In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The Lame Shall Enter First” the father is “Sheppard.” His name is a wrongly spelled derivative of “shepherd” just as the father’s efforts are a wrong. “All he wanted for the child was that he be good and unselfish (143).” Sheppard is the single, middle-aged father of a ten-year old boy, Norton. Norton’s father finds no redemptive qualities to his son’s character. He criticizes his as being selfish, a money-grubber, and a glutton. “Sheppard worked as the City Recreational Director. On Saturdays he worked [for free] at the reformatory (145).” One afternoon Sheppard notices Johnson, a boy he had been counseling for a year, eating out of a garbage can. Johnson is dirty and malnourished. Johnson’s father is dead, mother is in the penitentiary, and he has run away from the grandfather that beat him. He has a deformity of a club foot. Despite Johnson’s mean attitude and criminal tendencies, Sheppard places him on a pedestal as a genius who is afflicted. Sheppard is absolutely enthralled with the notion that he will be the one to save the boy. “Nothing excited him so much as thinking what he could do for such a boy (152).” He flaunts the orphan’s misfortunes to his son as something to be admired. Sheppard invites the boy to stay at his home to help his own son learn how to share and be less selfish. Sheppard believes, “What was wasted on Norton would cause Johnson to flourish (152).” The police come for Johnson three times accusing he has broken into and destroyed homes. Shepherd is upset as the orphan accuses his benefactor of not trusting him. Each time Shepard denies the boys involvement and is sucked back into his self-glorification as the boy’s only savior. With much protest from the father, Johnson begins to teach Norton about the Bible. Sheppard’s son finds a great interest in the telescope that was bought and left behind by the other boy.
Norton is looking for his mother in the stars of heaven. One night at dinner Johnson becomes enraged with Sheppard that he denies the teaching of the bible. Johnson leaves in anger, only to be soon brought back by the police for more break-ins. Before the police say anything Sheppard vehemently proclaims his faith in the boy. But it is then that Johnson admits his guilt in all three crimes. The boy returned to “show up that big tin Jesus (187).” In a moment of grace Sheppard the father realizes that “he had done more for Johnson than he had done for his own child (189).” He ran to check on the son he just realized he loved only to find him dead hanging by the rafters in the attic.
As much as the story is tragic, I felt good that Norton found his mother in heaven. Sheppard was a false savior. He rejected saving his own son’s soul. Johnson said himself that he did not need Sheppard’s saving, Jesus would save him. Johnson’s idea of Sheppard’s immoral suggestions was that “there wasn’t no hell.” The one to be saved becomes the savior. I hated the character Sheppard from the beginning of the story. We must first look at the condition of our own souls, then help those closest to us. True charity is not an alter for the mortal to stand above others. Just as Judus denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, so did Sheppard deny his chance three times to have faith in Johnson for who he really was; a petty criminal boy with a righteous Christian soul that did not need his help.