2 Pre-reading Background knowledge: Orwell and colonialism Pre-war (WWII) British English:The type of this essay: a personal narrative employed for the purposes of argument and persuasion. (What is Orwell’s argument in this essay? What does he try to persuade us? How does he achieve his purpose?) (Hint: par. 10)
3 Post-readingWhy is the appearance of a dog in the prison yard “a dreadful thing”?In par. 10 Orwell writes: “He and we were a party of men walking together…” This suggests a kind of commonality among those present. Do you think Orwell sees himself as one member of a party of men, one among equals—or whether he portrays himself as separate from the others present? What evidence can be found for either view? What are the implications of these two views?
4 Post-readingHow old is this “Eurasian boy” (par. 18)? What does this usage (is it the same as calling an Afro-American “boy”?) tell us about the circumstances in which Orwell finds himself?
5 Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 2. The major characters include: the narrator (Orwell); the prisoner; the superintendent; the dog. (The warders and the hangmen are minor characters.) The dog, as a major character, provides important comic irony to the situation as a symbol of naïve and unpremeditated life-force in contrast to the doom of the ensuing hanging.
6 Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 4. Orwell opposes capital punishment, thinking it an unconscionable act. He comes to this realization when the prisoner, walking to his doom, steps to avoid a puddle. In this act, Orwell recognizes that the man is a “healthy, conscious man” with a reasoning mind. He further realizes that in fewer than two minutes, this being will not exist.
7 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 1. The main point is that capital punishment is unconscionable. Par. 10 states the thesis most explicitly, in particular sentence 2: “When I saw the prisoner…I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.”
8 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 2.A. Par. 2, the prisoner; par. 6 the dog; par. 13B. The fourth sentence of par. 12 (“It was…a whine.”). All of par. 12 is oriented toward sound imagery.C. Examples: “I watched…in front of me.” (par. 9); “Everyone had changed colour. The Indians…like bad coffee…” (13)In par. 2, the warders gripping the prisoner are described “like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water.”
9 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 3.A. “…like yellow tinfoil” let us imagine the crumply, pale quality of the light.B. “the condemned cells…like small animal cages”C. (1) The warder’s careful grip on the prisoner is compared to the careful handling of a fish.
10 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 3.C. (2) The prisoner’s moustache is compared to the overstatement of a comic actor’s makeup.C. (3) The prisoner’s cries to his god are compared to the rhythm of a tolling bell.C. (4) The Indian’s skin tone is described as sallowing.C. (5) The prisoner’s dead body is compared to the inanimate weight of a stone.
11 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 4.A. Orwell concentrates almost exclusively on this one incident, giving little or no background information on the incident or on his place in it.B. The soddenness of the atmosphere matches the sadness of the situation. The “brown, silent men…squatting” are presented as nearly less than human. The description of the prisoner emphasizes his helplessness. The comic element stresses the absurdity of the situation, which is echoed at the end in the inappropriate laughing and joking.
12 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 4.C. The bugle call is presented as singular, desolate, and thin—much like the prisoner himself. The dog licking the condemned man’s face indicates that the dog responds to the man simply as another living thing, not as a prisoner. This emphasizes Orwell’s realization of his basic “quality” with the prisoner as expressed in par. 10.
13 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 4.C. The dog’s whining is its response to the prisoner’s last cries and juxtaposes with their previous encounter. In pars. 15 and 17, the dog is represented as being conscious of the prisoner’s death, as though it had lost a friend. This is in ironic unity with the fact that at the dog’s entrance, of all people to run to, it chooses the condemned man.
14 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 4.D. The prisoner’s stepping aside to avoid the puddle indicates that he is still a conscious and reasoning individual, emphasizing Orwell’s point, of the wrongness of killing him. The superintendent’s casually poking the ground indicates his lack of compassion.
15 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 4. E. The superintendent’s own words convey his impatience and lack of compassion directly rather than through the narrator’s interpretation. The Eurasian boy’s conversation indicates the sense of triviality that pervades the scene for all except Orwell (and, of course, the prisoner!). The dialogue in pars emphasizes the contrast between Orwell’s deep personal realization and the mockery of his life that imbues others.
16 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 4.F. His chief purpose is to contrast the inherent value of life with it destruction by other.
17 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 5. Orwell is both a participant and an observer whose personal, if not primary, involvement forms the basis of the essay’s theme.
18 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 6.A. His emphasis on the prisoner’s comic and diminutive appearance is ironic in that it is not pleasant comedy but, rather, comedy of absurdity.B. The dog is frolicking and full of life, contrasting solemnly with the imminent loss of life. The dog chooses, among all others, the prisoner, thus creating the irony of situation.
19 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 6.C. The major irony is between the moment-to-moment contrast of the prisoner’s existence and nonexistence.D. The hangman might be the next one to be executed.
20 Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 6.E. He (the prisoner) is not at all “all right”! He is dead. What is “all right” is the situation for the superintendent.F. Example: par. 17: the dog’s awareness that he had done something wrong’ and the “jolliness” of the postexecution breakfast; par. 22: Francis’s description of the troublesome, refractory dead man just 100 yard away.
21 Mixing PatternsThe description of the dog breaking the solemn procession makes vivid the humanness of the prisoner. Similarly the way the prisoner walks, and then steps aside the puddle, makes the prisoner something other than an objectified thing—prisoner—and suddenly a person. The long description of the details of the hanging itself illustrate the grotesque nature of the enterprise.