The Sniper Questions and Answers
by Liam O’Flaherty

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In Liam O'Flaherty's "The Sniper," what is the theme of this story: in other words, what is the point the writer is making about war—especially civil war—and what it can do to human beings?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Liam O'Flaherty's short story, "The Sniper," the theme that most strikes me is that in war, there are no winners, regardless of who kills more people or takes more land, etc.

When the Republican sniper kills the driver of the tank and the informant, he perceives success, though the death of these two does not make any difference in the sniper's intent to turn the tide of the war to the benefit of the Republican army.

Then around the corner of a side street came an old woman, her head covered by a tattered shawl. She began to talk to the man in the turret of the car. She was pointing to the roof where the sniper lay. An informer.

The woman is most likely an occupant of the neighborhood who is tired of the fighting and the inability to move safely through the streets. She has no money—as noted by the "tattered shawl."

The sniper kills the driver of the tank.

The turret opened. A man's head and shoulders appeared, looking towards the sniper. The sniper raised his rifle and fired. The head fell heavily on the turret wall. The woman darted toward the side street. The sniper fired again. The woman whirled round and fell with a shriek into the gutter.

The woman's imagined concern over her lack of safety is proven with her death. The armored car (tank) has quickly fled, and the sniper has been hit by a Free Stater sniper on another roof. Not only are there no winners in war, but in this civil war, innocent people—women, children, the elderly—are killed. The woman seems like an enemy to the sniper, but she is simply a woman who wants her life back from war. The sniper sees things only in terms of warfare; there is nothing unfair in his mind in killing the old woman—she's an informant.

We also understand that civil war separates families as seen in the War Between the States in the United States in the 19th Century. The truth of the terrible waste of war and the horrific toll it takes upon a society, and humanity in general, is seen when the sniper turns over the dead man he has killed.

...he felt a sudden curiosity as to the identity of the enemy sniper whom he had killed. He decided that he was a good shot whoever he was. He wondered if he knew him. Perhaps he had been in his won company before the split in the army.

The sniper anticipates it might be a former friend and yet he still does not recoil from looking at the dead man. We know how we feel learning that the man has killed his brother, but we are left to wonder as to his reaction because it seems he has become so desensitized to the death of others in this war that he might not be changed at all—we can never be sure.

There truly are no winners in war.

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steveric | Student

Second Part of My essay continued: 

From Irish civil wars in the story, the irrational of the war is inferred. Whenever the war happened, the soldiers were reduces from human beings to mere objects. Each of the individual in war becomes the target to be shot by the weapons from the range. War becomes the futile attempt for young people who do not know who they will be killing in the battle. The important moral to be learned from war is that there is no winner in war. Thousands and millions of people are killed in civil war and bombs are dropped into enemy’s country, there will still be no winner from both sides. Irish civil war is a double-edged sword and a controversial dilemma. Not only the war does not bring the beneficial result for the Irish people, but also separates families and having a huge impact on society and humanity in general. Moreover, the civil war claims a large number of lives and splits in the military forces, which the soldier of the forces killed their friends, relative or even their family in the opposing forces. Basically, this civil war created the huge hatred and history of violence between the people in the same nation.

            The futile of the war can be seen from the young sniper and the consequences of Irish civil war itself. Since there is no winner in the war, the countries or forces on both sides will lose especially the life of their people, and followers. Looking at the story, the young sniper himself finds the truth terrible waste of war when he turns over the dead man he has killed is his brother. The story lefts us with untold possible reaction of the young sniper after finding out he has killed his own brother. This kind of action could lead into his insanity or even into his suicide. The futility of hatred and violence, which made a brother kill his brother.

Here, we can see that killing his brother is similar to killing the innocent people like the old woman in the story who in the position where she has lack of security. The woman might seem as an enemy to the sniper, but she is simply a woman who wants her life back from war. From the sniper’s perspective, he might see this as nothing unfair in his mind in killing the old woman, because he is looking her as an informant in the time of the war. Because of the war, this young sniper has been worried about his own protection and his enemy, therefore, he decided the people he sees into either allies or enemies and he becomes blind to distinguish who the people might be that he is killing,

            Now, we see the cruelty, irrational and futility of the war through the young sniper killing his brother and the conflicts of Irish civil war itself. In conclusion, the violence is useless and often self- consuming. For instance, the Irish civil war that was suppose to be beneficial for Irish people, opened up several rifts in the Irish society rendering Ireland weak and devastated. Worst of all, the people were completely famished and emaciated, later these people finally got killed and died in futility. 

steveric | Student

This is my first draft, so, this could be imperfect. Inform me if you find mistakes or errors. 

Title :Different Claimes of the theme of war in The Sniper



In the constant part of the world, we see the war had been happening. It is the nature of every living creature. Wars are created due to the people’s angers and disappointment, but they never have the great purpose to justify it. In the story, The Sniper, the Republican sniper who has been desensitized from seeing many dead people before his eyes. During the civil war, he sees how the click of his sniper can easily take the life of the man and the old woman in the matter of a second. He shot the sniper with his revolver, but due to his curiosity he discovers the victim is his brother. We can see the theme of war is introduced to the story by each bad, disturbing of the human life after the war. We can see the author indicated the idea of cruelty, irrational, and futility of the war from the story, The Sniper. 

The cruelty of the war is hinted throughout the story by the action of the young sniper. The reason he joined the war might be, because of his youth and “the cold gleam of the fanatic on his eyes.” Since he is in his youth, he might have the alacrity and enthusiasm of the child who is filled with obsessive interest in the lust of war. Though he had been used to look at death, he later becomes bitter and disgusted looking at the people he has killed especially his brother forced by the cruelty of the war. In war, there are no boundaries for ages, gender, location, time of the day, and family ties. This young sniper would be a typical example for its cruelty. As he killing the man from the tank and the old woman, he only see things only in term of warfare, but unaware of his futile attempt to turn the tide of the war to the benefit of the Republican and of his killing innocent people. A numerous of women, children and the elderly are killed in this civil war. Not knowing that these innocent people could be one of the sniper’s families, which the sniper discovers his enemy is his brother. Seeing the lack of security of the old woman and his enemy falling, “the sniper becomes bitten by remorse. The sweat stood out on his forehead. He revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy. His teeth chattered, he began to gibber himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.” We can see that now he has found the cruelty of the war, while he had a great interest in war before. Now, he feels disgusted when he looks the mass of his dead enemy and begins to abhor the war and himself. 

steveric | Student

Your comment has been very good and useful for me. Thank you.