What conflict does the old woman cause for the sniper?

In "The Sniper," the old woman creates a conflict for the Republican sniper in revealing herself to be an enemy informant. She knows his location and reports it to others, thus leaving him little choice but to kill her.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Another conflict the old woman causes for the sniper: either he shoots to kill both the machine gunner in the armored car and the old woman or risk everyone on the enemy side knowing whose side he is on. However, the sniper incurs a risk when he does shoot; his position is given away immediately.

Although he is shot as a result of his decision, the sniper eventually comes up with a plan to escape. Sadly, he finds out too late that his subterfuge has caused him to shoot his own brother. Whether the enemy sniper he has killed is actually his own brother, O'Flaherty does not say. However, both IRA snipers and Free-Staters once fought in the same Irish Army before the Irish Civil War: they were all brother soldiers at one time. The war has splintered old alliances and old loyalties.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After the Irish War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish treaty gave 26 of the 32 Irish counties the right to form a free state. The 6 northern counties seceded from the Free State. The British also maintained ports along the Irish coast in Cobh, Bearhaven and Lough Swilly. Some of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) independence fighters were not at all happy with the provisions of the treaty. The Irish Civil War was a result of this dissatisfaction; disgruntled IRA soldiers fought Free-Staters for pre-eminence in further negotiations with the British.

In the story, the sniper first spies the old woman when she speaks to the machine gunner in the armored car. It turns out that she is an informer; as she points in his direction, the sniper realizes that she is giving his position away. He shoots the gunner and then the old woman. The old woman sets up a conflict for the sniper because she is Irish as well; in the Irish Civil War, Irishmen fought each other, informed on each other, and suffered the miseries of prolonged warfare as a people. The miserable conditions of war brought death and poverty on the people. The author describes the old woman's tattered shawl, a symbol of her poverty.

Because of the civil war, the sniper has no choice but to shoot an old woman he would otherwise have treated as his own grandmother in better days. This conflict between loyalty and self-preservation presented many agonizing choices for those who fought.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The old woman causes a conflict for the sniper because she is an informant who gives away his location to the man in the armored car. She points up to the rooftop where the sniper is hiding, and the man in the car looks up to where she is pointing, so it is clear that the sniper cannot let them live. If he does, then someone in the armored car could come to kill him, and the woman could tell others where he is located if the first person is unsuccessful.

However, there is an enemy sniper on the rooftop opposite the protagonist's. If the protagonist raises up to kill the man in the armored car and the old woman—who present one danger to him—he will render himself visible to the enemy sniper. This enemy has already taken shots at him and only very narrowly missed, and so it seems likely that the protagonist will be shot if he takes the time to aim at the man in the armored car and the old woman. On the other hand, he cannot allow them to live, because they, too, threaten his safety. It's kind of a lose-lose situation for the protagonist, and he is, in fact, shot by the enemy sniper when he shoots the man and the old woman.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial