The Sniper

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Themes and Colors
Divisions Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Enmity Theme Icon
Chance and Ingenuity Theme Icon
Pain and Perseverance Theme Icon
Humanity and Remorse Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sniper, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Chance and Ingenuity Theme Icon

“The Sniper” demonstrates how both chance and ingenuity are essential components to war—how sometimes they go hand in hand, and sometimes they do not. The eponymous sniper is both lucky and clever in his survival and his defeat of the enemy sniper. From the start, the sniper understands that chance plays a large part in the ultimate survival of any soldier. He decides to take the risk of lighting the cigarette, despite the fact that his enemy might see the flash—as the enemy actually does. When he does get shot shortly afterwards, it is due only to chance that he is not hit in a more vital part of his body than his arm, just as it is chance that the old woman sees him just as the man in the armored car rolls down the street. Still, the soldier in war does not exist entirely at the whims of chance without control of any sort, and it is ingenuity that allows the sniper to trick the enemy soldier into thinking that he has been killed. However, in going to investigate the enemy sniper, the sniper gives himself to chance once more. It is chance that allows him to survive the gunfire that follows him down the street, and finally also chance that the man that he has killed is his brother—an irrevocably cruel act of chance, but one perhaps no more unlikely than any of the others. O’Flaherty, consequently, demonstrates how war often happens as a series of chance results that one after the other lead either to continued life or to death. That two specific people end up facing each other in war is also a matter of chance, for the enemy sniper could have been nearly any young man from Ireland. Though ingenuity clearly plays a part in the sniper’s survival, it is mostly chance—and a chance decision—that leads him to survival even as he happens to kill, in his lucky fight against his enemy, his very own brother.

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Chance and Ingenuity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Chance and Ingenuity appears in each chapter of The Sniper. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Chance and Ingenuity Quotes in The Sniper

Below you will find the important quotes in The Sniper related to the theme of Chance and Ingenuity.
The Sniper Quotes

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.


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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.