“A Hanging” (1931) is a short essay of George Orwell which discusses the execution of a prisoner. The background is set in 1920’s Burma when Orwell was posted there for five long years as a member of the IIP or Indian Imperial Police.
In this essay, Orwell shares his harrowing experience of watching a Hindu prisoner getting executed. It was also the turning point of Orwell’s life. After that, his point of view towards capital punishment changed for the rest of his life. He was a very sympathetic man; moreover, he was a nature lover.
Later he repents that what do people get by destroying a healthy and conscious man. It shows how affectionate he was towards humanity.
In this essay, Orwell took the help of imageries, vivid physical descriptions, and irony to bring out the cruelty of execution. Besides showcasing the humans’ inhumanity, he bears an implicit tone of condemnation towards capitalist punishment.
A Hanging Substance
This essay of Orwell captures a prisoner’s journey who is destined to be executed by his guards. Finally, the judgment day arrives, and the prisoner is taken out of his cell towards the gallows where he will be hanged. He cries out, “Ram!” several times just before his execution.
Such kind of unpredictable incident shocked the guards for which his execution got delayed. After a few moments, the guards dropped the floor, and his neck was snapped brutally. Mantle of silence covered the whole courtyard for a few minutes.
Then the joyful dialogues of the guards broke the dead silence like a bolt from the blue. They seemed to remain unaffected by what just happened in the courtyard.
George Orwell takes the help of imageries to highlight the cruel condition of the imprisoned people. Besides that, Orwell focuses on the outrage of capital punishment and also seeks sympathy for these troubles.
Orwell begins by drawing a dark picture of the jail atmosphere.
He describes the weather as “a sodden morning of the rains” with the touch of “a sickly light, like yellow tinfoil.” It sets a gloomy tone for the rest of the essay. Such a type of menacing atmosphere creates a dingy and disturbing mood, which ultimately reflects the dispirited life of the prisoners.
By wrapping the jail in cold and overcast emotions, Orwell exaggerates the brutality of execution and also kindles sympathy in the reader’s mind. Orwell also described the prisons as “small animal cages,” which signifies the terrible prison conditions. By showing these horrible conditions of the prisoners with the help of several imageries, Orwell brings out the callous brutality of execution.
A Hanging Physical Descriptions
George Orwell took the help of physical description to portray the ruthlessness of capital punishment. He also humanizes the prisoners by talking about the “unspeakable wrongness” they used to face in prison.
Orwell deliberately makes the prisoner weak in appearance, which also puts stress on the fact of being tortured.
His revolution against capitalist punishment reaches its peak when he says that the prisoner was the same man, “walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world.” He makes an apt summary of the whole act by saying, “cutting a life short when it is in full tide.”
A Hanging Irony
George Orwell uses irony in his essay to show the overshadowed sadness that lies in the prisoners. Irony has been the key instrument for him to criticize the apathetic attitude towards the brutal act of execution and, ultimately, death.
The remark of the guard after the execution that “He’s alright” shows the inhumanity of the capitalist people. Instead of feeling sympathy for the prisoner, the guard chose to make this comment, which ironically brings out the widespread practice of hanging.
Orwell was able to contrast life from death so meticulously just because he used irony in it. Like when he goes on to say that ” … the dead man was a hundred yards away”, me makes a clear difference between life and death and also how easily death can take over upon life.