Czechoslovakian philosopher and political mind Vaclav Havel, in his discourse The Power of the Powerless, talks about the danger of "living within a lie" (84). He argues that individuals who refuse to develop a strong sense of self and instead "merge with the anonymous crowd and flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudo-life" (38) inevitably experience a "profound crisis of human identity" (45). Havel was speaking specifically of communism, but more broadly of the human condition. His warning is similar to moral message of Southern writer Flannery O'Conner in her short stories, specifically A Late Encounter with the Enemy.
O'Conner, unlike Havel, sends her message through her fictional characters. They frequently live in contrived worlds the neglect the realities of their lives. O'Conner operates on a highly symbolic and ironic level to demonstrate this to her readers. In A Late Encounter with the Enemy, the General is typical of O'Conner's characters, unwilling to reveal his actual self. But when he is faced with the black procession at graduation, it reminds him of his true, forgotten past, and it is this truth -- the enemy -- which ultimately leads to his death.
The General refuses to remember the past. He refers to it as "a dreary black procession" (399). The past is of no importance to him because he is only concerned with the present. All he cares for are parades and "beautiful guls" (400). The General is able to justify his avoidance of the past. O'Conner tells us that he "didn't have any use for history because he never expected to meet it again" (399).
There is only one moment from the...
... middle of paper ...
...he gives about him, giving the reader a clear picture of what sort of character he is. But he is weak in his sense of self, content to live as a symbol of a glorious past rather than as a true human.
O'Conner exploits this weakness and slowly breaks the General down through the course of the story. She demonstrates the dangers of living a lie, of becoming someone that one is not. Her message is that the fate of the General will be the fate of all man if he chooses to live within a lie. O'Conner warns that life lived without human identity is comparable to Havel's river of pseudo-life. Only she uses the image of a black procession -- dark, solemn and resulting in painful death. The analogies are very different, but the message is the same.
Havel, Vaclav. The Power of the Powerless. trans. Paul Wilson. Hutchinson Educational, 1985.
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