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.
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