What Is "A Hanging" by George Orwell About?

"A Hanging," a narrative essay by George Orwell, describes the execution of a man by hanging. Inspired by his time serving in the Indian Imperial Police, Orwell wrote the essay based on experiencing a hanging firsthand.

Orwell's essay begins with a tone of discernible detachment. The speaker seems less experienced than his fellow policemen in the matter of execution, but approaches his observation of the task somewhat clinically. The first paragraph is a detailed description of the man being condemned; Orwell notes the movement of his muscles and distinctive gait. He goes on to detail a moment wherein the sentenced man, led by the shoulders by a police officer, neatly sidesteps a puddle.

With this observation, the speaker's tone and engagement change drastically. The action the man took to avoid wetting his feet sparks identification in the speaker. Suddenly, the task of execution is no longer clinical, and the condemned is seen as a living, breathing man. Orwell speaks to the gravity of taking a man's life, marking that his body is still full of vigor and does not wish to die. With this shift of view, Orwell identifies the man, a thinking being still taking air, as a part of the same group of which he is part. The essay ends by making note that with the man's death, the group is one man less.