Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Fear and tension pervade “The Sniper.” O’Flaherty, making full use of his tight unity of place, builds tension steadily and systematically in several ways. The reader is told that one can hear the thunder of ammunition exploding in the distance. In the immediate milieu that the author creates, bullets whiz by and every simple act, such as lighting a cigarette, must be weighed carefully for its potential danger. The sniper is essentially a schoolboy caught up in a situation over which he must gain control. If he fails, he dies.

O’Flaherty creates a feeling of tension by his skillful use of short, clipped sentences and simple, direct vocabulary. As the tension is built, each sentence reveals only one bare fact: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. The woman darted toward the side street. The sniper fired again. The woman whirled around and fell with a shriek into the gutter.

The beat of these sentences is like the beating of one’s heart. To read a paragraph so tightly controlled and structured as this one is to have one’s breath taken away.

O’Flaherty, because he has to emphasize how totally on his own the young sniper is, cannot have dialogue in this story. The sniper must be on the roof alone. The omniscient observer must tell everything that happens without being intrusive. O’Flaherty thus keeps a tight rein on a story that is highly dramatic but whose dramatic impact must be made through understatement.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The English in Ireland
In the twelfth century, the English monarch, backed by a large army, declared himself overlord of...

(The entire section is 972 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

The setting of “The Sniper” is integral to the narrative, for it draws its action from the Irish civil war. The...

(The entire section is 910 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1920s: Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Many Irish have long been unhappy with this situation. In the late 1910s, Irish forces...

(The entire section is 262 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research the Irish civil war. After you have conducted your research, write a paper analyzing ‘‘The Sniper’’ from a historical point...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

O’Flaherty’s novel The Informer, first published in 1925, is set in the aftermath of the Irish civil war. It tells about an outlaw...

(The entire section is 247 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Calahan, James M., “Politics,” in Liam O’Flaherty, A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1991,...

(The entire section is 290 words.)