How does the resolution of the conflict of "The Sniper" help reveal the theme?

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David Wisar eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the story “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty the conflict revolves around an Irish Republican Sniper caught in a battle of wits against an enemy sniper on the other side of the street. Both snipers are excellent shots, and it requires trickery on the part of the Republican sniper to get the better of his enemy.

He puts his hat upon his rifle and then fakes his death by dropping both to the street below. When the other sniper lets his guard up, the Republican sniper shoots him and kills him. He feels some remorse in the immediate aftermath of the shot, but then he almost shoots himself on accident and collects his wits.

When he goes down to get back to his commander, he thinks about seeing who the man was—because he might know him. When he finally finds the body, he turns it over and “looked into his brother’s face.” The ending is a twist, but it fits very well into the rest of the story. In any civil war, there is a likelihood that families and even brothers will fight on different sides of the conflict.

The remorse he feels then is genuine, something that people should feel. So a possible theme from this text could be: war can cost more than a guilty conscience. The war makes him feel guilty for shooting the opposing sniper when his guard is down—but then he realizes the real cost of the war, the life of his brother. The real cost far outweighs the guilt he feels at shooting a faceless enemy, but at the same time it shows that the guilt we feel is not only natural, but it is correct. We should feel guilty for shooting another person, and we can see this lesson taught by the death of the sniper’s brother.

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Excellent question. Clearly any discussion of the "main theme" of a work of literature is going to be debatable precisely because any work of literature can have a multiplicity of meanings and themes. However, the setting of the conflict that the sniper faces during the civil war of Ireland, which was notorious for setting community against community, street against street and even families against each other, suggests that the horrors of civil war are being commented upon. This is clearly supported by the shocking revelation at the end of the tale that the unnamed and unidentified adversary of the sniper that he eventually triumphs against is actually his brother:

The sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother's face.

Note the abrupt and concise manner in which the author ends the tale. This clearly adds emphasis to the ending, which, combined with the element of foreshadowing that came before, indicates the theme of the tale: civil war is a horrendous thing that breaks up and destroys communities and even families, pitting us one against the other and forcing us to commit unthinkable crimes.

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