Literature Annotations


O'Connor, Flannery
A Late Encounter With the Enemy


Genre Short Story (13 pp.)
KeywordsAging, Death and Dying, Dementia, Family Relationships, Humor and Illness/Disability, Memory, Obsession
Summary

The Civil War antique, 104 year old "General" Sash, is the central figure. For him, "living has got to be such a habit . . . that he couldn't conceive of any other condition." This tale opens with a carefully crafted description of the absolute mutual inability of the principles--Sash and his 62 year old granddaughter, Sally Poker--to operate on the same wave length. Sally dotes on the fabricated fame of her ancient grandfather, and Sash, whose memory is essentially gone except for his recall of "beautiful guls" and his love of being on stage, lives for the moment while scarcely grasping it.

The story evolves around the later-in-life acquisition of a BS degree by Sally, and her need to have her "famous" grandfather behind her at the ceremony in his full Hollywood military attire. The anticipated day, a hot, muggy day in the south, arrives. The principles, with the addition of a 10 year old relative as wheelchair jockey, take their places for the ceremony. The final pages of the story enter--literally and figurative--into the head of the "General" as he perceives his personal "black procession."

CommentaryTypical of O'Connor, this little story deals with the darker sides of human relationships. In this case, each character has a (or more than one) flaw, the combinations of which create a dark humor. There is little to be said for the sympathetic qualities of these characters, but the totality is more comedic than tragic. All three are simple, self-centered, and ultimately ridiculous. Yet, the author asks the reader to, perhaps, forgive their foibles and go away ruminating on some of the absurdities of personal relationships. For the medical humanist, not only is the wry and ironic humor of O'Connor something to be admired, but the internalization of the old soldier's senility--the view from inside--is creative and to be considered for its potential validity.
SourceA Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories
PublisherHarcourt Brace Jovanovich
Edition1955
Place PublishedSan Diego
Annotated by Willms, Janice L.
Date of Entry 05/05/03
Last Revised 09/30/05