Up until this point he seems genuinely happy making them happy. Once Mrs. Crater starts trying to force tom to marry her daughter, he starts becoming uncomfortable with the situation. He even tries to go on as if nothing had happened and keep living as they were, but that does not work and Mrs. Crater keeps forcing it upon him. The most important fact that is revealed about Tom is that he is extremely unhappy with his life. Readers know that he ran away from his mother when he was younger and that he now regrets it very much.
He also ends up running away from Mrs. Crater when she started to try to control him. This suggests that Tom is not very fond of people controlling him. And although he continually runs away he is very unhappy with the decisions that he has made over the course of the years but instead of standing his ground and fixing his problems and himself, he runs away. Mr. Shiftlet introduces himself as a carpenter to Mrs. Carter and has a tin box to prove it. He seems, however, very hesitant to tell her anything else about himself since whenever she asked him a question, “he didn't answer” (977).
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He promptly proves his worth the next morning when “he began on the roof of the garden house” (978). “He had not been around a week before the change he had made was apparent. He had patched the front and back steps, built a new hog pen, and restored a fence” (978-9). The question most readers would ask is why would he go through all the trouble to fix all of these things? The literal answer may seem simple and functional: he wants to create a trusting atmosphere so he could lure Lucynell into somehow giving him the car.
That is, after all what he seems to want. His eye are always “focused on part of the automobile” (978) and he was able to get it in the end, but it is clearly not what he really wants or needs since he still “became depressed in spite of the car” (982). What Tom really wanted was to feel loved and needed without being controlled. He wanted to be part of a family again, but under his terms. So he tried with all his might, and even went to the extent of teaching the deaf girl to speak, to make the situation work the way he wanted it to.
What he quickly realized was that Lucynell Sr. had a plan for him. As the story progresses readers find that Mr. Shiftlet is quite unhappy with his past. He seems upset when Mrs. Crater calls him a “poor disabled friendless drifting man” (980). Although she is stating exactly who he is and what he presents himself to be, he does not approve and “the ugly words settled in his head a like a group of buzzards” (980). Later on in the conversation when Mrs. Crater accuses Tom of milking her, he is “deeply hurt by the word milk” (981).
These two examples demonstrate how hard it is for Tom to deal with reality. Lucynell does nothing but state simple facts, yet he is still disturbed by them. This may mean that he wants to change, or it may mean that he wants to start over altogether. After he takes the car and leaves Lucynell Jr. at the Hot Spot “he was more depressed then ever as he drove on by himself” (982). This is very intriguing because he no longer has to care for Lucynell, he has money and a car, yet he is still unhappy, and maybe even more than before.
Again this shows that all Tom wants is to be part of a family, like he once was. He wants another chance since he ruined the one he had with his mother long ago by running away. Taking into consideration Tom’s feelings and actions, readers can now see the real problem. Tom is a very insecure person, and he is not content with the person that he has become. He claims to have never “rued a day of his life like the one he rued when he left” (983) his mother. The events that take place after this obviously force him to think negatively of himself.
He is not able to handle problems so he takes to running away from them. And like an addict, he keeps on running faster and faster, knowing full well that it is not the right thing to do. It seems as if he is unable to wrap his mind around the ides of someone telling him what to do. When he married Lucynell, he was “morose and bitter as if he had been insulted” (981). Although Tom is portrayed as a very strong character that takes charge of situations and achieves what he wants, it becomes quite clear as the story goes on that he is the complete opposite.
Lucynell Sr. quickly takes control of his life and becomes a little greedy with her demands. It is not enough for her that Tom has made her and her daughter’s lives eons better, and that he has every intention of continuing to do so. She forces him to marry her daughter, and this proves to be too much for Tom. The only thing he knows how to do is to run away from anyone who tries to make decisions for him. He is very discontent with himself and is almost disgusted with what he is; a disabled, drifting, and friendless man.
To get rid of some of the disgust, he runs away and tries to start over. This substitutes his inability to repair his own problems and the constant need to flee. In the end, it is safe to say that Tom T. Shiftlet has the desire to be good, and conquer his own problems, but has not found the courage or the ability to do so. He has the desire to be part of a family and be a proper man, but is unable to accept the fact that he cannot control everything all the time. For now he is still a carpenter, and that is as far as his ability to repair things will go.
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