Irony Across History: Desirees Baby by Kate Chopin and The Sniper by Liam OFlaherty

A Comparison of Two Works “Desiree’s Baby” and “The Sniper” are two different stories, written by two different authors, in two different time periods, in two different geographical locations. A common thread can be found, however, when one traces certain attributes throughout the stories. Both stories have interesting character development, traces of an undeniable irony and end on an adrenaline- laced cliffhanger ending; they also have a rebellious undercurrent, speaking out against a tragedy. In “Desiree’s Baby” Kate Chopin weaves a tale set in Pre-Civil War Louisiana about a young oblivious mother who finds her strength when her racist husband disowns her for being Black. The irony appears when Armand, the husband, finds proof that it is not his wife that is Black, but it is him. “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty depicts the story of a young emotionless killer who begins to see the horrors of war when he bests his adversary on a rooftop. The irony shows itself with the last sentence of the story, declaring that the sniper has shot and killed his own brother. These two stories, however different, can be tied together with several overarching themes such as irony and the ideals of nationalism and racism pushed too far in the respective stories. In Liam O’Flaherty’s The Sniper published in 1923, the author explores the irony and horrors of the civil war in 1922 Ireland.

The story centers on a Republican sniper who sits on a rooftop; the hungry sniper watches his enemy with fanatical eyes.. The sniper guns down an informant on the ground, only to be shot from the opposite rooftop by another sniper. The Republican Sniper then devises a plan to kill his enemy. This plan works, but in the aftermath the sniper realizes what a terrible thing he has done and th s revolver to the ground “cursing he war, cursing himself, cursing everyone”. The sniper is then shocked back to reality by the ccidental discharge of his weapon and drains his whiskey flask. Upon exiting the rooftop, the sniper’s curiosity wins him over and he decides to check on the identity of the rebel sniper who was such a great shot. The sniper wonders if he knew the man, if they had been in the same company before the army split. As he dodges machine-gun fire and throws himself to the ground next to the corpse of his enemy, the sniper finds himself face to face with his own brother This irony is a clear message about the fallacy of war; what began as an attempt to unite the people and bring them back together, ended up driving them apart. The author, Liam O’Flaherty was directly involved in the Irish Civil War of 1922. O’Flaherty joined the Irish Republican Army to push for independence.

The war was sparked over nationalistic disputes between the Free State of Ireland and Great Britain. After the signing of the peace treaty between Ireland and England, the Irish troops split into two groups. Those who supported the treaty were the “Free State Army” and those who were against the treaty were the Republicans. O’Flaherty fought for the Republic of Ireland and the ideals of keeping the country together . Fighting for a cause, no matter how noble, can have adverse affects on a soldier. The sniper with the eyes which had “the cold gleam of the fanatic” lacked emotion. When it came to killing, the Republican sniper only showed remorse when he killed his enemy sniper. This young man with “the face of a student, thin and ascetic” was a hardened soldier with the “eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.” The fact that the sniper is so young, yet he is already accustomed to war, shows the atrocity of the Civil War that O’Flaherty must have seen. It was not uncommon in the Civil War for the young soldiers to be psychologically damaged because of the horrors they have seen fighting for their country. When an ideal such as nationalism is pushed too far, the result is unneeded bloodshed and the transformation of young students into hardened soldiers. This tragedy is what O’Flaherty strives to speak out against in the story. The sniper shows this unfairness when he throws his gun away in disgust.

As soon as his enemy dies, the lust of battle leaves him and he is “bitten by remorse.” The sniper, in this newfound weakness is “revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy.” After an entire career of killing without objection (including a turret gunman and an informer within the story) the sniper finally discovers that the cause he so valiantly fights for is flawed, and that it leads to the taking of precious human life. The sniper’s epiphany concerning the horrors of the war is deepened when he happens upon the identity of the Rebel Sniper and faces the truth that he killed his own brother. The discovery of this truth is the ultimate irony. The fact that the only enemy who makes the sniper curse himself and the cause he is fighting for is the sniper’s own brother, shows the major injustice that O’Flaherty is rebelling against. The sniper must have realized the enormous extent to which his family had been torn apart. The war had torn his family apart so much that two brothers had joined opposite sides and been “forced” to kill each other. This irony would have a drastic affect on the sniper’s mind, as only killing a family member could. The theme of irony connects the story of “The Sniper” with Kate Chopin’s story “Desiree’s Baby.” Kate Chopin, an active feminist, published in 1893 the story of Desiree’s traumatic experience being a mother. The story begins describing Desiree as an orphan baby, left on the doorstep of the wealthy “Valmonde” estate. As Desiree grows, she is noticed by the young man Armand Aubigny who instantly falls in love with her.

