The Sniper Study Guide
Introduction to The Sniper
“The Sniper” is a short story by Liam O’Flaherty. It was written during the onset of the Irish Civil War in 1922 and published in a small socialist magazine in 1923. The story has since become a staple in English-speaking classrooms due to its accessible language and complex depiction of war. The Irish Civil War was fought between two primary factions: the Republicans, who wanted complete independence from Britain; and the Free Staters, who were happy to remain under British control after having been granted some degree of freedom by the 1922 Anglo-Irish treaty.
The story is told in clipped, impersonal language, highlighting the often impersonal nature of warfare. The titular sniper is isolated on a rooftop, and each of his decisions revolves around a comparative risk assessment. He shoots and kills three people over the course of the story, and little emotional reaction is felt until the final death. Disgusted by the sight of an opposing sniper’s body falling off a ledge, the titular sniper decides to discover the identity of the man he has shot. However, the story ends as he realizes the dead man is his own brother. “The Sniper” is ultimately a chilling reminder of how easily isolation and the impersonal nature of war can make people forget the humanity of their supposed enemies.
A Brief Biography of Liam O’Flaherty
Liam O’Flaherty (1896–1984) was an Irish novelist, story writer, playwright, poet, and political activist. He was born and raised in Inishmore, and his family and teachers encouraged him to speak in the traditional Irish tongue. He also came to believe in the cause of Irish nationalism from a young age. At the outset of World War I, he joined the British Army and saw combat in Europe, where he sustained physical and psychological damage. After the war, he was engaged with socialist and Irish nationalist causes before moving to London. There, he began writing, and he published his first stories and novels. O’Flaherty soon returned to Dublin, immersing himself in the city’s literary scene during the 1920s and 1930s, when he produced his most important work.
O’Flaherty is best known for his 1923 story “The Sniper,” which takes place during the Battle of Dublin, and for his 1925 novel, The Informer, which confronts the aftermath of the Irish Civil War.