The Sniper

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Republican Sniper Character Analysis

The Republican sniper begins the story concerned only with his most immediate problems—his hunger, his desire to light a cigarette, and his desire to survive and defeat his enemies. He ends up being confronted by the question of the destructive divisiveness of war. The sniper contends with his glee and eagerness to kill his enemy even as he also feels remorse and loss at the inhumanity of war. His human impulse to identify the man he has killed at the end of the story leads him to discover that he is very intimately aware of his enemy’s humanity, as his enemy is also his brother.

Republican Sniper Quotes in The Sniper

The The Sniper quotes below are all either spoken by Republican Sniper or refer to Republican Sniper. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Divisions Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the St. Martin's Press edition of The Sniper published in 1999.
The Sniper Quotes

The sniper thought the noise would wake the dead.

Related Characters: Republican Sniper, Enemy Sniper
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Enemy Sniper hits the Republican Sniper in the arm. The Republican Sniper is forced to drop his rifle; moreover, the sound of the rifle falling is extremely loud.

The loudness of the rifle produces several literary effects. First, it foreshadows the final, much louder sound of the Republican Sniper's gunshot, which will kill the Enemy Sniper. Second, it underscores the seriousness of the event: the Republican Sniper has lost his most important tool, with which he defends his own life. Third and most important, the notion of a noise that can "wake the dead" is meant ironically, since the spirit of death hovers over the entire story--as we will see very soon, no noise, no matter how loud, can undo the act of murder.

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The Republican sniper smiled and lifted his revolver above the edge of the parapet...his hand trembled with eagerness.

Related Characters: Republican Sniper, Enemy Sniper
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Republican Sniper prepares to kill his rival, the Enemy Sniper. Cleverly, the Republican Sniper has fooled his opponent into believing that he (the Republican) is dead--he's even dropped his rifle to the ground. Now, the Enemy Sniper is standing straight up, making himself an easy target for the Republican.

It's important to notice the obvious pleasure that the Republican Sniper takes in shooting his opponent. Murder is a bloody, savage act, but because the Republican Sniper is so separated from his opponent, he can enjoy the thrill of winning the "game" he's been playing with the Enemy Sniper, instead of thinking about the flesh-and-blood human being whose life he's about to end. Notice also that the Republican Sniper's eagerness in this passage is also our eagerness: on some level, we want the Republican to win. Very subtly, Flaherty tricks us into rooting for the Republican, only to dash our hopes with the final sentence of his story.

Then when the smoke cleared, he peered across and uttered a cry of joy. His enemy had been hit.

Related Characters: Republican Sniper, Enemy Sniper
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Republican Sniper shoots his opponent, the Enemy Sniper, and cries out with joy: he's won the fight by tricking the Enemy into standing up and making himself an easy target.

The Republican takes an obvious pleasure in killing his opponent. Separated from the Enemy Sniper by "smoke" and distance, he doesn't have to look at his victim's cold, dead body--he can rejoice in having "won the battle." It's also worth noticing that Flaherty suggests that the Republican Sniper could easily have been the one to be killed, had the circumstances been even a little different. Here, the Republican Sniper shouts for joy--a bad move for any sniper, since it draws attention to his position. The Republican has won his duel with the Enemy, but Flaherty gives us the sense that he could have lost just as easily.

The lust of battle died in him. He became bitten by remorse…he revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy. His teeth chattered, he began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.

Related Characters: Republican Sniper
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite his previous coldness and delight in murder, the Republican Sniper here has a sudden change of heart. While dueling with his opponent, the Republican didn't feel any sympathy for him. In part, the Republican didn't feel sympathetic to his opponent because he was trying to protect his own life; also, the Republican was separated from his opponent by a large divide (of both ideology and distance), making it more difficult for the Republican to conceive of his Enemy as a full human being.

Here, however, the Republican finds that it's harder to ignore his own guilt after the duel. Faced with the Enemy's body, the Republican Sniper feels a natural sense of guilt and self-hatred at having murdered another human being. Even though the Republican has no idea who his opponent was, his natural human decency prevails--thus, he curses himself, and the war that has compelled him to commit murder.

He felt a sudden curiosity as to the identity of the enemy sniper whom he had killed…Perhaps he had been in his own company before the split in the army.

Related Characters: Republican Sniper, Enemy Sniper
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Republican Sniper decides to investigate who his opponent was. It's worth wondering why, exactly, the Republican does so--he has no rational reason for risking his own life by looking at the Enemy Sniper's face. Nevertheless, the Republican Sniper is the victim of a basic human emotion, curiosity. He wants to know what kind of man would join the Free State side of the Civil War. (The Republican Sniper's curiosity is also our curiosity: we want to know who the Enemy Sniper was, just as badly as the Republican does!) Finally, the Republican Sniper seems to feel a natural sense of sympathy for his opponent; he senses that he and his enemy have a common humanity, and may even have fought in the same section of the army. Flaherty sadly alludes to the time before the Civil War, when all of Ireland was (relatively) united.

Then the sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother’s face.

Related Characters: Republican Sniper, Enemy Sniper
Related Symbols: The Brother
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final sentence of the short story, the Republican Sniper seems to realize that his opponent, the Enemy Sniper, was actually his own "brother." Taken literally, this sentence reinforces the savagery of the Irish Civil War: a bloody conflict that split up families and entire communities by forcing everyone to pick political sides. Throughout the story, the Republican Sniper has tried and failed to think of his opponent as abstractly as possible. Here, though, the Enemy Sniper's full humanity comes surging back: he and the Republican Sniper are related by blood.

Taken more abstractly, the word "brother" could suggest the broader cultural and historical bonds that unite all the people of Ireland together--bonds that were broken during the Irish Civil War. "The Sniper" is a heavily symbolic story, and on a symbolic level, it shows that war forces otherwise decent people--people with a common humanity, if not a literal common bloodline--to kill each other. 

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Republican Sniper Character Timeline in The Sniper

The timeline below shows where the character Republican Sniper appears in The Sniper. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Sniper
Divisions Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Enmity Theme Icon
...guns and rifles, which sound like “dogs barking on lone farms.” Near O’Connel Bridge a Republican sniper lies on a rooftop along a deserted street. He has “the face of a student”... (full context)
War, Violence, and Enmity Theme Icon
Pain and Perseverance Theme Icon
Smiling, the Republic sniper aims his revolver as his “right arm was paining him like a thousand devils.” His... (full context)