Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Sniper” emphasizes one of the greatest ironies of civil war: Brother is pitted against brother. In this story, Liam O’Flaherty deals with a strife that has divided Ireland for more than sixty years and still shows few signs of moderating. The Republican sniper in the story is young, and his youth is emphasized. However, under conditions of war, this youth is growing up fast, probably too fast. He has the look of a fanatic, and he is forced to develop the cunning of a seasoned warrior. If he fails to develop that cunning, he will not live.
In the course of two hours, the young sniper kills three people, one his own brother—who, ironically, is poised to kill him if he is given the opportunity. The Republican sniper outwits the Free Stater into being careless, and this carelessness costs the Free Stater his life.
In a sense, carelessness also costs the man in the turret of the armored car his life. He should not have responded to the old woman who came to give him information. Had he not exposed his head, he could not have been killed, because the car’s armor would have protected him. In a moment of relaxed security, he makes himself vulnerable and loses his life. In the next instant, the sniper kills an old woman.
O’Flaherty demonstrates the impersonality of war: One shoots the Enemy, not people. When the sniper is doing his killing, it is the Enemy at whom he is firing. The Enemy, however, becomes a person when the...
(The entire section is 518 words.)
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