The Sniper

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Humanity and Remorse Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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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.
Humanity and Remorse Theme Icon

Despite the enmity between combatants, the story also shows that a strand of human curiosity, of desire to understand and connect with the enemy, is present still. The Republican sniper proves himself to be not totally bloodthirsty, despite the surge of joy he feels upon killing his rival. Rather, after the adrenaline and drama of battle, the Republican sniper immediately understands that his rival was a person, and that the killing of a person is a tragedy and a waste. In fact, the Republican sniper is so overcome by his sense of the now dead enemy sniper’s humanity, that he feels the need to see the man he has killed.

The war, then, does not completely cause the sniper to lose his sense of humanity. The final twist that the enemy sniper is his brother, of course, hammers home how war can make bitter enemies of anyone, but the sniper’s urge to go and see the enemy out of remorse suggests that there is a fundamental humanity that continues to exist even within war, and gives some hope that it will continue to exist after the war as well.

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Humanity and Remorse ThemeTracker

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

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

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.


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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 body turned over and over in space and hit the ground with a dull thud. Then it lay still.

Related Characters: Enemy Sniper
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
At this point in the text, the Republican Sniper has no idea who the Enemy Sniper is. Separated by the distance between the buildings in Dublin (and by the ideological differences that have led them to fight for different sides), the Republican barely thinks of his opponent as a human being at all: he's been conditioned to feel no sympathy whatsoever for his enemies, and has become desensitized to bloodshed. Flaherty conveys the Republican Sniper's dismissive attitude toward the Enemy Sniper by describing the Enemy as nothing but a "body." From the Republican's point of view, there's absolutely nothing to distinguish the Enemy's body from any other body: it's just a piece of meat, lacking humanity.

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.