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.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Sniper

The Sniper

In "The Sniper," the eponymous sniper kills another man. The man who is killed is described as suffering "agony" in the moment of his death. The dead man then falls several stories until he hits...

Latest answer posted March 15, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

The old woman causes a conflict for the sniper because she is an informant who gives away his location to the man in the armored car. She points up to the rooftop where the sniper is hiding, and...

Latest answer posted March 17, 2021, 11:10 am (UTC)

3 educator answers

The Sniper

In Liam O'Flaherty's tense short story "The Sniper," the protagonist is an Irish Republican sniper who is in constant danger throughout the narrative from an enemy sniper. As soon as he lights a...

Latest answer posted March 18, 2021, 11:23 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

At the beginning of the story, the protagonist, a Republican sniper, is positioned on a rooftop, waiting for a chance to kill his enemies. "Dublin lay enveloped in darkness," save for the "dim...

Latest answer posted March 18, 2021, 11:29 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

Midway through "The Sniper," the Republican sniper is in a bad way. He has been shot in his arm and can no longer lift, and therefore use, his own rifle. He is surrounded by enemies, and to save...

Latest answer posted March 18, 2021, 11:46 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

The story begins with descriptions of "heavy guns ... machine guns and rifles" firing across the streets of Dublin during the Irish Civil War. Immediately, then, these guns symbolize and foreshadow...

Latest answer posted March 18, 2021, 12:05 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

Having been wounded, the sniper concocts a plan to make his opponent think that he has been killed. He puts his cap on the muzzle of his rifle and shows it above the parapet. A bullet is shot...

Latest answer posted March 18, 2021, 12:26 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

At the beginning of "The Sniper," the narrator describes the civil war being waged between the Republicans and Free Staters. He describes constant gunfire and says that everywhere "the heavy guns...

Latest answer posted March 17, 2021, 11:30 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

By the time the sniper laughs, he has endured a great deal of tension throughout the narrative and even before the story began, going through a series of traumatic experiences and emotions. He has...

Latest answer posted March 17, 2021, 11:28 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

When the sniper raises himself up to shoot the man in the armored car and the old woman informant who points out his location, he makes himself a target of the enemy sniper across the street. His...

Latest answer posted March 17, 2021, 11:18 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

The street between the two snipers' rooftop hiding spots represents the Irish Civil War itself. This was a conflict generated by a national divide over the recent Anglo-Irish Treaty between Great...

Latest answer posted March 17, 2021, 11:48 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

In a work of literature, foreshadowing refers to some indication of an event that is yet to happen. Although the narrator tells us that the sniper has "the eyes of a man who is used to looking at...

Latest answer posted March 16, 2021, 12:49 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

Despite the fact that the protagonist "is used to looking at death," when he sees the dead body of his enemy fall from a rooftop and hit the pavement below, he shudders and feels the "lust of...

Latest answer posted March 16, 2021, 1:01 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

The climax of a story is considered to be the moment of the most tension, the moment when the main conflict is at its height, and it can even be a turning point of some sort. It is then helpful to...

Latest answer posted March 16, 2021, 11:47 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

In terms of the location on his body, the sniper is shot in his right forearm. At first, he feels no pain but only a "deadened sensation," as if his arm were no longer there at all. He rips open...

Latest answer posted March 16, 2021, 11:28 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

The young Republican sniper watches from his rooftop hiding spot, knowing that he has given his position away to an enemy sniper across the street by lighting a cigarette. He sees an armored...

Latest answer posted March 16, 2021, 11:14 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

At the end of the short story "The Sniper," the eponymous main character discovers that the man he has just killed, and whose body he has reduced to a "shattered mass," is in fact his own brother....

Latest answer posted March 15, 2021, 11:56 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

"The Sniper" has a small cast of characters. There are two snipers in the story, a man in the turret of an armored car, and a woman in the street. The man in the armored car and the woman in the...

Latest answer posted March 15, 2021, 1:01 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

In Liam O'Flaherty's short story “The Sniper,” the title character takes a risk as he waits on a rooftop, watching for a target. He wants a cigarette, but he knows that even such a small light can...

Latest answer posted March 15, 2021, 2:44 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Sniper

The old woman in Liam O'Flaherty's story “The Sniper” appears as the Republican sniper lies on a roof, waiting for a target. As an armored car arrives on the street, the woman comes around the...

Latest answer posted March 15, 2021, 3:09 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer
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Summary