George orwell’s essay a hanging is a piece of non-fiction that is emotionally provocative. It is set in burma during the 1920s and it deals with a raw eyewitness account of an execution that the author witnessed whilst serving as a police officer. He uses all of his creative genius to universalise his thoughts and in using structure and style effectively, he achieves his main concern by creating a compelling and atmospheric mood throughout his essay.
Orwell challenges the reader’s views and questions the execution of a human life and the place of authority in it and in this essay i will show how the author swayed my feelings and influenced my thoughts on this subject. Np as the title suggests orwell’s concern in his essay is an event. The event the author witnesses is the execution of a man who, for whatever reason, received the death penalty and was sentenced to be hanged. Orwell, who was very much against both imperialism and capital punishment, focuses his essay on the subject of capital punishment and successfully universalises his thoughts about his experience.He describes what he sees as the prisoner approaches the gallows, when the prisoner receives his fate and what he sees and feels after the hanging. The people around orwell see it as a job well done but the author does not and he attempts to persuade the reader to adopt his views on the event.
This is done in an oblique fashion and orwell does not involve himself in dogma but instead he uses a process of osmosis to influence the reader’s thoughts. Np the crime the man commits is unimportant. Orwell chose not include the man’s crime for this reason. He also does not linger on the fact that the condemned man was brown.
His genuine response is evident in his descriptions of the man and the conditions. Even the weather takes on an added poignancy. He paints a rather unnatural and unpleasant picture. From the outset the reader’s sympathy is aroused. The condemned men are silent; they know their place and await their fate. We are also directly made aware of orwell’s stance, or it may be inferred rather than overly stated, implicit rather than explicit.
His stance is to challenge our received ideas and preconceived notions and brings us face to face with a new situation in order to make us really think – it provokes us into thinking.Np at the beginning of the essay orwell establishes a depressing atmosphere through his description. He describes the light “sickly” and that it was like “yellow tinfoil”, which creates the feeling of unnaturalness, which is continued throughout the essay. This unnaturalness mirrors the unnatural act that is about to take place. This sombre description adds to the melancholy atmosphere and even the 8 o’clock “bugle call” seemed “desolately thin in the wet air”.
He continues this melancholic feeling when he says that the prisoners were “squatting at the inner bars” which are like “small animal cages”.This deliberate animalistic imagery is furthered because the condemned men sit “silent”, stripped of dignity, humanity and individually. This disconsolate atmosphere is very effective because the description of the prisoners and their conditions evokes sympathy from the reader and therefore challenges the reader to consider the author’s viewpoint. This panoramic view of the prisoners and their environment obtains sympathy from the reader because the prisoners are housed in pathetic and unnatural conditions. Read about the allegory of the cave questions and answersNp this sympathetic tone is evident throughout the essay and in paragraph two all the sympathy for all the prisoners is focused onto one particular prisoner.
This brings a heightened level of pathos into the paragraph. He is described as a “puny wisp of a man” with a “shaven head” and “vague liquid eyes”. He is the owner of a “sprouting moustache”. The man’s moustache is then described as “absurdly too big for his body” and we seem to have a picture of a sort of chaplinesque figure.
Orwell’s use of grim humour here is very effective and it is a very clever technique.It does add humour and it does make us laugh, but in reality, it only adds to our shame, for laughing at such a pathetic creature. Orwell again evokes the reader’s sympathy here and by using more than simply information he sways the reader’s feelings. Np orwell then describes the walk to the gallows and becomes personally involved “we set out..
. “. He also seems to involve the reader, “the rest of us…
followed”. He then describes an incident, which again gives rise to this feeling of unnaturalness and the awfulness of the situation. “a dog came..
. ounding among us”.This seemed to affect the whole dignity and formality of the procession hence emphasizing the abnormality of the whole circumstance. The image of the dog “bounding” and “wild with glee” contrasts greatly to the condemned man.
There is a feeling of irony as the dog “licked” the prisoner’s face suggesting that he was the favourite and the others were on the wrong side. Np the author then brings us to the main point, which is central to the essay. He gives us a very detailed description of the indian as he watched him walking to the gallows.This seems to add to the intrigue of the essay and causes a feeling of expectancy in the reader. He refers to his “bobbing gait” and how every time he moved his “muscles slid neatly into place” but it was when the indian moved to “avoid a puddle” that he whole “unspeakable wrongness” of putting this man to death became apparent.
This man was very much alive. All of his bodily functions were functioning, yet for whatever reason this man must die. Orwell is not concerned with the crime that the man committed nor whether he was guilty or innocent, it is the act that concerns him.The fact that “this man was not dying, he was alive just as we are alive. ” Causes him to write about this incident and show how unnatural it is. The phrase “we are” seems to involve the reader.
Orwell wants us to appreciate his point of view and become personally involved with the situation. One minute we are alive and functioning, living together in this world and the next… “one of us would be gone – one mind less, one world less”. Np the rest of the essay is lighthearted and jovial as the group finds amusement when the head jailer recounts anecdotes, which both shock and appall the reader.
Orwell joins in on the joke probably because he is so relieved that the execution is over that he will laugh at anything. But the reader is not allowed to forget or lose sympathy for the dead prisoner, who “pissed on the floor from fright”, who was “a hundred yards away”. This sentence seems too change the whole mood and pattern of the last paragraph. It contrasts greatly to the joviality and lightheartedness and it reminds the reader of what has just happened and of the seriousness and wrongness of it.
This is another example of how adept orwell is at bringing us on to his side and making us feel as he feels.