Why is the sniper the only character described in great detail?

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I think the author chose to describe the sniper in great detail because we are predisposed to empathize with him, and he is the protagonist of the story.

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Part of what makes this story's surprise ending so compelling is the fact that it never, for one moment, seemed like the sniper could be taking aim at his own brother. The protagonist sniper is so focused on what he is doing, how he is feeling, what he is seeing, that he does not seem to consider the humanity of the other sniper across the street, at least not until that other sniper is dead. He thinks of the sniper across the street as "His enemy" only; the car that pulls up is "an enemy car." When he successfully shoots the sniper across the street, he feels relief first. The narrator says,

His enemy had been hit. He was reeling over the parapet in his death agony. He struggled to keep his feet, but he was slowly falling forward as if in a dream [....]. The body turned over and over in space and hit the ground with a dull thud.

Again, the other sniper is "His enemy," and the other sniper's body is not even "his" but "the body." Such language seems to mimic what a person's mind has to do, the distance it must create, in order to make violence possible. If one needs to prepare oneself to kill another person, one has to dehumanize that person; one cannot consider their humanity or they become a great deal harder to kill. The lack of details regarding anyone aside from the protagonist sniper helps to reinforce this.

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I think one reason for describing only the Republican sniper in great detail is because he is the story's protagonist.  Authors generally spend more time describing their main character because readers will spend the most time with that character.  Greater detail allows readers to feel more familiar with the character.  

Additionally, by not describing the other characters in detail, readers essentially feel about them the same way that the protagonist feels about them.  They are targets.  It doesn't matter what they look like, who they are, or what they feel.  They are enemy combatants, and they need to die.  By not describing them in detail, readers are able to have a cold detachment from them.  That's the attitude that the protagonist has about them.  We feel and sympathize with the sniper because we feel we know him better than the other characters.  

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The sniper is the only character the author describes in great detail.  Why do you think the author chose to do that in "The Sniper"?

The author probably chose to do this for a few reasons, in my opinion.  First, readers generally understand and empathize with the protagonist of the story; in this case, that would be the sniper.  We understand his struggles, his motivations, his thoughts, etc., all because of the author's use of first-person narration.

Also, I have never served in the military, but I believe this is how soldiers are trained to view their adversaries: they are the enemy and therefore must be eliminated, if you don't kill them then they will kill you.  I believe soldiers might realize that if they begin to imagine their enemy as a real person, then it'd be much harder to kill that person.  Better to "dehumanize" the target.

Finally, I think that this allows us as readers to not even consider the possibility that the enemy is his brother.  By keeping this other rifleman as vague as possible, we never would guess that they are related.

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Why do you think the author chose to call the main character "the sniper" in "The Sniper"?

I think one of the reasons the author chose not to name the character in "The Sniper" is to try and universalise the themes of war and emphasise the way that this civil war caught up so many people in it, not just individuals, but entire families, towns and cities. Note how the sniper is introduced:

On a rooftop near O'Connell Bridge, a Republican sniper lay watching. Beside him lay his rifle and over his shoulders was slung a pair of field glasses. 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.

I think it is important to note that the first piece of information we receive about this sniper is that he was a Republican, thus emphasising the side he was on and the way that Ireland was literally ripped in two by the Civil War. He is a universal figure by not being named, and thus his tragedy and the way it shows the horror of civil war is universalised.

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Discuss the meaning of why the sniper is the only character that the author describes in great detail.

I think that the significance in describing the sniper in such detailed terms is to highlight the transformation that is within him as a result of his experiences.  To a great extent, the sniper views himself as merely a cog in the machine of war.  He does not see himself as anything outside of the mission with which he has been charged to complete.  In not seeing anything out of the mission and not seeing himself as anything more than the mission or cause, the reader is able to see him as the center of the narrative.  When he recognizes what he has done and his own moral and ethical responsibility in the taking of human life and the emotions that are brought out as a result of this, the focus has to be on him.  It is evident that his change is reflective of something larger.  While he saw himself as part of a cause that sought to minimize his own identity, his own recognition of his responsibility and his rejection of war is what makes him larger than one character, representative of the disenchantment of an entire post- war generation.  The focus of the narrative operates in this trajectory, making it necessary to place the focus on him for the sniper comes to represent much more than his own narrative in the process of the story.

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