Analysis of ‘The Sniper’ by Liam O Flaherty
In the anti-war short story “The Sniper” written by Liam O Flaherty, a Republican sniper embraces his rifle and conceals on the roof top without a sound, waiting to kill his enemies. The sniper accidentally gives away his location when he lights up a cigarette and exposes himself to the enemy sniper on the opposite roof. The two snipers from two conflicting sides then faces each other off through an innovative war; using both their shooting skills and intelligence. Subsequently, the Republican sniper pulls out a brilliant plan and he successfully shoots out a deadly bullet to the enemy sniper. After the line of life and death, the Republican sniper decides to identify the enemy sniper’s face; he slowly turns the dead body around and finds himself staring into the lifeless face of his own brother. Liam O’Flaherty uses his short story “The Sniper” to suggest to the readers that war is an evil obsession that makes brothers turn against brothers and this is intensified throughout the story by the clever usage of the setting, the situation irony and the theme or the moral of the story.
The story takes place in Dublin, and this city is described in a way that gives off depressing, suspenseful and pessimistic images; showing that war is an awful thing. The author dedicates the entire first paragraph to describe the setting and to illustrate the atmosphere of the story. For example, “Dublin lay enveloped in darkness.” The word “darkness” instantly creates a sense of insecurity and mystery in the readers’ minds and as well as a suspenseful atmosphere. The sentence “The dim light of the moon shone through fleecy clouds, casting a pale light” transmits a feeling of loneliness and depression since moon is often thought as lonely in the high end of the sky. “Around the beleaguered Four Courts the heavy guns roared. Here and there through the city machine guns and rifles broke the silence of the night, spasmodically like dogs barking on lone farm.” In this sentence, the author identifies Dublin as a dangerous and insecure
city, full of constant violence with the accompaniments of machine guns and rifles. In addition, when the Republican drops to the ground after his injury, he leans against a parapet, which can also be explained as a protective barrier that the sniper uses to hide from all the cruelty and brutal faces of war. All these images demonstrate isolation, desolation and the brutality formed by the war and the images are formed by intention to show the readers the identifiable harmful impacts that a war can carry.
The author not only uses the settings to intensify the evilness of war; but he also introduces several scenes of situation irony into the story to further explain the downside effects of war. For instance, when the Republican sniper riskily lights up a cigarette, the light will glow and expose his location on the rooftop. The irony unpredictably occurs when an old lady spy points at the sniper’s location to his enemy. This is ironic because no one expects an old and weak lady with trembling legs would secretly be a spy. This forces the Republican sniper to kill the lady instantly because otherwise, he will be killed by his enemies. Another ironic situation takes place when the Free-stater soldier arrives at the O’Connell bridge in an armoured truck; a tank-like transportation machine, and yet he is killed by the Republican sniper when he peeks out the car window with half of his body outside. This is ironic because it is surprising that someone would be that imprudent when knowing that there is a sniper watching his every move. Furthermore, from the last sentence of this short story, “then the sniper turned over the dead boy and looked into his brother’s face,” readers are able to identify and make out the conclusion that the Republican sniper has shot and killed his own blood related brother. This is the ultimate ironic situation because he unknowingly exterminates his loved one; who is also part of his beloved family. This short story is cleverly written in a way that uses irony to show the negative sides of war, such as misery, torture and regret, and how it breaks families apart.
The setting and the situation irony plays an important role in building up the conflict of “The Sniper,” however the third person limited point of view plays the major role. For instance, by introducing the main protagonist as “a Republican sniper lay watching,” readers will connect the Republican sniper to a person they are close to or have ties with; making it more painful and shocking for readers in the end when the death of the sniper’s brother is revealed. Since the point of view is limited, the author is not informing the readers about the feelings of the Republican sniper when he turns over the dead body and realize that it is his brother. However the readers can easily make up assumptions about how the Republican sniper’s emotions will be when he sees the face of his brother; emotions like tears washing his face with a sorrowful laugh. The point of view also permits the readers to follow the Republican sniper throughout the entire story; feel what he feels and see what he sees. “She was pointing to the roof where the sniper lay.” This makes the readers realize that because of the civil war, the sniper is being forced to kill others to stay alive. Throughout the entire story, O’Flaherty allows the readers to see the events through the eyes of the sniper and therefore readers will understand the negative impacts of war by cleverly using a third person limited point of view.
In conclusion, by using the setting, situation irony and the third person limited point of view, “The Sniper” is able to suggest to the readers the negative impacts of war, more specifically civil war. They destroy families and make brothers turn against brothers. This anti-war story truly expresses the Arthur’s attitude about how war is a universal catastrophe that makes the world into a sadder place with violence and killing constantly going on.