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

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this disturbing story, Orwell explores and accentuates the trauma suffered by those who participate in and witness the taking of a human life. The mood is somber and has a surreal quality about it. The almost matter-of-fact narrative indicates that the speaker wishes not to become too intimately or emotionally involved in the situation but does, however, finds himself in a position where he, unfortunately, seems to have no choice because it is his duty.

The seemingly exaggerated precautions taken to lead the condemned man to his execution emphasize the unnatural nature of the incident. The condemned man is frail, small, and offers no resistance but is nevertheless heavily guarded and bound. It appears that he has accepted his fate and is calm. In contrast, his would-be executioners are anxious and unsettled. Their discomfort is a further indication that they are not happy about committing a distasteful and abnormal act.     

The prisoner's actions make the narrator realize the enormous brevity of life and brings into sharp focus our shared humanity. He insightfully grasps the fact that what is about to occur is a wasteful exercise. The disconcerting arrival of the dog and its playful acts deliberately contrasts the upsetting seriousness of an impending death with the exuberance of life. Its appearance unnerves the condemned man's captors because they are, at this moment, occupied with the business of death and do not want to be reminded of what life has to offer.

After the execution, the officers and others try to push the incident out of their minds by making jokes and laughing about previous executions. Their attempts are, however, a miserable failure. The tragic event of that day hangs on them like a heavy cloak, and even the superintendent's invitation that they should all have a drink does not lighten the mood. The repeated (almost hysterical) laughter of the narrator and the others illustrates how deeply traumatized they all are for having been party to an abomination.

In this story, Orwell adequately expresses his disdain for what he believes is a violation of all that is natural. Deliberately killing another human being for whatever reason is an atrocity and a crime against nature.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "A Hanging," Orwell is chiefly concerned with capital punishment. Specifically, Orwell demonstrates his opposition to the death penalty through recalling this incident from his experience as a police officer in Burma.

To do this, Orwell uses imagery to create a somber mood, which is, in turn, symbolic of the act which is about to take place. In the opening lines, for example, Orwell notes how the light outside the cells is like "yellow tinfoil," and he compares death row to "animal cages."

As the story progresses, Orwell watches as the condemned man steps aside to avoid a puddle on the ground. For Orwell, this is a moment of great significance because it makes him realize that in a few moments, this man, who is now so full of life, will be erased from the world:

He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone—one mind less, one world less. 

For Orwell, this essay gives him an opportunity to argue that executions are a meaningless waste of life.