George Orwell’s View of the Death Penalty in A Hanging as Illustrated in His Essay
“I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man.” In his essay A Hanging, George Orwell reveals his experience watching a hanging, as an imperial police in Burma. With these experiences, Orwell writes his essay with the purpose to censure capital punishment. Towards the end of the essay, the reader can question the idea of capital punishment and contemplate why or why not one human has the right to take another human’s life. Orwell’s belief that capital punishment is unjustifiable and a crime against humanity is supported through the use of diction, irony, and mood.
Throughout his essay, Orwell’s diction reflects his changed attitude on the treatment and death of a prisoner after witnessing a hanging. Orwell begins his essay without showing any signs that he had feelings of disgust towards capital punishment or even questions it before the hanging. Rather, he was “waiting outside the condemned cells…” This reveals to the reader that Orwell was originally involved in the executions and had no issues with them before. However, after realizing the significance of “…the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short,…” Orwell is overcome with a feeling of disgust. His feelings are remarked by the emotionally weighted word choice such as sodden, sickly, condemned, bare and silent. Words like sodden and sickly effectively reflect how Orwell feels since, they can describe the feeling of guilt or wrongness Orwell has after the hanging. The words have a negative connotation which, give the essay a bleak mood and reveal to the audience Orwell’s negative feelings toward capital punishment.
In addition to the emotion laden diction, Orwell uses irony to convey his feelings toward capital punishment. Irony is effectively used by contrasting the attitudes of the warders and the prisoner. When the prisoner is ready to be hanged, “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!” is chanted out by the prisoner with a sense that is “not urgent and fearful.” Meanwhile the warders are described as having “changed color” and thinking each to themselves, “oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that abominable noise!” This suggests that Orwell is not the only one with feelings of objection and anxiety. The quote describes warders state of mind and draws a difference between them and the prisoner. The quote shows the warders are frantic and keen to get the hanging over with, while on the other hand the prisoner is calm and collected even though he is facing death. Highlights the ironi c situation, of how generally the man who is about to be killed would be fearful and scared, while jailers are generally calmer and don’t care much, however the feelings are reversed for the roles in this situation. Another use of irony is seen after the death of the prisoner. Although the warders have no connection to the prisoner, they understand the wrongness of “destroying a healthy, conscious man”. In a normal unironic situation, the jailers would not realize the wrongness of killing someone after they have done it, especially if they do not know the man however, the situation in Orwell’s essay show that he and the warders have negative feelings to capital punishment. Irony used furthermore when Orwell describes the warders actions and behavior after executing the prisoner. After the death, the prison “seemed quite a homely, jolly scene, after the hanging.” Normally after a death, people are filled with grief, and although the warders did not personally know the prisoner, there would still be a melancholic atmosphere, however the warders seem to be feeling the opposite, as they are “chattering gaily.” This is because the warders are overcome with a feeling of “an enormous relief had come upon [them] now that the job was done.” This reveals that warders are glad that they are finished with the hanging, because they all felt uncomfortable. The actions and descriptions of warders in these ironic situations reveal Orwell’s and possibly the other warders attitudes toward capital punishment.
Furthermore, Orwell sets a depressed mood in his essay to parallel the feelings toward the hanging. The setting is described to be a “A sodden morning of the rains.” Orwell uses imagery to give the reader a sense of the gloomy mood in the prison. This sets a nervous atmosphere for the hanging, which reflects the nervous and sorrowful feelings of most individuals in the prison. Imagery is used throughout the beginning of the essay when the jail yard is described to be having “a sickly light, like yellow tinfoil,” and “desolately thin in the wet air,” or the prisoners are described as staying in “condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages.” Orwell does this to immediately give the reader a sense of despair while reading the novel. This successfully helps convey Orwell’s attitudes on capital punishment. Since Orwell writes the essay to purposely be gloomy it shows he was affected by the hanging, and reflects his feelings of disappointment
By using emotionally laden diction and setting a depressed mood, along with irony, Orwell reveals that everyone involved in a hanging is affected, and that as humans, we know it is wrong to kill other humans. Orwell’s belief that capital punishment is unjust and a crime against humanity if effectively shown through his essay A Hanging.
A Study of Societal Cruelty as Depicted in George Orwell Book, a Hanging
How we define life and our humanity greatly comes from our ability to choose right from wrong. We live in a society where death is the most common consequence of committing a terrible crime. Many societies believe that two wrongs do not make one right, but when being put in a situation where the affected includes people within its community often change their minds when it comes to choosing the right path. Every individual should be able to choose their own right to live, but in many cases this does not happen, as people are presented with choices where they literally have other peoples lives in their hands.
Life is defined as a gift that should be given no matter what. It is not right for societies to condemn individuals based on their past actions or judgments against them. As Orwell suggests in A Hanging there are people capable of understanding the error of their ways, if given the chance to redeem themselves. One example of that can be when Orwell saw the Hindu man step aside to avoid the puddle, this clearly shows that this convict is aware of his surroundings, and therefore is capable of taking actions to avoid trouble. Thus society condemns a person without even giving them a second chance based on their previous actions.
Orwells story A Hanging gives us an idea of how society can sometimes contradict itself to the whole life/death situation. Orwell portraits the inhumanity in such society as kind of ironic, especially when people believe that causing the death of another is virtually unforgiving. Relieving the details of the execution lead Orwell to begin doubting the insensitivity of the society as Orwell realizes what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. Killing another person is inhumane; people lose the sense of morality and capacity to appreciate the life of a person regardless of their crimes, and society begins to intervene in their decision.
How we behave as a society, and how we confront the loss of a life depends on how we evaluate the importance of life. Having to kill someone because of what they did and saying that we have fixed something that was wrong does not necessarily mean that we fully understand to what extent life is worth for someone. Most time individuals within a society believe that such horrible acts do not make any difference and that is just another job, or even pretend that it was the right thing to do and have all these people anticipating the moment like Orwell expresses when he recalls how the same thought was in all our minds; oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop the abominable noise. Therefore not fully understanding the effect that it may have on its own society and how it will help it to shape society into a more complex world.
Furthermore, even thou society may think that life may not have any value for someone who has warranted this type of punishment, it is wrong to think that life itself can only be appreciated by its own people. The selfishness shown by society towards this issue should not be disregarded as not important because in the end it is society who will decide the fate of people who have wronged someone. It is implied, however, that life can and will only be fully understood, if we as a society understand that people can still redeem themselves and show that everyone has the capacity to change.