The most important characters in the short story “A Hanging” by George Orwell are the first-person narrator and the convict. However, you should also note that the prison employees (the superintendent, the head jailer, the warders, and the magistrates) are relevant for the social setting as a collective character. They illustrate the dehumanising effect of the prison system which turns death sentences into a bureaucratic, ordinary act.

The narrator

The narrator of the short story does not reveal his identity, but given that George Orwell served in the British Imperial Police in Burma, we can assume the narrator is a literary persona of the author.

The only thing the text reveals about the narrator’s outer characterisation is that he is working in law enforcement in Burma, as he is one of the witnesses to an execution by hanging.

Inner characterisation

The narrator’s inner characterisation is constructed based on his attitude towards the other characters and towards the hanging of the prisoner. The narrator’s observations about the prisoners and the convicted man suggest that he pities them: “We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages.”; “But he stood quite unresisting, yielding his arms limply to the ropes, as though he hardly noticed what was happening.” 

The narrator describes the actions and attitudes of prison employees with a subtle sarcasm, suggesting that six men guarding a skinny prisoner is an exaggerated measure.

As the execution convoy proceeds, a dog starts barking at the group. The narrator gets involved in leashing the dog, which suggests his willingness to help the prison warders, most likely as a part of his job: “Then we put my handkerchief through its collar and moved of...

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