Essay Assignment: A Critical Analysis of George Orwell's 'A Hanging'

George Orwell
George Orwell (Eric Blair), 1903-1950.

This assignment offers guidelines on how to compose a critical analysis of "A Hanging," a classic narrative essay by George Orwell.

Preparation

Carefully read George Orwell's narrative essay "A Hanging." Then, to test your understanding of the essay, take our multiple-choice reading quiz. (When you're done, be sure to compare your answers with those that follow the quiz.) Finally, reread Orwell's essay, jotting down any thoughts or questions that come to mind.

Composition

Following the guidelines below, compose a soundly supported critical essay of about 500 to 600 words on George Orwell's essay "A Hanging."

First, consider this brief commentary on the purpose of Orwell's essay:

"A Hanging" is not a polemical work. Orwell's essay is intended to express by example "what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man." The reader never finds out what crime was committed by the condemned man, and the narrative isn't primarily concerned with providing an abstract argument regarding the death penalty. Instead, through action, description, and dialogue, Orwell focuses on a single event that illustrates "the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide."

Now, with this observation in mind (an observation that you should feel free to either agree with or disagree with), identify, illustrate, and discuss the key elements in Orwell's essay that contribute to its dominant theme.

Tips

Keep in mind that you're composing your critical analysis for someone who has already read "A Hanging." That means you don't need to summarize the essay. Be sure, however, to support all your observations with specific references to Orwell's text. As a general rule, keep quotations brief. Never drop a quotation into your paper without commenting on the significance of that quotation.

To develop material for your body paragraphs, draw on your reading notes and on points suggested by the multiple-choice quiz questions. Consider, in particular, the importance of point of view, setting, and the roles served by particular characters (or character types).

Revision and Editing

After completing a first or second draft, rewrite your composition. Be sure to read your work aloud when you revise, edit, and proofread. You may hear problems in your writing that you can't see.