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In "A Hanging," why does Orwell choose to describe the condemned prisoners’ cells as...

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hkwon36047 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted April 5, 2013 at 5:45 AM via web

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In "A Hanging," why does Orwell choose to describe the condemned prisoners’ cells as looking “like animal cages” and the handling of the prisoner as “like men handling a fish”?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 7, 2013 at 9:37 AM (Answer #1)

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It is clear that this powerful essay presents capital punishment as a profoundly dehumanising thing. Again and again, the essay describes the way that condemned prisoners are treated and the manner in which they are executed as being something that is incredibly wrong. Note the impact that the cries of the man who is about to be hung have on all present in the following description:

Everyone had changed colour. The Indians had gone grey like bad coffee, and one or two of the bayonets were wavering. We looked at the lashed, hooded man on the drop, and listened to his cries--each cry another second of life; the same thought was in all our minds: oh, kill him quickly, get it over, stop that abominable noise!

The use of the simile to describe the change of the complexion of the Indians, "grey like bad coffee," combined with the description of the "wavering" bayonets, serves to highlight the way in which what is being done is wrong at some sort of deep level, and the wrongness of this action is something that is recognised by all present. The descriptions of the prisoner and the prisoners' cells as being like animals supports this assertion, as capital punishment leads to humans treating other humans as if they were less than humans. By comparing them to animals Orwell reinforces his central message which focuses on how wrong capital punishment is and how it causes humans to be treated as being what they are not: inhuman.

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