Cruel Capital Punishment in George Orwell’s Story “A Hanging”

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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George Orwell’s story “A Hanging” tells readers about a traumatic involvement Orwell had when he was given the opportunity to travel from Europe to participate in the capital punishment of a Hindu male. “I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man.” The effect of reading that line, it really sinks in how distraught Orwell felt. In this essay, Orwell uses a variety of literary elements to create a grave atmosphere and notes the behavior between everybody participating in capital punishment.

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Because of this Orwell quickly realizes from the oppressive nature that everybody, even ones working under the Capital are equally susceptible to the same fate.

The first aspect of the Burma penitentiary Orwell critiques on for the wellbeing of prisoners is the cages that the death row inmates are kept inside. Orwell says they’re treated like animals and states “We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages.” And then notes how it took six guards to transport a weak and tired man. As they are walking down the courtyards of the prison to the gallows, Orwell notices how the Hindu man steps out of the way of a puddle, despite being escorted and gripped tightly by guards. Orwell comes to the realization this man is perfectly alive as the rest of the group. Although the prisoner has accepted his fate, he still had enough care in the world to overstep that puddle, and watching that occur, Orwell starts to feel remorse. As they reach the gallows and the prisoner has a noose around his neck, the narrator thinks “Everyone had changed color … the same thought was in all our minds: oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that abominable noise!” the prisoner was calmly accepting his fate, the execution was really bothering the guards. Although they have no connection to the man, they’re torn about “destroying a healthy, conscious man.” The superintendent treats the unfortunate event like a job and wants to get it over with, which demeanors how much he cares for the prisoners. Orwell also states, “It seemed quite a homely, jolly scene, after the hanging. An enormous relief had come upon us now that the job was done … I found that I was laughing quite loudly. Everyone was laughing. Even the superintendent grinned in a tolerant way.” Typically, after death, there’s time for mourning. But not in this case. The setting was uncomfortably relaxed, and it’s because the jailers’ we’re happy to be drinking and forgetting about the recent events. That feeling was greater than the pain they felt for executing a conscious healthy man.

In the first-person point of view that Orwell told the story in he created a dark mood and analyzes everybody’s reactions to the hanging, from the superintendent’s irony towards the execution to the hurt and sorrow the guards felt for the Hindu man. Orwell also uses a great sense of imagery to really put that effect on how depressing it is. Orwell realizes that from the execution that all of them were equal, and they all shared the same fate eventually. The warden’s uncaringness for the prisoner’s life sets an example on everybody under him to fear the future. Orwell describes capital punishment as unjustifiable and cruel. 

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Cruel Capital Punishment in George Orwell’s story “A Hanging”. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from