Armand falls in love “as if struck by a pistolshot” and anticipates the day until he is able to marry her. The two of them soon have a one time was a strict baby, and Armand’s overall character changes drastically. W verbearing slave-owner, once the baby is born Armand becomes complacent with his punishment of his slaves. At this time, Desiree’s adoptive mother (Madame Valmonde) visits and is very quick to notice something peculiar about the child and even “lifted it and walked with it over to the window that was lightest (and)…scanned the baby narrowly” in order to better discern the problem. Everyone in the household either ignores the issue, or feigns ignorance for Desiree’s sake. Desiree, overjoyed over having her child, is completely oblivious over any complications with her child It takes Desiree three months before she wakes up with an inkling of something gone wrong, to the “conviction that there was something in the air menacing her peace. It was at first too subtle to grasp. It had only been a disquieting suggestion; an air of mystery among the blacks.” At this time Armand changed as well, slowly ignoring his wife with an “averted gaze from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out.” It was during a particularly hot day that Desiree’s confusion and gloom came to light. In this startling moment, Desiree realizes the obvious truth; her child is black. Reeling from hysterics, Desiree confronts her husband about the issue. Armand, having been ignoring Desiree for months, is no more emotional than previously and promptly explains, in light tones, the situation to his distressed wife “.the child is not white; it means that you are not white.” After the initial shock of the accusation subsides, Desiree writes a letter to Madame Valmonde, asking for clarification in a desperate attempt to deny the truth. Desiree’s fears are not assuaged when the only response she receives is “My own Desiree: Come home to Valmonde; back to your mother who loves you. Come with your child.” Upon receiving the letter, Desiree demands an answer from Armand of whether or not she should leave. Armand callously, in as few words as possible, demands her to leave and so she does. Without another word Desiree grabs her child and walks into the reeds, never to be seen again.

The next scene is set several weeks after, where Armand is having a bonfire to dispose of everything that remains of his wife and their child. The last thing to burn is a letter from Armand’s mother to his father, speaking of her love for him. The irony of the story exposes itself in this ending sentence “But above all,’ she wrote, ‘ night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”” Armand is faced with the irony of belonging to the race which he despises. The racism is hinted at several times within the story through some notable foreshadowing. It all begins when the entire household, save Desiree, realizes there is something “wrong” with the child. Everyone knows this, but no one has the nerve to disrupt Desiree’ happiness, or Armand’s kind hand of mercy. The slaves say nothing about the obvious difference between child and mother. As soon as the child is born, Armand changes from a strict overbearing slave-owner to one who hardly lifts his hand against his slaves. There are also several references to Armand’s “dark face” and, as Desiree points out, the fact that he is of darker color than his wife. Once Armand’s secret is exposed at the end, it is thought that perhaps Armand knew the truth the entire time but stayed shrouded in denial Armand’s denial is the product of his racism pushed to the extreme. Ultimately, it is Armand’s racist viewpoint that forces Desiree to leave the house. Armand is so stubborn that he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name.” This feeds into the irony even more, that Armand’s stubborn racism cost him his family. ust like the Republican Sniper, Armand is too proud to come to terms with what he is, what he has done. Both characters fight so strongly for their beliefs, yet in the end they must reap the ragic consequences of loss. Unlike the sniper, Armand’s reaction to his loss is explained; he burns everything except the letter that caused his misfortune. Armand’s reaction to his loss is an extreme one. Armand is shown burning everything that held a memory of Desiree, except the accusing letter.

Like O’Flaherty did, throughout the story Chopin shows a dramatic change in the personality of her characters. Armand is seen going from strict dictator slave-owner before the child, to a more relaxed laughable master after the baby, back to the angry loveless man when he accuses Desiree of her difference in race, and finally the strong emotionless man it takes to burn all memory of his own wife and child to ashes. Armand’s transformation is no more significant than Desiree’s. Desiree is seen changing from a helpless oblivious young woman, into a strong willed lady who accepts her fate as unloved and unaccepted. Upon this realization, Desiree grabs her baby and walks off “across a deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet, “…She disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again.” The realization of life without her love, Armand, is too much for Desiree and she chooses to end her life with dignity and pride. The intense emotional trauma that all of the characters experience (including the Republican sniper) has a dramatic affect on their psyche and their personalities that the stories do not do justice; instead the reactions are left for the reader to puzzle out and ponder. In both stories the main characters going through severe psychological damage. The sniper faces the realization that he killed his own brother and while his reaction is not explained in the story, the reader struggles to imagine the pain and anguish the sniper must be feeling.

The pain of killing one’s brother is incomprehensible, as is the pain of sending one’s wife and child to death over an ideal that one is the victim of. Armand and the Republican sniper are both victims of terrible consequences of their own actions. Another shared consequence of the men’s actions is that of a torn family. Both men allowed themselves to be so consumed by their causes that they watched as their family was destroyed because of it. Armand allowed his wife and child to walk out of his life because he was ashamed of what he assumed was the truth about his wife. The sniper, likewise, allowed his love for his country to blind him to the truth; his family was so torn apart that his brother had joined he “enemy.” This common thread of a broken family is another theme that ties the two stories together The similarities between the two stories are remarkable considering the drastic time difference and geographic locations of publications. Both stories share an overarching theme of irony, an outcry against certain social pressures (the flaws of nationalism that when pushed too far destroy families, as well as the stubbornness of racism that also destroys families.) “The Sniper” and “Desiree’s Baby” are two stories that speak about social injustices relevant to their time period, as well as today.

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