The story ends ironically when the IRA sniper realizes that the enemy he killed was his own brother. But there are larger ironies here: first, that all of the sniper’s Free State enemies are, in a sense, his brothers, for they had been comrades in arms fighting for the same cause; second, that all men are brothers as descendants of Adam and Eve. When they fight, they become Cain and Abel. No doubt, the IRA sniper now wonders about the identities of the turret gunner, the old woman, and the person manning the machine gun. War.
Death. Pain. Anger and remorse. None are pleasantries, but all are faced and handled every day. In Liam O’Flaherty’s “The Sniper,” all of these things are brought to an acute reality. To aid in his creation of such emotional conflict, O’Flaherty portrayed the sniper as a very controversial character. We can see this contrast in personality by looking at appearance, actions, and thoughts.
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“… the face of a student, thin and ascetic,… eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic. ” And so the sniper is described in a physical sense.
Upon looking at the meaning of the words, we find an unexpected conflict of definition. O’Flaherty writes that the sniper’s face is “that of a student. ” We think young, and vibrant. However, to describe his meaning, he goes on to say that his face is both “thin and ascetic. ” Also, gaunt, and displaying self-discipline; both qualities carried more so in adults than students. Also, it is stated that the sniper had “the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death. ” One might imagine an older man, who has lived through many-a-war and seen lives lost.
These three descriptions show that the sniper was older than his years in appearance, as well as emotionally. The snipers’ actions also are cause to believe that he is more than meets the eye. In the story, the sniper considers lighting a cigarette. “It was dangerous… he decided to take the risk. ” One’s knowledge that something is dangerous and then their persistence to carry out the action shows a true daredevil. A characteristic of the “student” in him mentioned earlier. Another, much different, action of the sniper’s is the need to discover who he killed.
After the remorse of the crime committed, the sniper proceeds to investigate his enemy’s identity. “… felt a sudden curiosity as to the identity of the enemy sniper… ” This shows that the sniper did, in fact, have a streak of humaneness and care in him. A very different mood from the daredevil. Lastly, the way the sniper thinks reveals much about his character. When he is considering means of escape, he comes up with a plan to trick the enemy sniper into believing he himself was dead. “His ruse had succeeded. ” Ruse is a word that means “an action in order to mislead. This portrays the mischievous side of the sniper. One more facet to his complex personality. So, as one can see, Liam O’Flaherty’s sniper was a very deep and complicated character. Through his actions, appearance, and thoughts, we see the signs of age and wisdom versus the daredevil, both apart form the mischievous student brought out in his success plan. All in all, the sniper’s personality was written to be very conflicting and controversial “The Sniper” places a strong emphasis on the evils of war, and yet paints a vivid image of mankind’s qualities and their society.
Employing the technique of describing one particular sniper to symbolise a general subject, readers are able to gain a deep insight into the evils of war. In this story, the assembly of setting, contrasting characters and themes of fanaticism and division of loyalties are vital to conveying the horror of war. On the other hand, “The Sniper” also discusses the power of war, depicting it as the decider of life and death for men. Its force is further emphasised when neighbours are turned into enemies under war’s influence