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.
My Impressions from George Orwell’s Essay a Hanging
Choose a non-fiction text which you consider inspiring or provocative.
Explain how the writer’s presentation of his/her subject has such an impact on you.
George Orwell’s essay on ‘A Hanging’ is a piece of non-fiction where he gives a very powerful and moving account of an execution of a criminal in Burma, where he served in The British Military Police. He focused on this single event which illustrated ‘the unspeakable wrongness of cutting a life short, which is in full tide’. This was a very provocative piece of writing, where he created an effective argument against capital punishment , and unintentionally became connected, when a stray dog ran into the yard.
Throughout this essay, Orwell skilfully manipulated the mood in order to engage our emotions. He communicated and developed a clear line of thought. In order to help us understand his thoughts about capital punishment, Orwell selected his detail very carefully in the opening lines of the essay. In creating an effective argument, he managed to connect us to the horror he was observing, yet he never explicitly stated his opposition in an identifiable way. The events of the narrative and his chosen detail expressed his point of view. We are never told what the crime was that the prisoner was accused of, so that we are non-judgmental about the penalty. .Orwell’s detailed observation of the prisoner and the events leading up to his death illuminated the sheer banality of death and heightened his strong anti- Capital Punishment stance.
The writer’s language, imagery, use of symbolism, tone and word choice evoked the reader’s sympathy for the prisoner’s fate. Initially , the essay introduces to the reader the bleak Burmese setting where the ‘condemned’ criminals are being held captive by the merciless guards. Orwell sculpts a dismal atmosphere through the setting and word choice. “A sodden morning of rain”, “sickly light, like yellow tinfoil” conveying to the reader the decay and misery all around. He described the condemned cells “small animal cages” suggesting how inhumanely they were treated-not as humans but as animals. He was outraged by the conditions he witnessed. This was also a social commentary of the social inequalities present in a country which was ruled by a foreign power, in this case the UK. The description of the prisoners is quite harrowing as he sees them squatting like animals in these tiny cages, ‘puny’ malnourished and even portrays a comic image of the prisoner “sprouting a moustache”; contrasting this with the tall Indian warders who were healthy and well fed.
George Orwell provokes further emotive reactions as it becomes apparent just how harsh the prison wardens are; cold- hearted. ”The man ought to have been dead by this time….Can’t get their breakfast till the job’s over”. This is spoken by the superintendent who is a doctor and even more shocking as he refers to killing the man as a ‘job’ and as his profession suggests he should be saving lives not killing people. Ironic devices are used to delay the hanging which engenders even more compassion from the reader. A stray dog wanders into the yard, interrupting the sombre procession and heads straight for the prisoner and tried to lick his face. It is as if the dog knew who to befriend, the prisoner and not the guards. Dogs do have an ability to perceive the difference between kind and unfriendly humans. This undoubtedly increased the tension as they obviously wanted to get it over and done with to get on with their day. Punctuality was a very British anomaly. Another irony occurs when the prisoner subconsciously “steps aside to avoid a puddle” and it is at this point that the essayist realises the terrible wrongness of taking a life. Why would someone wish to avoid getting wet when they know that they are about to die? The answer is quite simple; this man is capable of responding to a basic human instinct. As Orwell says he is still “growing” and “healthy”; there is no need to murder him. Orwell ‘s reflections here, conveys his opinion towards capital punishment. At this point he is successfully persuading us to take his view on such a thought provoking topic.
As they reach the gallows , Orwell gives us a description of the hangman , “a grey haired convict”. The burden of responsibility at this point is passed onto the prisoner to take the life of the condemned man. What is heart breaking is when the man shouts, “Ram” “Ram” Ram” calling to his god, and further delaying the hanging which is causing extreme discomfort all round. The same thoughts were in all their minds, “kill him quickly” and at this point even Orwell wishes it to be over. In conveying the man’s death Orwell says, “A sudden snap”. The master of simplicity as he reflects on this horrendous act. “He’s all right said the superintendent”! His callous and uncaring attitude felt by Orwell and the reader.
The use of contrast is very effective as he moves from the dull, uncomfortable event to one of a “homely and jolly scene” – “the dead man only a hundred yards away”. It was quite absurd, indicating the relief felt by all now that the job was done. What does it tell you about their feelings towards capital punishment?
“My dear fellow…. Think of all the pain and trouble you are causing”. This was a callous statement followed by laughter. The essay ends with maximum impact.
