The Sniper Questions and Answers
by Liam O’Flaherty

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How does the setting of Liam O'Flaherty's "The Sniper" enable the action and conflict?

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Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The setting to Liam O'Flaherty's short story "The Sniper" is Dublin, Ireland sometime during 1922 or 1923. That date and location coincides with the Irish Civil war that was fought between the Free Staters and the Republicans. The narrator of the story tells readers this setting location and the conflict in the first paragraph of the story.

The long June twilight faded into night. Dublin lay enveloped in darkness . . . Here and there through the city, machine guns and rifles broke the silence of the night, spasmodically, like dogs barking on lone farms. Republicans and Free Staters were waging civil war.

Placing this story in this location and time period gives O'Flaherty a realistic set up for his chosen conflict between two snipers. The story itself is about how the protagonist sniper on one rooftop fights for his life by outwitting the enemy sniper that is located on another roof. O'Flaherty's choice of having the two snipers battle each other during a civil war is also important. Readers are likely to know that two snipers shooting at each other is somewhat likely to happen; however, placing the story during a civil war allows O'Flaherty to have brothers unknowingly shooting at each other. War is terrible to begin with, but civil war can be considered worse because it pits family members against each other.

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The setting of Liam O'Flaherty's "The Sniper" throws readers in media res (Latin--in the middle of things). It is dark, and machine guns and rifles are lighting up the night. It is the middle of a civil war battle. As frightening as a war is, the fact that this battle is taking place during the night compounds the anxiety.  Paragraph two introduces the readers to the protagonist, a Republican sniper. Perched atop a roof, the sniper's "deep and thoughtful" eyes reflect the death they so often see. As the story continues, the sniper takes the lives of his opponents. Without fear, he inhales his cigarette and shoots at his foes. In the end, the sniper gets his man (another sniper). 

The setting, the middle of a gun battle, forces action and conflict. This scene is natural for conflict: two opposing sides fighting for their own ideologies. Given the civil war raging around them, it would only make sense to focus upon a soldier and his "prey." 

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