“The Sniper" is a war story, and it explores questions of violence and enmity and how they affect the people who participate in and are caught up in the war. The Republican sniper kills three people over the course of the story: the man in the armored car, the old woman, and the enemy sniper. The Republican sniper does not have much of a choice: for him it is either kill or be killed. He must kill even the old woman, for if she gets away she might inform one of his enemies about him. In this way, the story shows how war blurs the line between civilians and warriors become blurred, so that even an old woman is bound into the fight and becomes a threat.
Consequently, war creates a situation in which human beings lose their ability to see other people as full and nuanced humanity. Everyone becomes either an ally or an enemy, either people who will help the Republican sniper or people who will hurt him. When, at the end of the story, the sniper realizes that he has killed his own brother, he must face firsthand how forced violence and the enmity of war create a situation in which individual identities become clouded over. In fact, almost nothing in the story actually differentiates the two snipers besides their supposed ideological opposition—of which we hear nothing about. They do not have names: they are one Republican and one Free Stater. The violent politics around them subsumes their individuality, and the final revelation demonstrates the degree to which the categories of “enemy” and “ally” are simplifications – fatal simplifications – generated by the enmity of war.
War, Violence, and Enmity ThemeTracker
War, Violence, and Enmity 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.
The Republican sniper smiled and lifted his revolver above the edge of the parapet...his hand trembled with eagerness.
Then when the smoke cleared, he peered across and uttered a cry of joy. His enemy had been hit.
The body turned over and over in space and hit the ground with a dull thud. Then it lay still.
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.