A Hanging by George Orwell

The essay ‘ A Hanging’ by George Orwell describes an incident of hanging one prisoner. Orwell describes the event in his usual dramatic and ironic style. The essay is remarkable for the vivid characters that Orwell has portrayed. Like ‘Shooting an Elephant’, the incident of hanging takes place in Burma where he worked for some time. The essay comments on the unavoidability of and the submission to death.

The writer describes the event of hanging one prisoner in Burma. The prisoner was a Hindu, with shaven head, vague liquid eyes and a thick sprouting moustache. Though confronted with death, the prisoner was not bothered by the fear of death. He just neglected the warders who were taking him to the gallows. The warders were accompanied by an army doctor, a jailer, a superintendent. The doctor was in a hurry to take the prisoner to the gallows because till the job was not over, the prisoners couldn’t get their breakfast. As the procession proceeded further, a dreadful thing took place. One large woolly dog jumped on the prisoner. Everybody stood aghast because of the strange event. The angry superintendent ordered to catch the dog. The prisoner paid no attention even to this strange incident. When the dog was caught by someone, the procession resumed.

The prisoner walked quite steadily. The writer was stunned by the thought that after some moments this healthy, conscious man was going to die, who at that moment was alive just like all other people in the prison were alive. The writer, then, in an elaborate way describes how the prisoner was pushed to the gallows.

As the hangman fixed the rope round the prisoner’s neck, the final drama began. Even up to that moment the prisoner was behaving courageously. He started to cry out to the god, “Ram! Ram! Ram !” But it wasn’t urgent and fearful prayer. It was rather steady rhythmical, “almost like the tolling of bell”. The incessant call of Ram! Ram!” was making restless to everyone. That’s why the same thought was in everyone’s mind: “oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that abominable noise !”

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Suddenly the superintendent gave an order and everything stopped. Everyone felt relieved from the unknown burden. The superintendent confirmed the death of the prisoner. The final moments of the prisoner’s hanging were so torturous that when he was dead, everyone started to laugh for no reason. The jailer told the superintendent that everything was okay because he had seen cases where the doctor had to confirm the death by pulling the prisoner’s legs. The courageous nature of the prisoner was also torn by the Eurasian boy who was walking beside the writer. He told the writer that when the prisoner heard his appeal had been dismissed and the death sentence was finalized, he pissed on the floor. Towards the end of the essay, all together enjoy a drink offered by the superintendent and burst into laughter recalling the anecdote told by the jailer.

Chief features
Brevity or shortness is an important feature of an essay. But this compactness does not arise from the superficiality or lack of knowledge of its author. In the present essay, the writer has captured a very limited time span, to be precise, it is hardly of eight minutes. It begins at eight ‘o clock and ends at eight minutes past eight. But the drama that has taken place during these eight minutes throws light on the varied human tendencies.

It is expected that a person who is confronting death must be frightened. But in the essay, it happens in the other way. The prisoner walks to the gallows steadily and starts to call out the god in a rhythmical tone. He is not at all afraid of death, on the contrary, the jailer, the doctor, the writer and the other people are upset because of the continuous chant of the words in a solemn tone. Though death is an ultimate truth, everyone is scared of death. Naturally, we wonder about the prisoner’s courage. But then we are told that the prisoner was also an ordinary man because when he had heard the news about the dismissal of his news, he was terrified by the thought of death and had urinated in the cell.

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The character of the prisoner in his last moments can be contrasted with the other people present there. It appears that not the prisoner but the other people were scared of death. That’s why they were in a hurry to close down the prisoner’s prayer. And when he is dead, they start to laugh unnecessarily. It indicates how terribly they were upset during those last moments.

In epics and tragedies, there is a very serious treatment to a subject like death. But George Orwell, being a Modern writer, points out the paradoxes and ironies not only in life but also in death. Since the essay deals with a serious subject like death, the proper mood is created in the very opening paragraph where Orwell describes the sad and gloomy atmosphere in the seriousness gets supplemented by black or dark humour.

The head jailer tells the army doctor about the preliminaries of the prisoner’s hanging saying that everything is prepared “satisfactorily”. The doctor asks the jailer to quick march because unless “this job is over”, the prisoner’s can’t get their breakfast. When the hangman pulls the rope and the prisoner is hung, the superintendent reaches there, observes the dead body and remarks, “He’s all right”. Even the jailer’s anecdote about the doctor who used to confirm the death of a prisoner by pulling his legs is quite ironical.

The present essay is personal in nature and informal in tone. The style is simple and yet dignified. The language is the language of everyday speech. The emphatic utterance of ‘is’ (‘iss’) by the jailer or the order given by the superintendent to the hangman (‘Chalo’) makes the language more lively. The essay is also remarkable for the writer’s minute observations. He describes the jail or the characters with the utmost details.

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Check your progress:-

Choose the correct option:
1. Francis was the name of……… .
a. the doctor
b. the prisoner
c. the head jailer
d. the superintendent
2. The prisoner’s procession towards gallows stopped suddenly, because……… .
a. the prisoner’s death sentence was cancelled.
b. the gallows was not prepared.
c. a dog appeared in the yard.
d. the prisoner was already dead.
3. When the rope was fixed around the prisoner’s neck, the prisoner……… .
a. became unconscious
b. started to cry.
c. urinated.
d. started his prayer incessantly.
4. When the prisoner was hung, everyone ……… .
a. felt very sad
b. started to laugh unnecessarily
c. abused the prisoner.
d. saluted the prisoner.
5. When the prisoner heard the dismissal of his appeal……… .
a. he cried
b. he urinated on the floor in the cell
c. he went mad
d. he remained calm and quiet.

Keys to check your progress.
1. (c), 2. (c), 3. (d),
4. (b), 5. (b)

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