“We all had a drink together, native and European alike, quite amicably”. We are left to contemplate was has gone before.
This was a very powerful essay written by George Orwell, very provocative as the reader was drawn into the horror of the event from the beginning with Orwell’s carefully chosen use of descriptive language and narration. This was the White man, representative of the Empire , just doing his job in a cold dispassionate way. The observer, Orwell as a member of The British Police was horrified at what he witnessed. This was a man right to the last second and …. His life mattered. As the superintendent said, this was his job and he didn’t question it.
“This is Empire and how we do things”.
The purpose of this essay was intended to express what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man, which he does very succinctly and cannot fail in leaving a lasting impression with the reader. Orwell’s focused on a single event, which illustrated the “unspeakable wrongness of c cutting a life short, which is in full tide”.
Review on a Hanging Essay
A Hanging by George Orwell is a harsh, wake up call as to how cold and blind the human race can be. This story takes place in Burma, India in the 1940s. Orwell is a warder for a prison in Burma and he tells about his one experience as he prepares and
They all gathered around him, six warders, and walked the prisoner out of his cell and towards the gallows. The prisoner went calmly but was very afraid for his life is coming to an end in a mere 2 minutes and there is nothing he can do to change that. As the prisoner makes his way to the gallows, Orwell watches the him as he walks and notices that he came upon a puddle and steps aside to avoid getting his feet dirty, even though he is about to be put to death. Orwell starts to realize that the prisoner is a human being with feelings and thoughts, who is about to be cut short of his life.
As they were walking to the gallows, into the yard comes this dog. Wild and happy to see so many people together, he went round the men, barking and wagging his whole body around. In an instant, the dog made a dash for the prisoner, trying to lick his face. The superintendent of the prison became angry, for he wanted to get along with the execution so in that way the other prisoners can get there breakfast. They escorted the prisoner to the gallows. Two warders then placed a noose around his neck and tightened it. The prisoner then began to cry out to his god Ram! Ram! Ram! (Orwell, A Hanging, 234). It was a steady and rhythmical cry, not fearful and urgent. In hearing this sound, the dog answered with a whine. The warders then put a cotton bag over his face, but the sound muffled by the cloth, over and over again. Throwing up his head, the superintendent made a swift motion with his stick. Chalo he shouted fiercely. There was a clanking noise, and then dead silence. The prisoner disappeared with only the rope in view. Orwell let go of the dog and it made its way to the back of the gallows. It stopped short, barked and ran into a corner of the yard where it stood looking timorously at the men. They made there way to the back of the gallows to inspect the body. The superintendent stretched out with his stick and poked at the lifeless body, Hes alright said the superintendent. He looked at his watch, Eight minutes past eight. Well thats all for this morning, thank god.
After reassuring themselves of the prisoners death, they make there way towards the big central yard of the prison. The prisoners were already receiving there breakfast. They sat in rows, each man holding a tin pannikin, as two warders ladled out rice. It seemed like a quite jolly, homely scene, after the hanging. It was an enormous relief to the men, now that the hanging is over. One felt an impulse to break out and sing. All at once everyone began talking gaily. One warder, a Eurasian boy, with a knowing smile said: Do you know, sir, our friend (he meant the dead man) when he heard his appeal had been dismissed, he pissed on the floor of his cell. From fright. Kindly take one of my cigarettes, sir. Do you not admire my new silver case sir? From the boxwallah, two rupees eight annas. Classy European style. The men laughed at what? nobody knew. The superintendent grinned in a tolerant way. He suggested that the warders come out and have a drink of whisky which sat in his car. They went through the gates and into the road. Pulling at his legs! said a Burmese magistrate, and burst into a loud laugh. They all began laughing and had there drink, native and European alike. The dead man
The superintendent and the warders in this story are insensitive. After they put a man to death, they mock him and have a drink in celebration of his hanging being a success. They have been doing so for a period of time that they have become blinded with no emotions. Even if the man they put to death is a prisoner, they could have at least have the courtesy to remove his body from the gallows and not mock him and the others that have suffered the same faith as him.
