In Liam O'Flaherty's "The Sniper," what does the woman symbolize?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the main themes Liam O’Flaherty's examines throughout his short story "The Sniper" concerns the psychological effects of war and constant violence. In the short story, the sniper sees an armored vehicle cross the bridge and advance slowly up the street. An old woman, acting as an informant, then approaches the armored car and begins talking to an enemy soldier standing in the turret of the vehicle. The sniper then takes aim and ends up killing the soldier and the old woman, who attempts to run away. The woman's body twirls around, and she ends up lifelessly falling into a gutter.

The old woman symbolically represents both how war and constant violence dehumanizes those individuals involved in the conflict, as well as the level of atrocity involved in battles. Typically, old women are viewed as compassionate, harmless individuals, who are cared for and respected throughout their communities. However, O'Flaherty illustrates how war destabilizes society and alters how people perceive each other as either allies or enemies. In the short story, the sniper views the old woman as simply an enemy, which corresponds to the theme of how war dehumanizes people involved in the conflict.

ajreads eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Liam O'Flahtery wrote "The Sniper" as a means of showing the harsh realities and complexities of war. "The Sniper" exhibits the theme that war turns humans into objects and friends (or brothers) into enemies. As the sniper is hiding from enemy fire, he spots the old woman speaking to the man in the armored car. The old woman reveals the sniper's hiding spot to the man in the armored car and the sniper then realizes that the old woman is actually an informer. When the sniper shoots and kills the old woman, he is not thinking of her as a human being; the sniper is only thinking of her as being his enemy and a threat to his safety. The old woman is symbolic of war's ability to dehumanize people and turn them into objects and enemies. The sniper, being in immediate danger, was not able to take into account that the old woman was a human being like himself. The sniper's decision to kill the woman was fueled by his immediate need to protect himself from his enemy. The sniper does not view the woman as a person; he only views her as an enemy and a resource for the opposing side.