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A Hanging - Tone Thru Literary Devices

Uploaded by Joe_Man500 on Oct 18, 2002

An Examination of Tone in Orwell's "A Hanging"



A dead man, hanging by his neck from a rope: such is the scene for George Orwell’s essay, “A Hanging.” In the essay, Orwell relates the tale of witnessing, first-hand, the execution-by-hanging of a Hindu inmate in a Burma prison. Throughout the essay, Orwell utilizes literary devices such as understatement, irony and epiphany to create an overall detached and condemning tone, for the purpose of pointing out the inherent wrongness in the taking of another’s life.

In “A Hanging,” Orwell’s understatements are used such a solemn and unfeeling way, that it is almost comical. He does this in order to confront the reader and force the reader to feel emotion. The narrator starts by coldly describing everything in detail in an unfeeling manner. He continues by emphasizing trivial details over the eminent execution of the Hindu man. This is shown in the head jailer’s emphasis on finishing the execution so that the other prisoners can eat. Orwell wants to make the reader realize the lack of humanity needed by the jailer in order for him to daily go through the procedure of a hanging. Next, he describes – in excruciatingly emotionless detail – the death-scene of the Hindu; describing the clanking noise of the mechanism, the twisting of the rope, and the dead, dangling body. Afterwards, the superintendent approaches the deceased prisoner. And, when confronted with the sudden loss of a living, breathing human being, his only response is, “He’s all right.” (40) Orwell attempts here, to show the de-humanizing that occurs when one regularly takes part in the death of another person. This forces the reader to come to grips with the inhumanity of taking another’s life.

Irony is also an important aspect of Orwell’s essay. Used in much the same fashion, the cold and unfeeling irony is further used as an indictment of execution. The most obvious source of irony in this essay occurs right before the death of the prisoner. At this point, the narrator has come to the conclusion that it is ultimately wrong to take someone else’s life. The very next thought that comes into his head is that he wishes they would hurry up and kill the prisoner already. The irony in this is that the narrator does not want harm to come to the Hindu, but knows there is nothing he can do to stop it, and thus,...

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Uploaded by:   Joe_Man500

Date:   10/18/2002

Category:   Literature

Length:   3 pages (718 words)

Views:   8297

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