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What is the Plot of "The Sniper" by Liam O'Flaherty?

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lavoline | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 25, 2010 at 6:58 AM via web

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What is the Plot of "The Sniper" by Liam O'Flaherty?

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sorensentina | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted February 25, 2010 at 10:20 AM (Answer #1)

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The plot of the short story, "The Sniper" deals with the clash between two opposing groups in Ireland:  the Republicans and the Free States.  It is a civil strife, set in 1922.

Basically, a sniper is on one roof, picking off people as he chooses.  He seems calm at times, but he is also tired of the killing.

Eventually, another sniper, an enemy, discovers his hiding place when the first sniper has shot at an old woman who was giving away his hiding place.

The first sniper is able to trick the second sniper into thinking he has been shot.  When the second sniper stands up on the roof of the house across the way, the first sniper takes aim and kills him.

The first sniper jumps off the roof and his curiosity wins.  He goes over to the dead sniper and when he turns him over, he realizes he has shot his own brother.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted February 26, 2010 at 8:23 PM (Answer #2)

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In the short story 'The sniper' by Liam O Flaherty, the author shows us a plot that deals with oppression and revolution. The Republicans and the Free Staters are one and the same - it is the British Army they are fighting. The English had a history of invading and taking over Ireland for themselves. They exacerbated the unfairness of this by making it possible for English people/Protestant people only to gain high rank and influence. Many Catholics felt cruelly and unjustly treated and banded together in brotherhoods to fight for a republic. Many knew they would have to sacrifice their own lives to the cause as there were so few of them. The sniper knew this too, but the enemy he ended killing turned out to be a brother.

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mwalter822 | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted March 1, 2015 at 4:33 PM (Answer #3)

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The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty is often taught in schools as an example of situational irony. It develops internal and external conflicts as it moves toward a resolution with a surprise ending. The ironic ending forces the reader to re-evaluate his feelings about the story and look at the conflicts in a different light.

Firstly, there is the obvious external conflict of war. The main character is on a rooftop looking for victims when he shot by an enemy sniper on a nearby roof:

Suddenly from the opposite roof a shot rang out and the sniper dropped his rifle with a curse. The rifle clattered to the roof. The sniper thought the noise would wake the dead. He stooped to pick the rifle up. He couldn’t lift it. His forearm was dead. “I’m hit,” he muttered.

This is a common external conflict in literature—the conflict of battle. In this case the combatants are unknown to each other. Their goals are to kill the enemy. There is little to indicate the presence of any feelings of guilt or uncertainty about the act of killing another human being. However, that will change a little further on in the story.

The main character, now wounded, kills the enemy when he tricks him into exposing himself on the nearby rooftop. However, after the enemy falls to the ground dead, the main character is wracked by an unexpected internal conflict.

Weakened by his wound and the long summer day of fasting and watching on the roof, he revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy. His teeth chattered, he began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.

Clearly, the main character is deeply affected by the killing he has committed. This is strong internal conflict.

Finally, the main character climbs down and sees that the man he has killed is his own brother. This bit of situational irony (an unexpected and surprising event) changes the focus of the story from the tragedy of war to the more personal tragedy of guilt. The main character will have to live with this action for the rest of his life.

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