Theme Of Capital Punishment In A Hanging By George Orwell

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The year is circa 1930 and the scene opens on a prison yard in Burma. George Orwell writes of his experience in this prison yard overseeing the hanging of a frail Hindu man and how the events he witnessed completely changed his outlook on capital punishment from retentionist to outspokenly abolitionist, even leading him to leave his job as execution overseer to later become a writer. In his classic short story “A Hanging”, George Orwell uses a variety of characters whose thoughts, words and deeds perfectly represent his abolitionist attitude towards capital punishment. The first character readers are introduced to is the condemned prisoner. Immediately Orwell uses this characters’ physical description and environment to invoke sympathy in …show more content…
He argues that capital punishment is immoral, dehumanizing for all involved, and denies the condemned the basic human right of life and dignity. This is made clear in his use of animalization towards the condemned prisoner- He is described as a caged animal and a fish that may slip away at any moment when in reality he is as human as his executioner and his captors. Similarly, Orwell puts emphasis on the discomfort of the prison officials. The superintendent refuses to make eye contact with or interact with the man whose death he is overseeing, turning instead to poke rocks with a stick. The warders become sickly and pale when the prisoner begins chanting the name of God, and Orwell – one who has seen countless executions before – has a devastating epiphany on the horror that is capital punishment. The moral argument is by far the strongest argumentative point made by Orwell in his short story and one that is clearly summarized in the moment of his epiphany. After describing how the prisoner sidestepped the puddle, Orwell writes, “It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. 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 in full tide.” (Orwell 3) In this moment he sees the immorality of ending a human

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