“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 Quotes in The Sniper
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.
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.
The sniper thought the noise would wake the dead.
Then when the smoke cleared, he peered across and uttered a cry of joy. His enemy had been hit.
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.
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.
Then the sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother’s face.