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It's All in the Past

It must be something connected with history like they were always having. He had no use for any of it. What happened then wasn't anything to a man living now and he was living now.
O'Connor (Choose One of Three) -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

I read the third story: "A Late Encounter with the Enemy." All throughout this story, General Sash keeps reiterating that he refuses to think about the past. There's no point in doing so. After looking back at the title, I think I now have a better understanding of what it means. The past is Sash's enemy. Right before he dies, he keeps having thoughts about his past prompted by the unfolding events, or speeches as it were, that reach a climax when his life passes before his eyes. He hates the past and is not at all happy when this happens.

I think a lesson can be learned from this. While it may often seem like the past holds no significance, it makes us who we are. It is never good to fully ignore the past as General Sash does. It is by remembering the past that we keep from making the same mistakes over and over again.


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Comments (6)

Chera Pupi:

I didn't get it until I read your blog. Thanks! That makes a lot of sense now. You're right, the past is his enemy.

Derek Tickle:

I very much agree with you. I think that the past makes a person. It is important to also point out, which you did, that before the General dies he reencounters the people of the past and it makes sense when reading the title.


Great ideas Jen! You inspired my blog entry on the comparison between the General's perception of the past with Sally's perception of it. They seem to take two opposite stances on the subject. It is quite interesting, I think. I wonder why O'Connor decided to focus on this theme of history and the past and time. What do you think she might have been trying to say about it by having the General think the past is useless and Sally wishing things could be the way they were? It is almost ironic too, because Sally wants him at her graduation so she can "hold her head very high as if she were saying, 'See him! See him! See him! My kin, all you upstarts! Glorious upright old man standing for the old traditions! Dignity! Honor! Courage! See him!'" (154).

Oh, something else I just thought of as I read that passage is that she says that he is a representation of the old traditions - implying that those are better than new things...and yet, he is in a Confederate uniform, meaning that he was fighting on the side of the South in order to keep slavery. Is that the old tradition she is advocating? She says he stands for "dignity" and "honor" but still, I think it might be significant that he was a Confederate soldier, not a Union soldier. Those are just some thoughts that crossed my mind as I read. I hope you also found them interesting.

Thanks! I'm glad I could help.

I read your blog as well and, just like you, found that it was ironic that the characters' standpoints on the past are pretty much completely opposite of each other. I think that O'Connor's point was that while it is important to remember the past, we must live in the present and look to the future. It is never good to live in the past. The past can't be changed, no matter how much we want it to be. We simply must learn from our past mistakes so that we can live a better life in the present and future.

Yes, I did find your ideas interesting. That's a good point...about the confederate uniform, that is. I didn't pick up on that. That is interesting to think about. To be honest, I'm just as stumped as you on that point. It's possible, I guess, that she is advocating slavery. It could possibly be yet another irony O'Connor intended to hold greater meaning...maybe that even though times have changed, there are still people who have the old way of thinking.

Chera Pupi:

Something that I realized after spending the summer in the deep South last summer, is that southerners truly believed in the side in which they were fighting for in the Civil War. Just about EVERY house down there has a confederate flag hanging outside. They may not have an American flag, but they have a Confederate flag. Still, to this day, they think they were wronged. I have had numerous conversations with people down there over the situation. I couldn't believe they were so angry over a war that was over a hundred forty something years ago. So I would assume that this is the way Sally felt too.


Chera, I was really glad you brought that up in class because I didn't know that. I vaguely remember others mentioning things similar to that, but no one I knew had ever asked African Americans that live down south if that offended them. It surprises me greatly that it doesn't, especially because as you said in class, the idea of it offends me. So, I do think that is significant and it makes me think my point about the uniform on my blog might not be as valid as I originally thought.

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