In the short story “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” by Flannery O’Connor, General Sash is finally coming face to face with the only enemy left to him, the hard reality of time and his own mortality. A remnant of a time past, dying seems a reality he should have accepted long ago and should have, in itself, lost the power to intimidate. However, choosing to live in an image of the past, that glosses over some and rewrites other details of the past, death is a hard realism that cannot be escaped.
Additionally and more so than death, the true enemy for the General is the larger concept of time itself that includes not only his eventual death, sitting on the stage at Sally’s graduation, but more importantly his own life and memories that come flooding back in his final moments. For years the General has lived with Sally, blissfully forgetting some of the major details of his long life and remembering what he may.
In particular, his remembrance of the movie premier takes a center stage because its novelty lets him forget the realities of the war because it recalls the passage of time without the specifics of the losses and beauties of life. Sitting on the stage at Sally’s graduation, the General is confronted with the not so pleasant aspects of life. Life has not been movie premiers but rather the long struggle of living through more than a century of upheaval and change.
In his 104 years on earth, the General’s life has been much more than simply his role as an officer in the army during the War and in finally encountering the enemy, the General is really encountering the reality of time’s passage. In the moments leading up to his death, General Sash is also forced to address his life beyond the Hollywood ideals he’s chosen to convince himself are a reality.