Theme and message

The main theme in George Orwell’s short story, “A Hanging”, is capital punishment. Through this essay-like story, the author argues against capital punishment, which he considers morally wrong, regardless of the crime the convict committed. This is why the author focuses on the process of the execution and does not give any details as to why the man was being executed.

The theme of capital punishment is enhanced through the motif of bureaucracy (administrative procedures), which turns killing another person into an ordinary act of ‘justice’, and through the motif of the dehumanising prison system. The jail described in the story dehumanises both the inmates who are reduced to an animal-like status and the jailers who have to become insensitive to executions to adapt to the prison system.

Table of contents

Capital punishment

The text explores in detail the process of an execution by hanging in imperial Burma. A convicted man, whose crime we do not know, is taken to be executed. The narrator, an observer to the events, adopts a sarcastic and critical perspective on the whole process. Sarcasm is noticeable when the narrator contrasts the miserable condition of the prisoners and the convicted man, with the extreme measures taken by the jailers to conduct the execution. The man ...

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