Conscripted into evil

Something significant transpired a little more than halfway into Orwell’s story “A Hanging.” Those who don’t understand an tyrant’s need to make the oppressed a participant in their own oppression will miss it.

. The scene occurs as the prison guards lead the condemned Burmese man to the gallows. Orwell describes the hangman as “a grey-haired convict in the white uniform of the prison…”Now, the reader does not know why this executioner is in prison. He could have been convicted of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. Perhaps he was jailed for supposed crimes against the state.

Prison authorities entrust or draft this inmate into carrying out death sentences to another Burmese man. I thought about other instances where oppressed people are forced in one way or another to participate in actions that extend their subjugation. I remember reading details of the Emmett Till murder and how the perpetrators forced some of the community’s black men to participate.

Taylor Branch describes instances in which guards at Mississippi’s Parchman Prison forced hardened inmates to harass Freedom Riders who were jailed in 1961. What accounts for the oppressor’s need to  employ the persecuted as a tool of their own oppression? Is it a raw exercise of power or a recognition by the oppressor of the basic immorality of their position? Maybe both.

  1. DebbS said:

    I think that’s a certainly a factor. But, on the flip side, why do the oppressed go along with their oppressors?

  2. The executioner is a prisoner? I didn’t read it that way at all. When I read “wearing the white uniform of the prison” I understood it to be the white uniform of a prison employee not a prisoner. Am I missing something or perhaps Orwell was purposefully vague on this point?

  3. That wording led me to believe that Orwell was talking about a prisoner.

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