“A Hanging” written by George Orwell, depicts the tragedy of taking a healthy man’s life, through an abundant amount of similes, imagery, and symbolism. The main focus of this essay is centered around the hanging, and the events which precede and follow the action itself. The reader never becomes aware of what crime the condemned man committed. Therefore, there is no room to judge if this ultimate punishment is just. The tone dramatically shifts throughout the essay, giving rise to changes of emotion by the reader. Yet, it is the emotions of the characters are predominantly responsible for these shifts in the essay. Capital punishment has been a heated and most debated issue for decades. Each character in “A Hanging” deals with this immoral act of murder differently, affecting the tone of the essay.
Orwell begins the essay, describing the setting elaborately to a point where it seems tangible. The reader becomes aware that the essay starts in jail and Orwell further depicts it through the use of a simile. The jail cells are “like small animal cages.” It becomes that apparent the jail is probably scanty and congested with prisoners. The first character that is introduced is the condemned man. His crime is unknown, however, it is undoubtably sever. This raises questions in the readers mind as to whether the man truly deserves to die. As the guards put the handcuffs on him, the condemned man put up no struggle. He basically accepted the death that was about to come to him. “..he stood quite unresisting, yielding his arms limply to the ropes, as though he hardly noticed what was happening.” The condemned man shows no emotions, perhaps he chooses not to display them or may accept the wrongs he did that caused him to be in this situation. This creates the initial sympathetic, lonely tone.
Standoffish from the rest of the group, is the first notice of the superintendent. The superintendent represents desensitization. After taking men’s lives on a daily basis, the act of murder is nothing less than a routinely schedule he follows. His heartless, lack of feelings eventually modifies the way in which the essay is perceived. “For God’s sake hurry up Francis. The man ought to have been dead by now.” The superintendent becomes irritable when his schedule is off kilter. Through his repudiating mannerisms, the essay shifts from sympathy to insensitive.
As the guard and the condemned man make their way to the gallows, a dog interrupts the solemnity. The canine, described as “a large wooly dog” galloped around frantically even making an attempt to lick the condemned man. “…it danced and gambolled just out of his reach, taking everything as part of the game.” At this point in the essay, it is hard for the reader to see the dog as a symbolic figure. However, later there are apparent parallels to the dog and the condemned man. As the condemned man is reciting to his god before the hanging, the dog whines his own chant. After the man’s death, “the dog sobered and conscious of having misbehaved itself slipped after them.” It is almost as if the dog represents the condemned man’s hidden emotions. The man carries a concrete facade, but inside it impossible to be insensitive. For instance, when he was being taken out of his cell in the beginning, on the outside he showed no opposition, but on the inside he most likely felt like the excitable, frantic dog. After the hanging, the dog was sorry for its previous outrageous behavior, just as the man was mostly likely repentant for his crime(s). It really seems that the inner feeling of the condemned man can be viewed through the dog. The dog adds a more lively tone to the essay, as opposed to the morbid superintendent and the silenced man.