What is the conflict of The Sniper?

In the story story "The Sniper," the Man vs. Man conflict concerns the Republican sniper trying to outwit and defeat the enemy sniper stationed on the opposite rooftop. The two talented marksmen fight for their lives and the Republican sniper successfully kills his enemy after creating an elaborate ruse. The other conflict in the story is Man vs. Self. The Republican sniper struggles to cope with the guilt of killing his enemy and taking his brother's life.

Expert Answers

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

There are many different conflicts in “The Sniper”. For one thing, there is the military conflict in which the title character is engaged. The protagonist is a member of the anti-Free State, or Republican forces, whereas his opponents are fighting for the Irish government. The Civil War that unfolded between Republicans and Free State forces was bloody and bitter, and often involved members of the same family fighting against each other.

That leads us on to the next conflict in the story, that between the sniper and his brother. Initially, the sniper doesn't know that the enemy at which he's shooting is in fact his brother, but that doesn't alter the fact that the two brothers have nonetheless been involved in a fraternal conflict. This is what civil war can do to families; it can split them apart and destroy them. In the sniper's inadvertent killing of his own brother, we see a stark illustration of this.

Finally, there is the conflict that the protagonist experiences when he's hit by his brother in the arm. At that terrible moment, he's forced to make a decision: should he stand his ground or try to get off the roof as quickly as possible? In the event, the sniper gets off the roof, but not before shooting dead his opposite number, who, as he will discover, happens to be his brother.

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

The primary, driving conflict of "The Sniper" is man vs. man, given that it follows the lethal confrontation between two snipers amid the Irish Civil War. The Republican sniper is the story's protagonist while his brother (though he will not realize this until the story's ending) is its antagonist, with each intent on killing the other.

However, stories are rarely limited to only one form of conflict, and "The Sniper" is no different. In addition to man vs. man, it also contains internalized conflict, especially after the sniper is shot. Wounded and left with only one functioning arm, his situation requires mastering his own battered body and maintaining his nerves while facing the highest of stakes, stuck in a literal life and death struggle.

Finally, I think there is a strong argument that this story contains man vs. society as well, given its setting amid Civil War conditions. Aside from the lethal contest between brother and brother, for example, we also observe an old woman acting as an informant (who is gunned down on the street by the sniper). Indeed, the Sniper himself seems to recognize the brutality and insanity of these Civil War conditions, and he is shown viscerally reacting against it:

The sniper looked at his enemy falling and he shuddered. The lust of battle died in him. He became bitten by remorse. ... He began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody. (Liam O'Flaherty, "The Sniper")

Thus, while this story's primary conflict is man vs. man, following the lethal confrontation between the two enemy snipers, that driving conflict is deepened by these other forms of conflict (both internal and external) that unfold simultaneously to it.

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

The main conflict in Liam O’Flaherty's short story "The Sniper" is a Man vs. Man conflict. It is a kill or be killed scenario for the Republican sniper, who must outwit his enemy before it is too late. The Republican sniper's primary enemy is the Free-Stater sniper stationed on the opposite rooftop. The enemy sniper successfully shoots the Republican sniper in the forearm, forcing him to create an elaborate ruse to survive. The Republican sniper demonstrates his resourcefulness and ingenuity by tricking the enemy sniper into believing he is dead. Once the enemy sniper lets down his guard, the Republican sniper shoots and kills him.

In addition to the obvious Man vs. Man conflict, the Republican sniper also experiences an internal Man vs. Self conflict. After killing the enemy sniper, the protagonist becomes "bitten by remorse" and curses himself. The sniper also narrowly avoids accidentally shooting himself after throwing his revolver to the ground. The Republican sniper's guilt and emotional outburst reveal his internal struggle. He is appalled that he has transformed into a killing machine and is exhausted by the bloodshed. The brutal nature of war has left the Republican sniper feeling like a shell of his former self and he is traumatized by the horrors of war. Once the Republican discovers that the enemy sniper is actually his brother, he experiences another emotional rollercoaster and is forced to deal with the guilt of killing his sibling.

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

The Sniper is set during the Irish civil war.  Just like in any civil war, neighbors, friends, and family often found themselves on opposite sides of the war. 

In this story, the main character is caught in a life or death situation and it comes down to killing someone or being killed himself.  He and another sniper are both on different rooftops.  The sniper shoots and kills an enemy soldier and in the end of the story discovers he has killed his brother.  The story simply ends with "Then the sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother's face."

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

The conflict in The Sniper arises out of the Irish civil war, where, literally the fight in Ireland was brother against brother. It is difficult to know who the enemy is in a fight of this kind.

In the story, a sniper is perched on a roof, watching for enemy activity in the town below.  He spots an old woman, who appears to be helping the enemy. He shoots at the soldier she spoke to and then shoots her.

Then an enemy sniper fires a shot from a neighboring rooftop and the sniper is hit.  After a long drawn out process the sniper finally fires and hits the enemy sniper, killing the man who falls off the roof. 

When the Sniper, the narrator, ends up shooting his enemy, he goes down from the rooftop to look at the face of the enemy that he killed. When he turns the body over, he discovers that the enemy that he shot is in fact his own brother.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

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