"The Life You Save May Be Your Own" by Flannery O'Connor tells the story of a man named Tom Shiftlet who comes to work on a farm in Alabama. Like many of O'Connor's other short stories, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" chronicles the effect one person can have on a family.
"The Life You Save May Be Your Own" opens with an old woman named Mrs. Crater sitting on her front porch with her daughter Lucynell. She sees a man named Tom Shiftlet approach and initially speaks of him badly, describing him as a "tramp." Nonetheless, Mrs. Crater allows Tom to work on her farm in exchange for food and shelter. The irony of the opening scene is that Lucynell is deaf and cannot understand her mother's initial assessment of Tom.
After some time, Mrs. Crater sees potential in Tom and asks him to marry her daughter. After several attempts to delay the marriage, Tom and Lucynell eventually wed. That same day, Tom drives Lucynell to a diner. When she falls asleep, Tom decides to abandon her. After driving away from the diner, he sees a sign that says, "The life you save may be your own." Thinking he has avoided what he estimates to be the end of his life – marriage – he speeds off in the direction of Mobile, Ala., to start a new life.