Before analyzing the themes of “In the Penal Colony”, let’s take a look at brief overview of the story.
The story, “In the Penal Colony”, is a fantasy-allegory portraying the essential situation of faith within the modern world. The explorer, representing the humanitarian outlook of a secularist tradition, visits an earth that’s in a state of sin. The previous commandant created and arranged the penal colony and invented its dreadful equipment of justice/injustice—names him the god of an authoritarian religion. Somehow he misplaced his power over the colony, however sooner or later he might return and reclaim it. Meanwhile his fanatic disciple, the officer, serves the colony as its police officer, choose, and executioner.
What the explorer should select on this island is both morality or spirituality, for Kafka regards the second one as having suffered schism. The Old Order is revoltingly sadistic, however, based on the officer’s testimony, it does provide humankind redemption by an agonizing ritual of ache. “How all of us absorbed the look of transfiguration on the face of the sufferer,” exults the officer. “What times these were, my comrade!”
Nevertheless, the explorer has no issue condemning the Old Order’s inquisitorial severity: “The injustice of the procedure and the inhumanity of the execution were undeniable.”
The New Order is humane, sentimental, and related with the colony’s financial and political restoration. It permits the machine to fall into disrepair whereas bettering the island’s harbor installations. The New Order, nonetheless, lacks the power of conviction to confront the practices of the Old Order straight and abolish them outright. It is slack, shallow, and worldly, unable to supply humanity greater than palliatives and fleshly indulgences. The new commandant immerses himself in a sea of admiring girls, who weaken the legislation’s rigor by erotic enticements.
Read About: Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” Analysis
The explorer, whereas satisfied of the Old Order’s injustice, can also be cautious to maintain his distance from the brand new dispensation’s slovenly methods. He admires the officer’s dedication to his religion and willingness to martyr himself to the machine. “If the judicial process which the officer cherished have been actually so close to its end . . . then the officer was doing the appropriate thing; in his place the explorer wouldn’t have acted in any other case.” Unlike the officer, the explorer is adrift in a sea of aimless, situational ethics, anchored to no absolute commonplace, skilled solely in rational positivism.
In the hour of its self-destruction, the machine turns into animated as a horrifying monster that exhibits its enamel because it jabs the officer’s physique and drives its iron spike into his brow, murdering him with out granting him absolution or transcendence.
Themes of “In the Penal Colony” include:
Theme of Justice and Injustice
The story issues the administration of justice in the penal colony. A time has just lately handed when the operation of the colony’s judicial system acquired well-liked help and approval. But this approval was gained by the recognition of the architect of the justice system and the execution machine, the Commandant. The new Commandant exhibits no enthusiasm for his predecessor’s social order. Rather than making an attempt to actively reform the system, it seems he’s hoping to alter issues by benign neglect. In the meantime the previous judicial system nonetheless operates, due to the dedication of the previous Commandant’s assistant, an officer who sees it as his obligation to protect the machine which inflicts the identical deadly punishment on all who’re charged, no matter their crime.
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The colony’s judicial system doesn’t acknowledge the idea of injustice. Prisoners aren’t allowed to defend themselves. They are accused by phrase of mouth—within the case of the condemned man within the story, by his superior officer—after which executed with out a judicial listening or any probability to defend themselves. It is important, and an instance of irony, that when the guardian of the machine offers up his personal life on the finish of the story, the sentence which was speculated to have been inscribed on his physique, had the machine labored correctly, was “BE JUST.”
Theme of Guilt and Innocence
The officer who oversees the execution machine considers one of many principal deserves of the colony’s judicial system to be the truth that guilt is rarely questioned. “My guideline is this: Guilt isn’t to be doubted. Other courts can’t comply with that precept, for they include a number of opinions and have greater courts to scrutinize them. This isn’t the case right here.” If the story have been merely concerning the strategies of coping with remote acts of prison conduct—petty theft, for instance, the plot could possibly be learned as an exaggerated touch upon the harsh and inhumane punitive strategies of fundamentalist techniques of legislation. However, the condemned man’s crime
is a reasonably minor one: he fell asleep on obligation and shouted again at his captain. The execution machine turns into an emblem for the judgment that each one folk should finally face. Due to the machine’s twelve-hour cycle, victims turn out to be acutely aware of their sinfulness earlier than the end comes. Guilt is written on the physique whereas the physique clings to life, and within the time remaining the prisoner should face his lack of innocence.
