In Liam O'Flaherty's short story "The Sniper," why does the sniper shoot the man in the armored car and the old woman?
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There are two factions fighting in Dublin sometime around 1922 in the Irish civil war. The two opposing sides are the Free Staters and the Irish Republican Army. The sniper that the author features in the story is from the Irish Republican Army. He is on the rooftop to shoot anyone who serves in the Free Staters' army or who is a sympathizer. The Republican sniper has an excellent vantage point. As he waits, the armored truck has crossed the O’Connell Bridge and comes into the section known as Four Courts.
Just then an armored car crossed the bridge and advanced slowly up the street. It stopped on the opposite side of the street, fifty yards ahead. The sniper could hear the dull panting of the motor. His heart beat faster. It was an enemy car.
The sniper very much wants to open fire, but he knows that he will make no headway because his bullets will not be able to penetrate the car's steel casing. By now the reader understands that the Republican sniper has spotted the enemy. It is his job to kill anyone that is fighting against the IRA. So when the old woman appears, the sniper is watching carefully.
Then round the corner of a side street came an old woman...She began to talk to the man in the turret of the car. She was pointing to the roof where the sniper lay. An informer.
The driver of the armored car is the enemy. Because the woman feels safe speaking to the driver, and then because she points toward the sniper's location, it is obvious that this woman is a sympathizer with the other side. As the driver comes out of the car's turret, he places himself in the sniper's rifle sights.
The turret opened. A man's head and shoulders appeared, looking towards the sniper. The sniper raised his rifle and fired. The head fell heavily on the turret wall.
At this point, the woman is instantly aware that she also is quite vulnerable and turns to run away.
The woman darted toward the side street. The sniper fired again. The woman whirled round and fell with a shriek into the gutter.
While the sniper's murder of the two supporters of the Free Staters seems almost a casual behavior, it is not until the story's end that the reader realizes how divided the country really is. It is not until the Republican sniper learns the identity of the dead sniper in the street that the author's point is driven home for the reader. Like the American Civil War, this ongoing war exacts a cost most dear from many of its participants—one's life is obviously not the worst thing one can lose. While the Republican sniper is killing Free Staters, a Free Stater sniper has been trying to kill him. We understand that there is nothing casual about the sniper's actions at all, but that this is the face of war. There is really no way in which war can be anything but ugly.