Liam O'Flaherty's short story "The Sniper," a sniper for the Republican Army is posted on top of a building, trying to insure the forward movement of the Republicans over the Free State. The sniper is confident in his talents and power.
His face was the face of a student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.
Here, the sniper is defined as a fanatic. The fact that he is described as a student shows his openness to learning, knowing that every situation he is in offers a deeper understanding of his craft. Given that he has seen much death, he is far from a squeamish man. Instead, he is calculated (shown by the drag he takes on his cigarette) and focused (given the time spent on the rooftop). His excitement is also noteworthy (given he has been unable to eat because of his excitement).
It is not until the sniper takes out the Free State sniper that his humanity is shown. Over the course of the story, death is simply a part of his job. While the sniper's return to humanity is masked, one could assume that his humanity returns upon his "sudden curiosity as to the identity of the enemy sniper." Something was drawing him to the body.
Upon turning the body over, the sniper realizes that it belongs to his brother. Therefore, while the return to humanity is concealed, given the story ends here, one can only assume that his hardened persona is shattered by this realization.
War. Death. Pain. Anger and remorse. None are pleasantries, but all are faced and handled every day. In Liam O'Flaherty's "The Sniper," all of these things are brought to an acute reality. To aid in his creation of such emotional conflict, O'Flaherty portrayed the sniper as a very controversial character. We can see this contrast in personality by looking at appearance, actions, and thoughts.
"...the face of a student, thin and ascetic,...eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic." And so the sniper is described in a physical sense. Upon looking at the meaning of the words, we find an unexpected conflict of definition. O'Flaherty writes that the sniper's face is "that of a student." We think young, and vibrant. However, to describe his meaning, he goes on to say that his face is both "thin and ascetic." Also, gaunt, and displaying self-discipline; both qualities carried more so in adults than students. Also, it is stated that the sniper had "the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death." One might imagine an older man, who has lived through many-a-war and seen lives lost. These three descriptions show that the sniper was older than his years in appearance, as well as emotionally.
The snipers' actions also are cause to believe that he is more than meets the eye. In the story, the sniper considers lighting a cigarette. "It was dangerous...he decided to take the risk." One's knowledge that something is dangerous and then their persistence to carry out the action shows a true daredevil. A characteristic of the "student" in him mentioned earlier. Another, much different, action of the sniper's is the need to discover who he killed. After the remorse of the crime committed, the sniper proceeds to investigate his enemy's identity. "...felt a sudden curiosity as to the identity of the enemy sniper..." This shows that the sniper did, in fact, have a streak of humaneness and care in him. A very different mood from the daredevil.
Lastly, the way the sniper thinks reveals much about his character. When he is considering means of escape, he comes up with a plan to trick the enemy sniper into believing he himself was dead. "His ruse had succeeded." Ruse is a word that means "an action in order to mislead." This portrays the mischievous side of the sniper. One more facet to his complex personality.
So, as one can see, Liam O'Flaherty's sniper was a very deep and complicated character. Through his actions, appearance, and thoughts, we see the signs of age and wisdom versus the daredevil, both apart form the mischievous student brought out in his success plan. All in all, the sniper's personality was written to be very conflicting and controversial.