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What is the central theme/concern of A Hanging by George Orwell? 

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brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted August 28, 2013 at 7:50 PM via web

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What is the central theme/concern of A Hanging by George Orwell? 

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 28, 2013 at 11:37 PM (Answer #1)

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George Orwell's non-fiction text "A Hanging" provides his first hand account of the hanging of a Hindu man. The man, on the way to the gallows, sidesteps a puddle in order to insure that his feet do not get wet. Orwell found this curious given the man's fate (death). 

The text's theme revolves around the inhumane nature of the taking of a human life and one's recognition of the insignificant things in life. While the man may not truly consider the unnecessary sidestep, this action spoke loudly to Orwell. Compounded by a view into his mind, "I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man," Orwell's dialogue mirrors the sickening feeling which came over him during the experience. The opening of the text parallels Orwell's feelings of disgust with his heavy and emotion laden word choice: sodden, sickly, condemned, bare, and silent. 

Orwell, in recollecting his experience, does prove to posses a true poetically ironic "voice" when he includes the actions of the stray dog (although we as readers can only believe that the dog actually existed) as a doppelganger of himself. Although he seemed to have wished to speak out against the atrocity, being a policeman did not allow him the luxury. The dog, then, allows him the necessary interruption to the action to force readers to consider the crime against nature (the murder of the man). 

Orwell's theme, or concern, is that the life of any healthy man should never be taken from him (murder is a crime against nature). The use of the dog and the rainy day supports Orwell's stand that the hanging "upsets" nature. 

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