What happens in The Sniper?

Two snipers on opposing sides of the Irish Civil War clash on a summer evening in June. One sniper fakes his death to trick the other into standing up. While examining the corpse, the sniper realizes that his enemy was his own brother.

  • Two snipers are stationed on opposite sides of a street. The main character is shot in the arm and loses all feeling in the appendage.
  • Aware that he'll be killed if he doesn't find a way off the roof, he lifts his hat just enough to trick the other sniper into thinking it's his head. The hat takes a bullet, but the injured sniper survives.
  • Believing his enemy dead, the other sniper stands, giving the injured sniper a clean shot. Upon examining the body, the injured sniper realizes it's his brother, who was fighting on the opposite side of the war.

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Sniper” relates an encounter in downtown Dublin, near the O’Connell Bridge, between a sniper for the Republicans and a sniper for the Free Staters. Guns roar in the distance as the Republican sniper lies on a rooftop. He is a young boy. “His face was that of a student—thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of a fanatic . . . the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.”

It is a June evening, and the sniper, who has had nothing to eat since morning, hungrily wolfs down a sandwich and takes a short drink from the flask of whiskey he carries in his pocket. He desperately wants a cigarette and finally risks showing his position by igniting a match and lighting one. Instantly, a bullet hits the wall near him. He takes two puffs of the cigarette and snuffs it. He raises himself to look over the parapet, but another bullet whizzes by his head, and he flattens himself against the roof.

An armored car crosses O’Connell Bridge and stops just below the sniper’s position. An old woman with a tattered shawl around her head comes out of a side street to talk with a man in the turret of the armored car. The sniper wants to shoot at the armored car, but he knows that his bullets will not penetrate its fortified exterior. The old woman points in the direction of the sniper, who now realizes that she is an informer. When the man inside opens the turret to talk with her, the sniper shoots, and the man slumps over lifeless. The woman hurries toward the side street, but the sniper shoots again. The old woman shrieks and falls into the gutter. The car speeds away, the man in the turret still slumped there. More shooting is heard, and the sniper knows that it is coming from the roof across the way. He has been hit in his right arm, in which he has lost all feeling.

The sniper takes out his knife and uses it to rip open his shirt. He sees that a bullet has gone into his arm but has not emerged from the other side. He takes out his field-dressing kit, breaks off the top of the iodine bottle that he pulls from it, and pours the dark liquid into his wound. Then he applies the bandages from his kit, using his teeth to tie the knot.

The sniper...

(The entire section is 1,308 words.)