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Consider this definition of the literary term tone:
tone: suggests an attitude toward the subject which is communicated by the words the author chooses. Part of the range of tone includes playful, somber, serious, casual, formal, ironic. Important because it designates the mood and effect of a work.
Now consider these quotes from the story:
"darkness but for the dim light of the moon that shone through fleecy clouds"
"machine guns and rifles broke the silence of the night, spasmodically, like dogs barking on lone farms."
"The sniper could hear the dull panting of the motor"
"her head covered by a tattered shawl."
"There was no pain--just a deadened sensation"
Based on these descriptions of darkness and distressed situations (tattered, panting, deadened), the tone is at best pessimisstic, at worst hopeless. This is important to O'Flaherty's theme, which is to illustrate the horrors of the Irish civil conflicts. For years, the Irish people had been fighting each other over the issue of remaining British citizens are having a free state. The fight had become - and would remain until recently - a terrorist civil war. He wanted to show the hopelessness of the terrorist attacks at solving any of the issues and the horrific consequences of those attacks.
The tone in this story is one of action and suspense. The reader feels as though he or she is sitting right next to the sniper on the roof trying to outsmart the other sniper. The climactic point in the story is when the one sniper finally kills the other. He feels elated and sick at the same moment and then he feels horror when he peers down into the face of his kill only to learn that it's his brother! This story has us on the edge of our seats in the midst of a civil war and is suspenseful right up to the surprise ending.
The tone of this story is sad because the fact is that these things actually happen in real life and yet we don't hear about things like this.
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