April Fleming, MSDE Admin, Kathleen Maher-Baker
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • MSDE
  • Maryland State Department of Education
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • wa-ela
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial
    Media Formats:
    Audio, Downloadable docs, Text/HTML

    Education Standards

    Examining Human Compassion (Remix) Days 7-9: Character Analysis in "The Life you Save May Be Your Own"

    Examining Human Compassion (Remix) Days 7-9: Character Analysis in "The Life you Save May Be Your Own"


    Students will read and analyze a short story from the Southern Gothic genre entitled "The Life you Save May be Your Own" by Flannery O'Conner.  They will continue to explore the ideas of human compassion and morality by examining the apparent  lack of compassion in the characters of Mr. Shiftlet and the old woman, Lucynell Crater.  Students will use close reading strategies to identify examples of indirect characterization that contribute to their analysis of these two central characters in the text.


    Image source: "Mockingbird" by skeeze on

    Reading and Analysis of "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" by Flannery O'Conner

    Introduce the story "The Life you Save May Be Your Own" to students by asking them whether or not they believe certain members of society are more deserving of compassion than others.  Lead a discussion about whether or not those who are considered "innocent" (such as children) are more deserving of compassion than hardened criminals.  In your discussion, consider the complexities of the issue by posing the following questions or some of your own: Who is qualified to determine who is innocent and deserving of compassion? Can extending compassion change those who some may say are not deserving? Is innocence something that merely comes from a lack of opportunity?  Is the compassion of others a basic need of humans?

    Once you have discussed the topic, tell students that they will be exploring the idea of compassion and morality by examining the actions of two characters in the story they are about to read: Mr.Shiftlet and the old lady, Lucynell Crater.  As they read, have them look for examples where each of these characters shows compassion to others or does not show compassion.  This will prepare them for a post-reading discussion of whether or not their compassion or lack thereof can be used to determine their morality.  (This may be a good time to use the term indirect characterization and review with students that this includes things the character says, does, and how others respond to him/her.)

    Included in the resources for this lesson, you will find both the full-text of the story as well as an audio version.  Based on the needs of your students, you should determine whether or not to assign the reading of the story independently, read the story together as a class, or listen to the audio version as students follow along.  As the audio version linked to this lesson is part of a podcast, the first few seconds include introductory material, which you may want to hear in advance in order to cue the audio to the beginning of the story itself.

    Also included in the resource section of the lesson, you'll find a guided notetaking sheet for the students to use.  Again, depending on the needs of your students, you may want to provide this at the beginning of the reading of the story for students to complete as they read or provide it after their initial read so that they can complete it as part of a second, close reading activity.  The degree to which students complete this as a class or independently will, of course, be dependent on the abilities and needs of your students.  

    Once students have completed their notes, have them share their findings.  You could do this in the form of class discussion or have students add  examples/notes to whiteboards or posters around the room titled for each of the three rows in the chart.  Then students could complete a "gallery walk" with their note sheet to read the responses of their classmates and possibly add to their own charts.  As you discuss the morality of the characters, you may need to distinuish between a character's actions and motivations.  Consider with the students whether or not someone's actions could show a lack of compassion even when his/her motives are pure or vice versa.

    As a closing activity, have students revisit their definition/word lists of compassion and morality from day one and reflect on what they wrote.  Provide the opportunity for them to add to or ammend them based on their reading and discussion of "The Life you Save May Be Your Own."

    As you read the story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" you will be continuing to consider whether or not human compassion is the basis for morality.  You'll be asked to examine the actions and motivations of the characters of Mr. Shiflet and the old woman, Lucynell Crater to determine which ones demonstrate compassion and which ones demonstrate either indifference or cruelty. You'll use your findings to determine whether or not those actions accuratley indicate the morality of each of the characters.  Use the guided note-taking sheet as your teacher indicates to help you record your evidence as you read.

    Once you have finished your note-sheet and discussion of the story, take a moment to revisit your definitions/word lists of compassion and morality from day one.  Is there anything you would like to add or change?  If so, take the time to do so now.