What major ideas does O'Flaherty try to get across in "The Sniper"?I really need help. I don't get it.

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The sniper is young with the "face of a student" but one who, in the midst of the Irish Civil war, has become a soldier and is therefore "used to looking at death." He is so used to it that he risks being spotted and lights his cigarette. He is spotted and shot at. He decides not to shoot at the armored vehicle, knowing it is useless. But an old woman lures the soldier out of the turret. The sniper fires and kills the soldier in the turret and the old woman. His heart is beating faster and faster but he acts with cold precision. 

Then the sniper is hit from an enemy sniper on another roof. When his arm is hit, it gives him a "deadened sensation." This is a significant concept because the sniper must, in a sense, deaden his emotional and moral ties to humanity. This is especially significant in a civil war because he's killing his own countrymen (and women). 

Following the violent fall and death of the enemy sniper, the sniper is overcome with remorse and he curses the war.

His teeth chattered, he began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.

At this moment, the battle being over, the sniper snaps out of his sniper-mode and realizes what taking a life means. He throws his revolver down and, ironically, it fires and nearly hits him. This "brings him back to his senses" but it also deadens him back to that sniper-mode. 

In the end, he checks to see what his victim looks like. The last line indicates that in a civil war, it is possible that you may fight your brother. The wider implication is that in a civil war, it is brother against brother in the sense that it is countryman against countryman. No less destructive is any war pitting human against human. 

Also, note that this is a sniper, not a soldier in a general infantry. He works alone, making it less likely for him to experience and know camaraderie. It is therefore easier for him to divorce himself from humanity. That is what O'Flaherty is trying to convey. War separates us from our humanity. It can make a "thin and ascetic" student into one who is capable of killing his brother. It can make a person "used to looking at death," and is therefore a loss of humanity. 

Further Reading:
Read the study guide:
The Sniper

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