The Unobtainable Good Things in O’Connor’s A Late Encounter with the Enemy

The Unobtainable Good Things in O’Connor’s A Late Encounter with the Enemy

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The Unobtainable Good Things in O’Connor’s A Late Encounter with the Enemy


I have Seen the Enemy and it is Myself . . .

. . . . She wanted the General at her graduation because she wanted to show what she stood for, or, as she said, "what all was behind her," and was not behind them. This them was not anybody in particular. It was just all the upstarts who has turned the world on its head and unsettled the ways of decent living. (134)

These are the thoughts of Sally Poker Sash, as offered by Flannery O'Connor in the second paragraph of her story "A Late Encounter with the Enemy." Sally, a sixty-two year old school teacher, is receiving a college degree that has taken her twenty years to earn. She should be proud of her accomplishment. Of course she should be proud. She proves true the old adages, "its never too late" and "good things come to those who wait." Isn't it possible though, that in some situations, the "good things" come too late and when they do arrive they are not so good? I think O'Connor, through this story, is trying to warn us (the readers) of that possibility.

The first paragraph of "A Late Encounter" is told from the point-of-view of Sally's grandfather, General Tennessee Flintrock Sash. O'Connor makes it very clear to us that the old man doesn't "give two slaps for her graduation." Surely, his attitude is apparent to Sally, too. Sally is aware of his attitude, too. Why, then, is it so important to her that he live to see her graduation? In the above passage, Sally offers three seemingly simple, but in actuality, complicated explanations for her prayer.

Sally states explicitly that she wants her grandfather to attend her graduation because she "wanted to show what she stood for." This is very ...


... middle of paper ...


...tory, opting instead to make for themselves a false past? Ironically, Sally is guilty of using this false past to impress the Dean and guarantee her degree.

Graduation day arrives and Sally is ready for the "good thing" that she has waited so long for to arrive. Alas, if it is her grandfather that she wants to prove something to, she is out of luck. O'Conner cheats Sally out of her moment of glory. We learn at the end of the story that the old man dies while on stage at the graduation, oblivious to Sally receiving her diploma. Afterwards, her young nephew, the "crafty scout" John Wesley Poker Sash, hastily bumped the corpse out the back way so that he could get to the Coca-Cola machine; thus depriving Sally of her moment to gloat in front of him. Dammit! Cheated out of triumph again. Sally Sash (whose middle name is after all Poker) had bet on the past and lost.

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