What is the main idea the author trying to convey? Is it that in the pursuit or support of one's cause, family members could kill or hurt each other?

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mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Liam O'Flaherty's story, The Sniper, the main idea or theme the author is trying to convey is the way war changes not only individual people but the society in which they live.  In support of the two sides in the Irish civil war in 1922, two brothers chose differently.  As the sniper on the rooftop tries to kill his opponent, he goes through many emotions.  He knows he must be off the rooftop before daylight or he will be seen.  Through a clever ruse, he kills the other sniper and manages to kill the soldier on the street and the woman  who is pointing him out.  As the sniper climbs down to street level, he is torn with the thoughts of what this war has done to him who was essentially a student which is to make him a killer.  He no longer feels the same drive to kill the man lying before him.  When the sniper turns over the man he has shot, he discovers that he has killed his own brother. His emotions have gone from excitement to kill the sniper and survive, to regret what the war has done to him, regret over his brother, and back to the excitement of rejoining his fighting group to continue his part in the war effort. 

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this story, the author argues that supporting a cause can create a deep division between the individual members of a family. To show this, O'Flaherty situates his story during the violence and chaos of the Irish Civil War, a conflict which divided society into two groups: the Free Staters and the Republicans. 

Through the characters of the two snipers, O'Flaherty argues that the support of a cause demands the abandonment of personal loyalties. It no longer matters that these two men are brothers. In fact, the support of their respective causes has transformed them into enemies since their cause has become more important than the fact that they are related.

What O'Flaherty really shows in this story, then, is that war has a profound effect on the individual, not just on society. It pits cause against cause and, more importantly, brother against brother.