Hanging by George Orwell: a Critique on the Injustices of Capital Punishment

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Updated: Aug 28, 2023
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A Hanging is a short story about the execution of a prisoner by hanging. An imperial policeman inspired George Orwell in Burma to write this story. Orwell uses a variety of literary elements and devices to deliver his disapproval of capital punishment. He creates a gloomy, melancholy atmosphere from a first-person point of view. He builds up irony about the jailer’s attitude toward the prisoner’s death to represent that everyone is involved in the hanging process, thereby revealing how capital punishment is unjustifiable.

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The Emotional Weight of Execution and Its Impact on Nature

The tone of the short essay, “A Hanging,” just like 1948, is very gloomy and uses death in general as the ultimate punishment. Throughout the essay, Orwell narrates in the first person as an officer of a jail in Burma. The dark atmosphere of a jail and the narrator’s point of view show that capital punishment is not only the prisoner’s burden but everyone else’s. Orwell points out that anyone involved in this miserable predicament has a weighty heart towards the prisoner. Indeed, no one wanted to be associated with ‘the deed.’

The author also builds up irony about the warder’s emotions before and after the hanging, introducing countless other characters beyond the prisoner and the narrator, who is disturbed about the idea of capital punishment. When a rope is fixed to the prisoner’s neck, he cries, “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!” His voice is not urgent or fearful but steady and rhythmical, as if the prisoner has accepted the fate he faces; he is ready to be hanged. By creating a depressed tone in the first-person point of view and the irony of the warders’ feelings toward the hanging, Orwell portrays the misery and pain delivered to every person who experiences or merely watches capital punishment.

The gloomy atmosphere tells us that the narrator, a bystander of a hanging, also senses gloominess around the jail yard. The irony of warders’ attitudes toward a prisoner’s death shows that everybody involved in capital punishment is burdened. As it negatively influences many people other than the prisoner, Orwell defines capital punishment as unjustifiable and vicious.

In “A Hanging,” Orwell’s theme, or concern, is that the life of any healthy man should never be taken from him (murder is a crime against nature). Using the dog and the rainy day supports Orwell’s stand that the hanging ‘upsets’ nature. In ‘A Hanging,’ Orwell is chiefly concerned with capital punishment.


  1. Orwell, G. (1931). A Hanging. Adelphi.
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Hanging by George Orwell: A Critique on the Injustices of Capital Punishment. (2023, Aug 28). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/hanging-by-george-orwell-a-critique-on-the-injustices-of-capital-punishment/