The dog, to me, is the prisoners last show of affection towards him. Even though it was a dog, he had someone, or in this case something, be nice towards him for it was the last signs of affection he would get within the last 2 minutes of his life. The dog also shows us that all living things can show emotion. For example, after the prisoner was hung and dangling from the ropes, the dog sobbed and knew that the man was dead. But when youre surrounded by inconsiderableness, such as the warders, it can blind you
Main Ideas in a Hanging Essay
Orwell uses the example of a hanging to show how human beings can become insensitive to the horror of taking life, through day-to-day repetition of murder. By using examples of the characters varying reactions at having to perform the unpleasant deed, he also explores how people deal with the concept of taking anothers life. Particular care is taken by Orwell not to reveal the nature of the condemned mans crime, which places the focus of the piece on the action of taking the mans life, and not on the moral judgment of weather or not his punishment is fitting his crime. By doing this, Orwell succeeds in placing the readers thought process squarely upon the issue at hand: How would I deal with the concept of having to watch another man die?
Orwell starts this piece by giving a description of the environment in which the prisoners live, but intentionally stays away from describing any of them directly, instead, he lumps them all together with the phrase, “In some of them (cells) brown, silent men were squatting at the inner bars, their blankets draped around them”. I feel that he has done this, in order to focus the tone of the story at the steady, day to day feel that what is about the happen is a regular occurrence, that nothing special is about to occur. As the story continues, the reader is given a purely physical description of the captive about the be executed, again, no clue is given about the state of his mind, or of what kind of man he may be.
As the story continues, we are introduced to the first character the superintendent of the jail. The description of the superintendent is primarily noteworthy, because of his positioning from the rest of the group. He is standing a short distance from the rest of audience of the hanging, and seems to symbolize that he has crossed over a bridge of some sort; the hangings are of no consequence to him, just another duty to be performed in the course of his day. Indeed, the superintendent shows his irritation at being behind schedule in the way that he prods the head jailer into moving faster, “For Gods sake, hurry up Francis, the man ought to have been dead by this time. Arent you ready yet?. The others in the main party will show different facets of reaction, but they will have a common theme: they all have interior conflicts arising from the taking of the life of another.
As the story progresses, we are introduced to the character of the playful dog, “It came bounding among us, with a loud volley of barks and leapt round us wagging its whole body, wild with glee at finding so many human beings together”. I feel that Orwell uses the dog to play a counter melody to the feelings of the men. Where the group is faced with the unpleasantness of the task ahead, and the general mood is morbid, the dog is feeling joyful, and playful. I think that Orwell is trying to send a message with the dog, and the actions of the characters at the end of the story. After the man is hung, the humans make an attempt to place the event behind themselves as quickly as possible, by acting boisterous, and attempting to laugh the horrible event off. The dog, on the other hand, after the hanging, is depressed, and slinks off, because it knows that something bad has taken place. Perhaps Orwell is trying to tell the reader that the taking of a life is not something to be made light of, and we should cherish all life, as the dog would.
Orwell tells the reader of the prisoners walk to the gallows, and of his revelation that the prisoner is not just an object, but rather a living breathing human being: “When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is full tide”. Orwell presents to the reader the sense of emptiness that the prisoners passing will bring. That all lives should be preserved, because each viewpoint is unique and precious. At this point, Orwell now has the readers attention focused firmly on the hanging as an event, and what the outcome of the event will mean for Orwell himself. I feel that Orwells intentions are to stimulate the readers own thoughts on the matter, before the event of the hanging takes place, so that the reader will be able to sympathize with the points of view expressed by the various members of the party witnessing the hanging after the event occurs.
The condemned man is now placed onto the hanging platform, and has been fitted with noose, when he begins to cry out a chant to his god. Orwell seems to use this as a device to produce a reaction in all the characters. In the party, everyones face goes pale, as the thought of what is about to happen hits home. The dog begins to whine; this appears to be the crossover point, when the dogs emotions and the humans emotions are in sync. The only character unaffected by the chant appears to be the superintendent: “The superintendent, head on his chest, was slowly poking the ground with his stick; perhaps he was counting the cries, allowing the prisoner a fixed number, fifty, perhaps, or a hundred”. In this quote is also a clue as to how long the chanting went on for, and Orwell also offers up his own feelings on the effect this continuous chant was having on him: “oh, kill him quickly, and stop that abominable noise!”.
