The women in some of O’Connor’s short stories do not “deserve sympathy for synthesizing aspects of both gender roles” as some critics say, because they are not trying to balance their lifestyles to survive; rather they are manipulating their surroundings to gain an advantage in life. Mrs. Shortley uses her friendship with Mrs. McIntyre to refresh her self-esteem just as the peacock uses its colors and spots to gain attention and affection. The old woman uses her daughter’s handicap as a crutch for her age as Mr. Shiftlet uses other’s trust to silhouette his broken body and soul. The grandmother takes advantage of her old age and uses it as an excuse for attention as the Misfit uses his mysteriousness as an excuse for crime. These women’s tools in fighting their expected roles in life are voice and stature for Mrs. Shortley, pity and grief for the old woman, and attention for the grandmother.
Always in the right place at the right time to take attention away from those who deserve it is Mrs. Shortley in “The Displaced Person.” With her snide remarks about the “niggers” who “don’t do nothing but steal,” she seems to always be defending her right as a worker for Mrs. McIntyre. The first sighting of the displaced persons was a spectacle for Mrs. Shortley as she realized the people did not look like aliens or animals, but were in fact human. Better yet, these new workers had some better qualities. The husband turned out to be handier for working the farming equipment, the son a useful translator, and the daughters more beautiful than Mrs. Shortley’s. Of course after seeing these traits and specialties of the foreign people, Mrs. Shortley does not accept the foreigners, in fact, “every time Mr. Guizac smiled, Europe stretched out in Mrs. Shortley’s imagination, mysterious and evil, the devil’s experiement station” (O’Connor, 211) . She instead tries to find a way to discredit them for her own benefit.
Although Mrs. Shortley has no authority over anything in her life, including Mr. Shortley, she attempts to sound like she does. Her long speeches to Mr. Shortley about whether or not the Guizacs can actually speak English or if they know what a still is have no intent to make Mr. Shortley aware of his own possible unemployment. Instead, she hopes to just blow off frustrations in a lude attempt to sound more educated on the subject than her husband.
Comically, he only answers her questions of hearing the complaints with a “no.” The fact that he answers in such a seemingly disrespectful tone only shows Mrs. Shortley that he is below her in understanding life, and that is what she seeks.
Working diligently to share her grief with others is O’Connor’s old woman character in “The Life You Save may be Your Own.” The old woman’s daughter, Lucynell, who suffers from an obvious mental problem and deafness, is not properly cared for. It might suffice to say the mother cares deeply for the thirty year old daughter as she cries when she is married off, but it is a stronger argument to highlight the possibility that she is crying because the one person always available to talk to is leaving. The old woman strives to gain attention and usefulness through pity. Although, the truth of the matter is that she doesn’t take care of anything even though she could. When Mr. Shiftlet arrives, it takes him a mere week to teach the girl one word. Over thirty years, the old women seemed to have not tried at all. Other aspects of her life are also mistreated such as the house, especially the front porch where she spends most of her time, is denied passion.
The first viewing of Mr. Shiftlet in the sunset as a man comparable to Christ on the cross is a ginger topic worth noting as a sign to the old woman. Like a second coming, the man will fix things up as the old woman’s husband used to. More importantly is the fact that he does not look like a normal outline of Christ on the cross, rather he is “a broken silhouette.” With his one arm, Mr....
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