The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty is often taught in schools as an example of situational irony . It develops internal and external conflicts as it moves toward a resolution with a surprise ending. The ironic ending forces the reader to re-evaluate his feelings about the story and look at the...
The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty is often taught in schools as an example of situational irony. It develops internal and external conflicts as it moves toward a resolution with a surprise ending. The ironic ending forces the reader to re-evaluate his feelings about the story and look at the conflicts in a different light.
Firstly, there is the obvious external conflict of war. The main character is on a rooftop looking for victims when he shot by an enemy sniper on a nearby roof:
Suddenly from the opposite roof a shot rang out and the sniper dropped his rifle with a curse. The rifle clattered to the roof. The sniper thought the noise would wake the dead. He stooped to pick the rifle up. He couldn’t lift it. His forearm was dead. “I’m hit,” he muttered.
This is a common external conflict in literature—the conflict of battle. In this case the combatants are unknown to each other. Their goals are to kill the enemy. There is little to indicate the presence of any feelings of guilt or uncertainty about the act of killing another human being. However, that will change a little further on in the story.
The main character, now wounded, kills the enemy when he tricks him into exposing himself on the nearby rooftop. However, after the enemy falls to the ground dead, the main character is wracked by an unexpected internal conflict.
Weakened by his wound and the long summer day of fasting and watching on the roof, he revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy. His teeth chattered, he began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.
Clearly, the main character is deeply affected by the killing he has committed. This is strong internal conflict.
Finally, the main character climbs down and sees that the man he has killed is his own brother. This bit of situational irony (an unexpected and surprising event) changes the focus of the story from the tragedy of war to the more personal tragedy of guilt. The main character will have to live with this action for the rest of his life.