Theme of Punishment
This has been an important theme of “In the Penal Colony” as the unique characteristic of the colony’s judicial system is that there isn’t any gradation of punishment. The punishment, loss of life, is similar it doesn’t matter what the crime, besides in a single regard. The Harrow’s needles inscribe a special sentence on the physique of every condemned particular person. The phrases compose each a linguistic sentence (a collection of phrases) and a penal sentence (the condemned particular person’s punishment). This sentence is programmed into the machine at the beginning of the execution course of by the working officer. The prisoner just isn’t informed what it’s earlier than the machine is switched on. “He’ll learn it on his body.” The sentence is straight associated to whichever commandment has been damaged. Readers are given two examples. The prisoner who fell asleep on obligation and shouted at his captain “will have written on his body: HONOR THY SUPERIORS!” The officer, in a weird act of sudden self-condemnation, selects his personal sentence: “BE JUST.”
Theme of Choices and Consequences
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The explorer and the officer are those characters within the story who act decisively, in accordance with their personal beliefs. The soldier and the condemned man are submissive and merely play the roles assigned to them by the judicial course of. They make a half-hearted try to take management of their lives on the finish of the story, however they don’t strongly assert their need to depart the colony sufficient to make it occur. The explorer, as an outsider, is positioned within the place of essential commentator. He is aware of this, and likewise the officer seeks his assist as a result of he sees the explorer’s presence as another ploy of the brand new Commandant in his efforts to destabilize the previous order. The explorer’s Western European background is repeatedly emphasized. The explorer chooses to declare his place to the officer, but additionally chooses to not report his views to the brand new Commandant. The officer, realizing that even with no formal and public declaration of criticism from the explorer that his efforts to prop up the previous system of justice are doomed to failure. In mild of this, he chooses to simply accept the implications of his personal system and throws himself on the mercy of the machine.
Theme of Science and Technology
The execution machine is a grotesque torture equipment. Its workings are described in nice element within the story. Though it’s not extremely technical, it emphasizes the mechanical, no-room-for-error nature of the punishment course of, as meted out by its operator, the officer. The explorer, who seems to be from an extra enlightened background, appears at first uninterested within the machine. The officer, so pleased with the previous Commandant’s invention, is outwardly unaware that the machine, though horrifically environment friendly in its execution, can also be comically grotesque. It is just like the brain-child of a mad professor, as may be presented in a conventional horror story, and Kafka offers it with the standard demise for such machines. It breaks aside whereas within the means of dispatching its final sufferer, presumably symbolizing humankind’s misplaced reliance on machines to carry out completely. At the end of the story the explorer leaves the island by rowing to his steamer, one other technical invention of the modern age, however one with out the punitive overtones of the killing machine.
These were the few themes of “In the Penal Colony”, however, the conclusion of the story has puzzled many readers. Because the explorer has denounced the Old Order as inhumane for its merciless therapy of the soldier-prisoner, he could be anticipated to exhibit his personal humaneness by taking the freed man aboard his boat as he leaves the island. Instead, he warns him with a heavy rope to stop him “from attempting the leap.” Perhaps Kafka means to have the explorer present his contempt for the condemned man’s beforehand demonstrated refusal to extricate the officer from the machine’s harrowing needles. In impact, the explorer enacts the adage, “A plague on both your houses!” In permitting the explorer to escape from the colony, Kafka additionally permits him to evade a significant selection between a purposeful, however, blood-drenched faith and a purposeless however humane secularism.
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