A dominant theme of Liam O’Flaherty’s short story “The Sniper ” is the futility of violence. While the story does not comment directly on the conditions required to justify violence, it does show the devastation that war brings to individuals, families, and nations by humanizing the participants of...
A dominant theme of Liam O’Flaherty’s short story “The Sniper” is the futility of violence. While the story does not comment directly on the conditions required to justify violence, it does show the devastation that war brings to individuals, families, and nations by humanizing the participants of the conflict.
O’Flaherty’s tale is set during the Irish Civil War and chronicles the story of a Republican sniper. The protagonist successfully shoots an enemy and informant before he himself is wounded in the arm by a Free State sniper. Bleeding and unable to aim his rife, the sniper pretends to be dead until his enemy exposes his position and then successfully shoots his faceless opponent with a revolver. Initially, the sniper reacts with joy when he realized he had scored a hit. When the body tumbles to the ground, however, the Republican sniper becomes “revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy . . . he began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.” This reaction, even before the Republican sniper realizes the identity of his foe, shows them that there is a cost to violence, even to those who inflict it. The mental and physical scars from the violence of war never fade.
When the Republican sniper leaves his rooftop hideout and investigates the body of his fallen opponent, he discovers that he had killed his own brother. The shocking end of O’Flaherty’s story underscores the division that the Civil War had brought to tight-knit communities of Northern Ireland. Former friends, colleagues, and even family members were literally killing one another when O’Flaherty’s story was published in 1923. The very fact that the Republican sniper “wondered did he know him. Perhaps he had been in his own company before the split in the army” shows the intimacy of the Irish war.
Although Liam O’Flaherty does not specifically comment on whether violence can be justified philosophically, he clearly believes that, in the case of the Irish Civil War, it was not. I hope this helps!