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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The complementary themes of civil war and warfare are the most obvious in “The Sniper.” The story takes as its setting Dublin, Ireland, during the Irish civil war. The fighting began in 1922, after the Irish Parliament voted to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty dividing the island of Ireland into northern and southern parts. Before the treaty, Irish nationalists had united against the British, their common foe, or against Northern Irish Protestants who supported union with England. After the treaty was signed, however, Irish aggression was turned inward. Over the next few years, the Irish people remained bitterly split, and some took up arms against their friends, family members, and countrymen.
O’Flaherty sets the stage of the civil war in his opening paragraph with sensory descriptions such as the “heavy guns [that] roared” at the “beleaguered Four Courts” and the “machines guns and rifles [that] broke the silence of the night, spasmodically, like dogs barking on lone farms.” O’Flaherty concludes this first paragraph with the factual statement, “Republicans and Free Staters were waging civil war.” This simple statement both serves to place the conflict and to undercut the devastation that this war has caused.
Though the story is quite brief, the reader can infer that the Irish civil war has brought great change to its protagonist. The phrase that the sniper has “the face of a student, thin and...
(The entire section is 998 words.)