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A Hanging by George Orwell - English Essay

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‘A Hanging.’
By George Orwell

‘A Hanging’ is a non fiction essay written by George Orwell in 1931 in which he recounts a personal experience in Burma as police officer where he observes a ‘criminal’ being hanged. The essay presents the reader with the subject of capital punishment in a structure to challenge the reader’s views and stipulate a response from the readers as it is a subject that creates a great controversy. Orwell chooses not to use facts such as statistics and figures that simply asks and creates a black and white answer; instead he arouses the readers emotions through imagery, setting and narrative structure as he explores the themes and the message.
The essay starts with a pessimistic description of the setting instantly creating a depressing mood as the rain is ‘sodden’ which creates a negative depiction. Orwell’s use of pathetic fallacy is evident as the rain symbolises sadness and tragedy. The reader is made aware of the prisoner’s unhealthy living conditions through Orwell’s wordchoice:
“a sickly light, like yellow tinfoil.”
The simile suggests that the light appears unnatural. The word ‘sickly’ implies the sense of illness and wrongness as ‘yellow tinfoil’ further the feeling of death, decay and unnaturalness of the prisoners being left to rot. The feelings of unnaturalness is continued throughout the essay as his point is that killing a life, whilst in full flow is unnatural and appears to strengthen Orwell’s feeling of being against capital punishment. The reader’s sympathy is aroused as the writer describes the grim conditions the prisoners are forced to live in:
“the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages.”
Immediately the reader’s sympathy is gained as the description of the jail cells dehumanises the prisoners. Orwell continues the mood as the ‘brown silent men’ wait for their inevitable fate. The writer then brings the reader’s attention to one particular prisoner:
“a puny wisp of a man”
The description of the prisoner creates an image of a weak, malnourished man who seems to be unable to defend himself with ‘vague liquid eyes’ conveying sadness and confusion. The description of his eyes and body create a vulnerable and poignant easily capturing our sympathy for the man, Orwell then describes how he has “the moustache of a comic man on the films” which adds humour to the scene but because of the reality of the situation it only adds shame for laughing.
There is a sense of shock to the scene in paragraph three as the superintendent of the jail complains to the head jailer:
“for God’s sake hurry up, Francis...the man ought to be have been dead by this time. Aren’t you ready yet?”
It shocks the reader because it is such a inhumane thing to say but it could also convey his displeasure of the situation causing him to look insensitive. Orwell describes the wwalk to the gallows and becomes personally involved “we set out...” he also cleverly involves the reader, “The rest of us ...followed” the writer then goes on to describe an incident that increases the unnatural feel to the situation and how dreadful it is:
“For a moment it pranced round us, and then, before anyone could stop it, it had made a dash for the prisoner, and jumping up tried to lick his face. Everyone stood aghast, too taken aback even to grab at the dog.”
The interruption of the dog is almost like a hidden warning, not to continue with the hanging, it seems as if the essay has many implications to he journey of the gallows. The image created of the dog is gretly contrasted to that of the condemned prisoner. the writer then brings us back to the main point of the essay giving us a very detailed description of the indian man as he watched him walking to the gallows. The description only adds to the wrongness as the writer and the reader can see how alive the man is:
“bobbing gait”
“muscles slid neatly into place.”
It gives the effect of a life in full flow, it is clear the prisoner is very much alive and healthy and is death is extremely unneccesary but it is when he moves to “avoid a puddle” we trully understand how wrong the situation is even Orwell who apart of the scene describes it as “unspeakable wrongness” as the man is perfectly normal, alive and all his bodily instincts are working fine as his natural instincts allowed him to rationalize avoading puddles. It is at this point where the writer is personally invovled and begins to understand the wrongness of the scene:
“this man was not dying, he was alive just as we are alive.”
The use of “we” only invovles the reader adding to our sympathy for the man who is about to face death. Again there is another implication which only indicates how wrong the situation is and the unnatural feel that only seems to rise. Orwell reaturns to the scene and how the prisoner was “half-led, half pushed” to the gallows and the haunting sound he made whilst he was calling to his God:
“Ram!Ram!Ram!”
This only adds to the pathos of the scene just as the “whining” of the dog as it replies to the prisoners cry, it seems to understand the scene and its wrongness. The reader can not help but sympathesis with the poor prisoner. orwell does not force his opinnions on us simply presents the reader with his anecdote. Suddenly the hanging is done and the prisoner is described to being “dead as a stone”.`
A hanging is indubitably a thought provoking essay in which i believe Orwell carefully constructed to apeal to the reader’s sympathy. From the begginning with its opening negative description untill the end with the death of the prisoner, it is clear Orwell’s views on capital punishment and allows the reader to make up their own mind about tht situation. Orwell is successful in presenting a situation that has a big imapact on the reader.

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