Student Question

What are the sniper's feelings about the war at the story's start?

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At the story's start, the sniper is depicted as highly committed to the war effort, showing a fanatic's zeal. He is methodical and unremorseful in his actions, reflecting his deep belief in the cause. Descriptions such as "the cold gleam of a fanatic" and his ascetic nature underscore his unwavering dedication to the Irish Civil War.

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The only hint in the beginning of the story about how the sniper feels about the war (in a mostly detached narration of his activities) appears in the second paragraph when the third person narrator refers to him by saying, "his eyes had the cold gleam of a fanatic." A fanatic is someone who is totally dedicated to a cause so the reader must assume that the Republican sniper is committed to his role in the Irish Civil War. The Republican army was steadfast in its opposition to Ireland's recent treaty with Great Britain. The history of the Irish Republican army often involved men who would rather die than live under the hegemony of the British and this sniper may have been just such a man. The sniper tends to do things without remorse, including killing an armored car commander, as well as a lady he perceives to be an "informer" who is out to reveal his position above the streets of Dublin. He is methodical in his tricking of the Free-State sniper and his killing of that enemy. Thus, it could certainly be argued, especially at the beginning of the story, that the sniper was in favor of the war because it was in support of giving Ireland its complete freedom. 

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In "The Sniper," how did the sniper feel about the war and about himself before he killed the enemy?

Before killing his "enemy," the sniper was convinced of his mission's need. He is shown to be completely committed to the war effort.

O'Flaherty is very deliberate in describing how the sniper feels about himself and the war initially.   He felt that that he and the war effort were one in the same:  "His face was the face of a student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death."  The language used reflects how the sniper believed in the conflict throughout his being.  The "ascetic" description reflects a religious zeal toward the war effort.  This is enhanced with his facial expressions reflecting "the cold gleam of the fanatic," or a believer.  The fact that the sniper is "thin" shows how he has put aside eating in the name of his mission, an idea supported with the fact that "he had eaten nothing since morning."  The sniper is "excited" about what he is going to do and what he feels it means.  

These descriptions show that the sniper believes in the war effort.  He commits himself entirely to it.  For the sniper, there is a singular devotion to the cause, which makes him perfect to carry out the mission.  It also makes him perfect in terms of experiencing the disillusionment that accompanies it, something evident with killing "the enemy."

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In "The Sniper," examine how the sniper feels upon first realizing that he has killed his enemy.

Upon first realizing that the sniper has killed his enemy, he shows excitement.

O'Flaherty describes the sniper with a driving focus when he starts his mission.  This can be seen in the story's opening as the sniper possesses "the cold gleam of a fanatic."  The sniper's physical appearance is described as "thin and ascetic," communicating an almost- spiritual commitment to his mission. 

The sniper's purpose is recognized when he shoots and hits his target. He "uttered a cry of joy."  When the sniper first realizes that he has killed his enemy, he is happy that he has accomplished the job that he set out to do. However, O'Flaherty is deliberate in suggesting something more to the sniper. The sniper begins to realize the full implications of what he has done.  When the sniper is forced to think about killing his enemy, "the lust of battle died in him." His initial excitement is replaced by "remourse," as "sweat stood out in beads on his forehead."  What was once happiness is now replaced with the sniper "cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody."  These details help to offset the sniper's initial feelings of happiness and enthusiasm that he felt upon first realizing that he killed his enemy.

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