Download The Sniper Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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 Ireland. For the next several centuries, English rule was generally confined to the area around Dublin. The English monarchy, however, continued efforts to subdue the entire island, resulting in ongoing Irish rebellion. In the early 1600s, the monarchy overthrew the native Irish political system, bringing the entire country under its control. For the next hundred years, the English created colonies in Ireland. As part of this effort, they drove many Irish from their land and gave estates to English landowners. Religious problems arose as well, since most Irish were Roman Catholics while the new English settlers, who mainly lived in the north, followed the Protestant faith. Laws continually favored Protestants over Catholics.

By the late 1700s, Irish rebels were making repeated efforts to gain some kind of independence. Their efforts were to little avail, and in 1801 the Act of Union formally united Great Britain and Ireland. This law abolished the Irish Parliament; instead, Ireland voted for representatives who served in the British Parliament.

Beginning in the 1870s, a Home Rule movement was on the rise among Irish nationalists, most of whom were Catholics. Supporters demanded some form of self government. They were opposed by Irish Protestants, who were called unionists because they wanted to preserve Ireland’s status in the United Kingdom. Irish political leader Charles Parnell, who sat in the British Parliament, led a nationalist party and demanded a separate Irish Parliament. Later, in 1902, a new nationalist political party known as Sinn Féin was formed. Its goal was to secure Irish independence.

Because of these nationalist efforts, by the 1910s, the British Parliament enacted a Home Rule bill. While most of Ireland supported this bill, Protestants in Northern Ireland vowed to resist any home rule by force; they feared that the island would become dominated by the Catholics. The onset of World War I, however, delayed the enactment of home rule in Ireland.

The Easter Rising
Irish home rule supporters were frustrated by this delay. In April 1916, a rebellion known as the Easter Rising began in Dublin. About 1,000 Irish forces rose against British rule. Over the next week, street fighting sprang up throughout Dublin, and Republicans seized some government offices....

(The entire section is 2,705 words.)