The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty
In The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty we have the theme of war and the effects war can have on an individual. Set during the Irish Civil War the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises just how difficult war can be with brother fighting and killing brother. Where once there may have been unity within a family O’Flaherty cleverly shows just how things can change with family members taking different sides and fighting for different armies (Republican and Free State). What is also interesting is the setting of the story. All of the events take place at night time when it is dark. It is possible that O’Flaherty is using the setting to highlight to the reader just how dark things can be when it comes to war. It may also be significant that the Republican sniper respects the Free State sniper (his brother) as this suggests that despite both men fighting on opposite sides of the war some soldiers still had a connection of sorts with the other army. They had an understanding and respect for each other even though they were enemies. How calm the Republican sniper is may also be important as it suggests that he is focused on the task at hand even though he has been injured. He has most likely spent the day on the roof waiting for members of the Free State army never losing sight of what his aim is.
Though only briefly mentioned the old woman may also be symbolically important particularly after she is shot. Her body lands in the gutter and O’Flaherty could be suggesting that the perception among the soldiers during the war was that the place for an informer is in the gutter. It is also noticeable that the Republican sniper’s adrenalin has stopped him from eating. Though O’Flaherty describes him as being ‘excited’ it is also possible that the sniper is apprehensive about what he is doing. He knows that there are Free State snipers on the roofs opposite to him who are just as willing to kill him as he is to kill them. Such are the feelings of animosity that both sides in the war have towards each other. Even though the men respect each other they will still kill in order to win the war and the right to govern Ireland. It may also be ironic that though there is a sense of unity among both sides of the war, a unity of being a soldier, the primary goal of both sides is to kill the opposition.
The Republican sniper is also a quick thinker. When he is injured not only does he attempt to clean his wound but he also pretends to be dead. Where many would have run away after being wounded the sniper remains focused on killing the Free State sniper. Luring him into a false sense of security. At all times the Republican sniper and the Free State sniper have continued to be soldiers. Fighting till the last drop of blood is lost. Which suggests or highlights the intensity of the Irish Civil War. As previously mentioned both sides remain focused on their goal. Killing the enemy and winning the war even though the men they were killing were at times brothers. Such was the strong belief among Republican soldiers for a united Ireland that families were divided and split between opposing sides. At the time the Free State army accepted Ireland as being a republic of twenty six counties while the Republican army wanted the inclusion of the six counties which made up Northern Ireland and which remained under British rule. It was this difference which led to bloodshed among families.
O’Flaherty’s language usage may also be important. He continually uses the word ‘fire’ to emphasise that a bullet has been shot. The Free State sniper’s body hits the ground with a ’thud’ and there are several mentions of the word kill. Also the fluid from the iodine bottle is described as being ‘bitter.’ While there is an obvious feeling of pain from the wound that the Republican sniper has received. If anything O’Flaherty doesn’t glamourous the Irish Civil War. At no stage does the reader feel as though the Republican sniper is anything but a soldier. Similarly with the Free State sniper. O’Flaherty doesn’t give either character a personal backdrop. Not at least till the end of the story when we discover that a brother has killed a brother. Something that would have been a common occurrence during the war. Rather than achieving a united Ireland families were at war with one another. Though some critics might suggest that the Republican sniper has been successful, in killing three people. He has also lost a brother. Something that will scar him (and Ireland) long after the end of the war. It is also ironic that despite the survival of the Republican sniper it was the Free State army who won the war.