In 1931, George Orwell wrote a magnificent essay simply entitled, “A Hanging.” That piece is a hauntingly simple story of a prison execution. There is no fantasy in the dying and we are made real and substantial witnesses.
Here’s an excerpt from the essay:
It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were working — bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming — all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned–reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone — one mind less, one world less.
As George Orwell records what he sees, we are left — 80 years later — in the wake of a strange aftermath of remorse while reading.
We wonder if there is a better way ahead of us than killing those who have harmed us.
If we use violence to punish violence — how will we ever be rid of violent acts?
If we are defined by our behaviors — and made better by our deeds — can it be possible to live a human life without the need to defile the beauty of our vessel in order to eradicate the evil that hides within?