The Sniper Questions and Answers
by Liam O’Flaherty

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What are some adjectives that describe the sniper?

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The protagonist in Liam O’Flaherty’s short story “The Sniper” is associated with several adjectives. The first and easiest is his association with one particular side in what was known as “the Troubles,” the period in Irish history in which Irish nationalists, known as Republicans, fought for independence from Great Britain. The first adjective, then, is “republican,” which immediately informs the reader of the context in which the story takes place and the side on which the protagonist is aligned. Additional adjectives address the sniper’s physical appearance, as when O’Flaherty’s narrator describes the protagonist as having “the face of a student, thin and ascetic” but with eyes that reflected the ferocity of the struggle in which the sniper was engaged (“fanatic”). The sniper is further described as battle-hardened, possessed of eyes used to “looking at death.”

Additional adjectives applied to the sniper suggest hunger (“eating a sandwich hungrily”) and, after he is shot in the arm and wounded, he is described as “trembling with eagerness”—and, after viewing the death of the loyalist sniper who wounded him, “bitten by remorse.” The sniper is weakened by his wound, happy to have prevailed in this deadly encounter, and filled with both pain and anxiousness, evident in the narrator’s description of the now remorseful and mentally exhausted soldier, “His teeth chattered, he began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.” In the story’s tragic climax, the young sniper, feeling a “sudden curiosity,” approaches the corpse of his victim and discovers that he has killed his brother.

“The Sniper” is about a young determined but increasingly fragile soldier, a loner whose battles occur in a solitary environment characteristic of that in which snipers often function. O’Flaherty’s story takes the reader through phases in the protagonist’s evolution from determined assassin to remorseful soldier.

The story itself can be described using adjectives such as suspenseful, as when the sniper and his counterpart exchange fire, sad, as this is a civil war of sorts between Irish on both sides of the conflict (in addition to the British Army soldiers fighting with the loyalists) and, of course, tragic, as the protagonist discovers the identity of the man who shot him and who was, in turn, killed by the sniper.

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