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Flannery O’Connor Elements

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Imagine that the sun high in a clear, blue sky in the middle of July. The air has a slight breeze to it and the birds are softly chirping in the background. Your mood at the moment is calm, almost peaceful. All of a sudden, you get a text that your grandmother just died. The sky begins to form big, black clouds and the wind starts to pick up its speed. As tears start to roll down your eyes the rain is falling from the sky! Your mood is equivalent to the weather. In Flannery O’ Connor’s work, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Shiftlet’s mood, the antagonist, is the same as the weather. In the beginning of the climax, Shiftlet’s mood is happy, so the sky is clear and the sun is bright. As the story progresses, Shiftlet’s mood changes from happy to anxious, causing the sky to start to form clouds of despair. At the end of the book, Shiftlet feels guilty and sad; the weather then goes from cloudy to a huge storm. How does Flannery O’ Connor develop the weather around Shiftlet’s mood because of his actions?

Mr. Shiftlet is a man who likes to keep his eyes on the prize no matter what the cost. Mr. Shiftlet’s prize: the car. Lucynell, the mother, agrees to give him the car if he marries her daughter, Lucynell. Mr. Shiftlet agrees, and the next day they get married. The climax begins here when they set off for their weekend honeymoon. The story says that “the early afternoon [is] clear and [open] and surrounded by pale blue sky” (pg. 154). Mr. Shiftlet’s mood at this time is happy because he still might have time to redeem himself of his foolish acts. However, he does not redeem himself, but keeps on going with his plan, like the weather will keep going with its plans.

As Mr. Shiftlet goes on with his dark deed, the weather itself gets dark. When Mr. Shiftlet is at the restaurant, a cloud of despair washes over him as he realizes what he is about to do. Not only is there a personal cloud of despair over Mr. Shiftlet, there is an actual cloud beginning to form outside. The book says that Mr. Shiftlet is depressed, and as he drove himself to Mobile “deep in the sky a storm [is] preparing very slowly and without thunder as if it meant to drain every drop of air from the earth before it broke” (pg. 155). This symbolizes that Mr. Shiftlet has lost his chance to redeem himself of his evil deeds, and that his own personal storm is about to start for him.

In the last few pages of this short story, Mr. Shiftlet comes across a hitchhiker who needs a ride to anywhere. Mr. Shiftlet then proceeds to talk about his mother with this random stranger, but the boy cuts him off. The boy says that Mr. Shiftlet’s mother is a “stinking pole cat” (pg. 156) and his is a “flea bag” (pg. 156). The boy jumps out of the car and slams the door shut. Mr. Shiftlet is flabbergasted at the turn of events. The boy leaving the car symbolizes that all is truly lost for Mr. Shiftlet. Mr. Shiftlet does not have a mother, a wife, a family, or even a friend. The book describes Mr. Shiftlet’s loss as the cloud loses its rain, “there [is] a guffawing peal of thunder from behind and fantastic raindrops, like tin-can tops, [crash] over the rear of Mr. Shiftlet’s car” (pg. 156). Also, the storm coming from behind indicates that Mr. Shiftlet will have a storm over his head from the awful things he has done.

Moods and actions coexist with each other. The moods you are in effect your actions and the actions you perform affect your mood. So, how did Flannery develop the weather around Mr. Shiftlet’s mood because of his actions? Flannery uses bright, happy colors to describe Mr. Shiftlet’s mood at the moment before his actions. After his numerous actions, however, the weather takes a turn for the worse. This signifies that Shiftlet may be feeling guilty for what he has done, or what he is about to perform. Just like his mood, the weather his dreary and dark. Mr. Shiftlet may always have this cloud of despair over his head, but only his mood will help with that.

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