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The Essay “The Hanging” by George Orwell

Everyone has only one life. If he dies, then his life ends. Everyone is afraid of death, so when a person commits really awful crimes, such as murder, he/she deserves an execution. Even though many human beings’ executions occurred in history, nobody has the right to kill even the guilty person. Nobody is perfect, which means that everyone at one point in life must have done something wrong, but no one deserves death as the final occurrence of his or her life. Orwell’s essay compares life and death to indicate that no one has the right to execute another person.

First, Orwell describes the difference between death and life on the way to the gallows by portraying how the environment is full of life. “A warden, detached from the escort, charged clumsily after the dog, but it danced and gambolled just out of the reach, talking everything as part of the game” (Orwell, p678). Orwell uses the example of a living dog and the warden to contrast with the prison, which is full of deaths. Furthermore, the prisoners are full of life as much as the wardens are. “All the organs of his body were working… bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming… all toiling away in solemn foolery.” Orwell emphasizes that although the prisoner is going to die, his body is alive. Death is coming unconsciously. In prison, the guilty convicts do not have control over their forthcoming deaths, so all they can do is to keep silent. “In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them” (Orwell, p675). It is very cruel to see how a living person becomes a corpse in just a couple of minutes.

Later, Orwell significantly shows death compared to the living at the gallows. Life still exists even right before execution. According to Orwell’s words, “At a word form Francis the two warders, gripping the prisoner more closely than ever, half led, half pushed him to the gallows and helped him clumsily up the ladder”(p677). They are going to take another life by their hands; however, death takes over life after the execution. “Suddenly the superintendent made up his mind. Throwing up his head, he made a swift motion with his stick, ‘ Chalo!’ he shouted almost fiercely” (Orwell, p677). Orwell points out very clearly about what the warders do in order to emphasize the motionless dead body, which reminds the readers how the now dead body was alive a few minutes ago.

After the hanging, Orwell indicates that life goes on but death maintains. Life never stops at a time. A single person’s death does not stop the rest from continuing with life. In Orwell’s essay, keepers’ lives go on after the prisoner’s execution. “My dear fellow,’ we said, ‘ think of all the pain and trouble you are causing to us!’ but no, he would not listen! Ach, he was very troublesome!” (Orwell, p678). They talk about how the “dead body” was; they tease and make fun of him. The “dead body” cannot respond to them to tell whether they are speaking the truth or not, because it is lifeless. On the other hand, death represents the finishing point in life. “The dead man was a hundred yards away” (Orwell, p678). Orwell modifies very clearly about what those prison keepers speak and do in order to emphasize the non-speaking and non-moving dead body, which reminds the readers that a few minutes ago, the dead body was alive.

In conclusion, Orwell criticizes the execution by comparing life and death to show the readers that no one has the right to take another person’s life. He chooses to write about various living aspects in the prison at first, in order to emphasize that life is abundantly present everywhere. Orwell then modifies very clearly about the guilty person, who is just about to face execution. This is because he writes a lot about the person just before his death and readers are shocked about how death really is when it occurs to a living person through execution. By comparing and contrasting life and death, Orwell indicates that no single individual has the right to execute another human being.


Orwell, George. The Hanging. New York, NY: Signet Classic Publishers. 1931

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