The Life You Save May Be Your Own Critical Essay

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They were people who lived in and through books, in a way that is increasingly rare today.Elie has chosen to tell all four of his subjects’ separate stories at once, rendering their lives in alternating bits and pieces, shifting from person to person, jumping from time period to time period, in a way that is difficult for even knowledgeable readers to follow.Elie’s lucid style somehow manages to carry the day, making the book eminently readable even in spite of this expository chaos.Elie doesn’t ever really make a detailed argument for the linkage of Day, Merton, O’ Connor, and Percy.Indeed, the book does not really offer an argument at all.All four were, in some sense, deeply marginal figures, being either adult converts to the Roman Catholic faith at a time when such conversion was costly, or, in the case of O’ Connor, being constrained to live out her Catholic life surrounded by a sea of Southern Protestants.All four were deeply critical of the arrogant spirit of modernity and sought in Catholicism an escape from a “progressive” world which left no place of grace intact.Although no one would mistake for a work of Catholic apologetics, it is an unusually affirmative work, a splendid counter to the cynicism and obscurantism that have brought literary scholarship in present-day America to the point of ruin.It is affirmative of its subjects, affirmative of their bookishness, affirmative of the possibilities of the written word, and affirmative of its subjects’ shared pilgrimage”the endless high-minded seeking that consumed their lives.Underneath it all, one senses, is his own passion for books.An editor by trade, Elie is clearly a man devoted to the possibilities of the written word, both his own and that of his subjects. One may actually come to know the truth through them, in the thought-haven of their world apart, and indeed one can hardly do so without them.

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