Religious Imagery in Flannery O'Connor's The Life You Save May Be Your Own

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Religious Imagery in Flannery O'Connor's The Life You Save May Be Your Own

The religious imagery in Flannery O'Connor's 'The Life You Save May Be Your Own' gives the story a cynical undertone along with a healthy dose of irony. O'Connor uses allusions to Jesus and Christianity to examine the hypocrisies of the religion and its adherents. Her character Tom T. Shiftlet is portrayed paradoxically as both the embodiment of Christ and an immoral, utterly selfish miscreant. By presenting these polarities side by side within one persona, O'Connor shows the dichotomies between so-called Christian morality and the reality of the Church.

During his first encounter with the Lucynell Craters, Mr. Shiflet appears to be a harmless, generous
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(146) In order to emphasize his humility and goodness, Tom has been cast as a ?one-arm jackleg? (as he so eloquently puts it). He is a carpenter, ably fixing up the Crater property. He performs the miracles of reviving Mrs. Crater?s long-dead Ford (the religious connection reinforced by O?Connor?s characterization of his expression ?as if he had just raised the dead? [151]) and teaching deaf and mute daughter Lucynell to say the word ?bird?. He eschews modern man?s obsession with money and claims that he has a ?moral intelligence? despite his physical shortcomings. By emphasizing his focus on the spiritual nature of life, Tom succeeds in marrying the daughter and receiving money from Mrs. Crater.

Once the couple is married and out of Mrs. Crater?s sight, however, Tom?s carefully crafted façade falls away. He leaves his deaf and quite possibly retarded bride asleep in a diner, her pink-gold hair prompting the boy behind the counter to murmur in awe, ?She looks like an angel of Gawd.? (154) He causes a young hitchhiker to flee his car after passionately pining after his mother and wishes for the Lord to ?Break forth and wash the slime from this earth!? (156)

Tom Shiflet?s hypocrisy and under-handedness can be seen as a representation of the Christian faith - though platitudes such as ?Love thy neighbor? abound within the Bible and Christian culture, in reality, misogyny, homophobia, and a lack of tolerance for ?outsiders? are fostered by the
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