After the prisoner has been executed, there is a profound sense of relief through the party. The only member not suddenly made cheerful by the prisoners execution is the dog, who skulks off into a corner of the compound. The rest of the party begins to deal with the horror of what they had just witnessed by telling jokes, and here we see different people dealing with these emotions in different ways. Francis begins telling humorous anecdotes, which soon has the whole party laughing, even the jaded superintendent, while an Eurasian boy talks about the dead man with no more thought than that of casual conversation; indeed, he makes more out of his cigarette case, than of the dead mans reaction on hearing the denial of his appeal. The superintendent is the only one who appears to have made peace with the hard emotions, and seems to show pity on the others in the party: “Youd better all come out and have a drink,” he said quite genially. The superintendent seems to know what t!
he others are going through, and suffers their humor with good grace, understanding it for what it is: a shield against the emotions that each man is feeling. Orwell ends the piece by having all the characters enjoying a drink together, laughing merrily, but adds the disquieting image of the dead man, still hanging, a hundred yards away.
Assessment of Death in George Orwell’s, a Hanging, Vs. Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein
Lessons in Mortality
Nature is a continuous life cycle. The cycles of life and death usually coincide peacefully. The existence of man has made the natural life cycle out of sync. In the two stories of A Hanging by George Orwell and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, hideous acts against nature are committed. Frankenstein recreates life and A Hanging is about murder, both crimes against nature. Using the literary elements theme and imagery, Orwell and Shelley show that man has yet to learn a vital lesson in mortality.
In George Orwell’s A Hanging, the prisoner is described as just another man. The crime the man had committed had not been specified but it was apparent the hanging of the man was the crime focused within the story. The narrator saw that “the man was not dying” (Orwell). To hang him when his life was still at a prime was the “unspeakable wrongness” (Orwell) of the crime against nature. With the prisoner dead, the narrator viewed his absence was “one mind less, one world less” (Orwell). What Orwell meant from this line is now the group of guards is now missing one less person. There is no other given reason why the prisoner would be considered any less of a man than the men leading him to his death.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shows that the crime committed against nature is recreating life. Victor Frankenstein desecrated dead bodies to recreate another being. He collected bones and dug up graves. The horror pictured is what gives the readers the heightened sense of curiosity that Victor was feeling as he “dabbled among…the grave…tortured the living animal” (Shelley, 33). The real horror lies in Victors’ dream to recreate life as he can easily look past degrading past lives.
The imagery in A Hanging shows that nature itself was not pleased with the execution to come. The story starts off with setting the mood with a “sodden morning of the rains” (Orwell). The rainy day insinuates nature is upset with the execution. It sets a mood that is just as dark as the theme of death as the only light in the story is a “sickly light” (Orwell). In comparison to this story, there is also similar imagery in Frankenstein. The morning after the monster was created, the morning was “dismal and wet” (Shelley, 36). There is a similar mood in both the stories after or before something against nature had occurred. It is nature’s way of showing its own disturbance.
The theme of regret is apparent in both stories and show that man has not learned any vital lessons. Victor Frankenstein immediately showed regret for what he had done soon after his creation became alive. He had realized what he had done against nature as well since he “had conceived a violent antipathy even to the name of natural philosophy” (Shelley, 43). At first, before life, Victor had considered the monster beautiful, lustrous, and having pearly white teeth. These are standards of beauty as a social norm, in the living world. He is looking at a creation from different parts of mutilated deceased bodies and tortured animals. Only when the monster had been brought to life is when Victor realized how monstrous it was. He came to a realization of how ungodly he was when “the beauty of the dream had vanished…breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley, 35).Victor had a goal to celebrate his so-called resourceful idea only to flee from his own innovation. Frankenstein was not able “to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created” (Shelley, 35).
The only person that is full of remorse in A Hanging would be the narrator. Although he is not the one who can control the fate of the prisoner in regards to his execution, but he does realize the aesthetics of life. He had not realized that his job is to “destroy a healthy, conscious man” (Orwell). It was when the prisoner humanly side stepped a puddle is when he gained recognition as an actual person. The narrator feels regret in this because the man was not dying as “All of the organs of his body were still working” (Orwell). Orwell’s word choice reflects the narrator’s feelings of guilt or remorse by using terms such as sickly, condemned, and bare.
To conclude, man has not learned any vital lessons in mortality. There is no compassion shown towards neither the monster in Frankenstein nor the prisoner in A Hanging. The creation of the monster was one of gothic beauty and the killing of the prisoner was that of sheer brutality. Man has learned nothing from the creation and continues to overlook the aesthetics of life. The literary elements of imagery and theme, Orwell and Shelley show that man is stubborn and unappreciative.
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.