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.
Divisions Theme Icon

“The Sniper” abounds with all sorts of divisions, both figurative and literal. The story takes place just before dawn, the moment of division between night and day. Up until the end, all the action takes place on the rooftops of Dublin, where a Republican sniper and an enemy sniper face each other on roofs across the street from one another, another literal division. The story takes place during the early weeks of the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), itself a great divisive event, which erupted when two factions of Irish Republicans who had been allies during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) disagreed and went to war with each other over whether to accept the terms of the treaty with England that had ended the Irish War of Independence. At the end of the story, when the Republican sniper realizes that the man he just killed was also his brother, the reader understands the full extent and cost of the divisions that have ripped apart Ireland, where even brother conceivably might fight brother for political reasons.

The divisions also extend to O’Flaherty’s description of the Republican sniper, who at once has “the face of a student” while his eyes hold “the cold gleam of a fanatic”; he is both sympathetic and destructive, a regular young man and a cold-blooded killer. Additionally, he also has to contend with the fact that he feels glee and enthusiasm about killing the enemy and in the immediate aftermath of that killing also remorse and sadness at taking human life. The intensity of the situation, however, makes it difficult for him to bridge the gap between all these divisions. He must readily kill and be violent for the sake of the war, and he has to forget, momentarily, his enemy’s humanity in order to kill him and save himself. The story thus dramatizes the way divisions cause violence to proliferate, how people on separate sides can become blind to the shared humanity of those they face.

Divisions ThemeTracker

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

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

Here and there through the city, machine guns and rifles broke the silence of the night, spasmodically, like dogs barking on lone farms. Republicans and Free Staters were waging civil war.

Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

The story takes place during the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s--a long, bloody conflict that turned the Irish people against themselves. During the Civil War, Ireland divided into two main military groups: the Republicans and the Free Staters. The Republicans believed that the entire island of Ireland should be independent of the United Kingdom, with its own rights of self-determination and democratic representation. The Free Staters, on the other hand, maintained that some of Ireland should be independent, but the northern states should remain a part of Britain, reflecting the states' close cultural and religious ties to Britain.

The Irish Civil War is still remembered as one of the bloodiest and most horrific wars in modern European history. As the passage illustrates, the war was waged with the most modern technology available--machine guns and rifles, perfected during World War I only a few years earlier. Instead of working together, the Irish fought each other for their divided political convictions.


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His face was the face of a student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.

Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to a sniper who's loyal to the Republican cause. We're given very little information about who this person is--what his name is, for instance, where he's from, or what his socioeconomic background is. All we know about him is that he's fighting for the Republicans.

The lack of characterization of the Republican Sniper emphasizes the fact that he a kind of personification of Ireland itself at the time. Just as the sniper is simultaneously innocent ("a student") and experienced ("the fanatic"), Ireland in the 1920s was a fledgling nation, newly liberated from Britain, and yet schooled in the methods and the machinery of modern warfare.

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.

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.