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Tension and Horror in The Sniper Essay


The Sniper' is a short story written by Liam O'Flaherty. The story is about a civil war taking place in Dublin. The Sniper is the main character, and is hiding on the rooftop of a building near to O'Connel Bridge. The war is between the Free states and the Republicans. The sniper is on the side of the Republicans. I intend to discuss how tension and a sense of horror is created by O'Flaherty. Furthermore, I will also discuss how effectively he reveals the main character in the story.

O'Flaherty uses several ways to reveal the character of the sniper. For example, the author's word choice is very effective: "a man who is used to looking at death." This phrase is effective because it instantly gives the idea that he may have very cold looking eyes. By using the word looking it draws the reader's attention to the eyes of the sniper. Although this suggests that the sniper did not have a problem with killing people, the further on in the story you read, the more this proves to be untrue. For example, "The sniper looked at his enemy falling and he shuddered." This shows that he could kill, although he did not enjoy doing it. The word choice on this occasion is very effective as it makes it easy for the reader to imagine how the sniper feels. The word shuddered is a very good word choice, as the reader can interpret it in several ways. The most obvious way that the reader may interpret this is that the sniper got a chill down his back as he watched the body fall to the ground. This phrase reveals more about the character. Furthermore, the phrase, "He began to gibber to himself, cursing himself, cursing everybody," proves that the character does not like killing people and even feels guilty after doing it. By saying that he was cursing everybody,' it suggests that he may have been forced to do this and therefore has a lot of anger towards others, again revealing his character even more.

Although the quotations which I have introduced above prove that the sniper does not like killing people, another quotation from the passage contradicts this: "He had been too excited to eat." The word excited' suggests that he enjoys having the chance to fight; however, you could argue that he was scared, nervous and even unhappy about the situation, but could be showing these feelings in a way which suggests that he is excited. The fact that he had been so excited that he was unable to eat, emphasises just how strong his feelings were.

The writer is successful in building a sense of horror and tension through the use of effective language. For example, the sniper sustains an injury and the author gives a description:

"blood was oozing through the sleeve of his coat"

By use of the word oozing it gives the reader an image of a very large volume of blood coming from the wound. Furthermore, saying, through the sleeve of his coat, continues the idea of such a large amount of blood. By specifically using the word coat it will give the idea that it is very thick and, therefore, there would need to be a large amount of blood for it to be visible through the coat.

O'Flaherty also talks about the sniper's injury on a different occasion:

"There was no pain-just a deadened sensation, as if the arm had been cut off."

Although it says that there was no pain, the severity of the injury is emphasised by saying, "as if the arm had been cut off." This may be slightly exaggerated; however, it does get the point across, thereby allowing the author to succeed in building up tension and a sense of horror.

The author also describes what happened to the man on the other building whom he had shot:

"The body hit the ground with a dull thud"

The word thud gives an image of the surroundings being silent and the only sound heard is the sound of the body hitting the ground. The word dull suggests that the sound could only be heard in the distance and it was not very loud. Furthermore, this creates the idea of a dead, very heavy and solid body hitting the ground. Although the sniper may have been slightly happy or relieved that he had killed his enemy, this phrase still creates a very tense atmosphere. A tense atmosphere is built up here because the reader has the image in their mind of an injured person falling from the rooftop of a building, which is quite dramatic.

The author successfully creates a sense of horror and tension by his clever use of words, which make it easier for the reader to imagine what is happening in the scene. I thought that the plot of the story was effective, because the frame of mind that a fighter might be in is clearly exposed. By doing this, it also shows the effect that killing someone may have on a person. Overall I enjoyed the story because it was not boring and the tension created, made you want to read on. Moreover, I thought that the ending was very good:

"Then the sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother's face"

The ending was good because it left a sense of mystery, allowing the reader to imagine what may have happened next. Overall the story was very interesting and enjoyable.

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