Humanity in “A Hanging” by George Orwell In the essay “A Hanging” by George Orwell, there are distinctreferences to a deeper humanity of the situation, as well as a genuineawareness of humanity’s ambivalence. There are two powerful examples inthe essay that illuminates this contradiction. First, Orwell employsreferences to animal captivity, and provides a startling contrast to thebrutal living conditions of the prisoners with an event of animalisticaffection. Also, Orwell explores the duplicity of the human conscience,again, inspired by a seemingly meaningless event: the prisoner avoiding thepuddle on his way to being hanged. Such minor, yet crucial details arewhat make Orwell such an excellent writer-he sees the world as it is: fullof wonder and ugliness. Orwell describes the condemned prisoners as “brown silent mensquatting at the inner bars, with their blankets wrapped around them.Order now
” Hemakes them seem very much like caged animals in his description-theprisoners are, after all, waiting for death in “small animal cages. ” Theprisoner to be put to death is removed from his cell by six Indian warders. On his first appearance Orwell remarks that he is “a puny wisp of a man,with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes,” and that the prisoner wore anabsurd moustache. Orwell’s initial description of the Hindu seems hardlyhuman, ridiculous, not worth a care. The Hindu is handled “in a carefulcaressing grip,” Orwell observes, although this care does not exceed thecaution used in handling a struggling fish. Ironically, a “dreadful thing” occurs, a dog enters the scene innocentof what is about to happen, and begins to play with the prisoner causingdismay among everyone present.
This simple display of affection by thedog, forces them to see the terrible reality of what their doing: ending aman’s life. The animalistic treatment of the man begins to dissolve withthe appearance of a real, playful animal, compelling them to see him as aconscious, thinking person. Similarly, a small rational act of the prisoner disturbs Orwell’sconscience. Orwell notices the prisoner stepping “slightly aside to avoid apuddle on the path”, simultaneously he sees the mystery, the unspeakablewrongness of what they are about to do: end the mans life “when it is infull tide. ” Orwell is mortified by the realization that in a few minutestime “with a sudden snap one of us would be gone-one mind less, one worldless.
” Orwell begins to feel a kinship of humanity with the condemned man. It is here that we see Orwell’s ambivalence: he indicts himself and hiscompanions for acting against their true feelings. Perhaps not all presentat the hanging share Orwell’s compassion. The superintendent, at least, seems troubled by his conscience. Orwell characterizes him as reticent towards what is about to take place.
Twice Orwell describes him prodding the ground with his stick with his headdowncast. Instead of cancelling the execution, the hanging is pressed onwith even more haste, for the sake of their combined consciences-theprisoner’s cries, even muffled by the cloth bag are unbearable to theaudience in the small yard. Once the execution is over (as well as thecries to God), the superintendent pokes the body with his stick, remarking:”‘He’s all right. ‘” But there is no way the dead man is “all right”-he’ssimply dead.
It is the superintendent and the others who are now allright: their guilt dies as quickly as the prisoner’s cries for help. The following breakfast “seemed quite a homely, jolly scene after thehanging,” Orwell writes. “An enormous relief had come upon us now that thejob was done. One felt an impulse to sing, to break into a run, tosnigger.
All at once everyone began chattering gaily. ” They all seem tobe relieved that this horrible deed is out of the way and they can go onwith the normalities of prison life. These people seem only concerned withtheir own feelings, and not of the death of a man. They are able to eatand drink with the dead man only a hundred yards away; being distanced fromtheir act consoles them.
The hundred yards that separates them may as wellbe a million-the act is largely forgotten. George Orwell’s experiences in Burma reveal the hideous contradictionin all human beings; Orwell shows that he has a great understanding of theambivalence of humanity, taken from his own life experience. He never oncementions the condemned mans guilt: Orwell is concerned with .