloyalty to his conscience. He is forced to choose freedom in this ultimatum, but would never have to simply by being realistic and truthful to himself and to Mrs. Crater.
Lucynell Crater, even not being able to voice her mind, might be considered just as realistic and truthful as her mother. It seems as if she knows that she is being pawned by her mother in exchange for a car. Although she can sense all that is happening, she willingly accepts (even though it would be hard for her to deny) her fate, because she also knows that most other people would not consider her marriage material. She does not ever hang onto the life that she has with her mother after her “paperwork” marriage as well. This is because she is able to understand that her mother wants to honestly rid Lucynell from her care and from her home. Despite her inability to refute, it seems as if she would not, because Lucynell understands her own situation and is realistic and truthful to it.
The three main characters of “The Life You Save may be Your Own” all somehow deal with the necessary components of life. The truthful and realistic accept the flaws and end up satisfied with their incompleteness, and Shiftlet, who is dishonest to himself and to others, end up unsatisfied and still incomplete. O’Connor’s tone and attitude of the story analogizes itself into honest is as to happy and dishonest is as to unhappy.