What is the thesis of "A Hanging" by George Orwell?
George Orwell's thesis in "A Hanging" can be put in his own words:
I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.
It can also be paraphrased slightly more succinctly and precisely:
Capital punishment is an evil and grisly business.
Or somewhat less succinctly but more comprehensively:
Capital punishment is an evil and grisly business and everyone involved in it knows and feels its wrongness.
Orwell juxtaposes the squalid physical details of captivity and the preparations for the execution with his own sudden realization, occasioned by the condemned man stepping aside to avoid a puddle, of the wickedness of permanently destroying the consciousness of a healthy man, leaving, in the space of a few minutes "one mind less, one world less."
The way in which those involved in the hanging feel the wrongness of their task and the falseness of their position is emphasized throughout the essay by the uneasy manner in which they act and communicate, then by their relief and laughter when the man is dead.
I found that I was laughing quite loudly. Everyone was laughing. Even the superintendent grinned in a tolerant way. "You'd better all come out and have a drink," he said quite genially. "I've got a bottle of whisky in the car. We could do with it."
Orwell's focus on the shared laughter of relief at the end of the essay demonstrates the guilt and complicity of all the men who have taken part in the hanging. By mentioning that he was laughing along with the rest of them, having just told us what he has been thinking, Orwell invites us to speculate on the true state of mind of his laughing accomplices. They seem to be happy to distract themselves with anything: drink or gallows humor or false camaraderie, from reflecting on what they have just done.