Symbolism in Literature
In literature, symbolism is used to give something qualities and meaning much deeper than shown. Many people overlook symbols when reading literature because the symbols aren’t always obvious, but recognizing symbolism can give readers a whole new understanding of the story. Flannery O’Connor’s use of symbolism and imagery in her story “The Life You Save May be Your Own” helps portray the meaning. In her story, O’Connor uses many symbols: a crooked cross, a man’s spirit, and Shiftlet’s guilt. All of these symbols play an important role in the story’s meaning.
In the beginning of the story, Shiftlet walks up to the old lady and her daughter, Lucynell, and forms a crooked cross with his arms, “’He swung both his whole and his short arm up slowly so that they indicated an expanse of sky and his figure formed a crooked cross.’” This is when the idea is formed for how Shiftlet is as a person. There are different opinions on what a crooked cross symbolizes. Some people believe the crooked cross symbolizes the same as a normal cross; Christianity and Jesus Christ. Others believe the crooked cross represents a satanic symbol. So, the use of this symbol could be interpreted in many ways. O’Connor, on the other hand, wanted the symbol to be interpreted differently. McManus, Dermot explains, “there is no doubt that Shiftlet has the possibility to change, and this can be seen several times in the story. When he is standing on the porch talking to Mrs. Crater, there is a beautiful sunset and Shiftlet’s shadow takes the shape of a crooked cross (idea of redemption).” This symbol adds to the religious side of the story in many ways.
O’Connor also uses the symbolism of Shiftlet’s spirit to add to the meaning of the story. At one point in the story, Shiftlet starts talking about his spirit, “Lady, a man is divided into two parts, body and spirit.” Then he goes on to explain, “the body is like a house: it don’t go anywhere; but the spirit, Lady, is like a automobile: always on the move, always.” This part of the story gets into how Shiftlet feels about his...