The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Flannery O’Connor, 1954
The magic trick:
Creating a cacophony of emotional responses for the reader
Nearly all of O’Connor’s work is notable for its blend of comedy and tragedy, often in the same sentence. Perhaps nowhere is that gift more evident than in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”
She really puts the reader through the gamut of emotions here. We love the characters. We hate them. We mock them. We write them off as absurd. Then we cry for them. It’s an intense experience unlike the work of any other author I know. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
He was more depressed than ever as he drove on by himself. The late afternoon had grown hot and sultry and the country had flattened out. Deep in the sky a storm was preparing very slowly and without thunder as if it meant to drain every drop of air from the earth before it broke. There were times when Mr. Shiftlet preferred not to be alone. He felt too that a man with a car had a responsibility to others and he kept his eye out for a hitch‑hiker. Occasionally he saw a sign that warned: “Drive carefully. The life you save may be your own.”