Apparatus’ collapse symbolizes generic concerns and a failure of justice

The apparatus in Franz Kafka’s story, “In the Penal Colony,” seems to face its collapse because of the effect of time and old parts. However, its failure can also be considered symbolic of the apparatuses’ failure to actually create justice and also because the story is representative of the Gothic genre.

There is a point in the story when the officer is telling the traveler that he is the appointed judge for the penal colony. Then ironically, the officer goes on to say, “The basic principle I use for my decisions is this: guilt is always beyond a doubt” (Kafka). How is the officer an accurate judge if he always pronounces someone who has been accused of a crime, guilty? Also, it seems that the punishment that the apparatus inflicts is far too harsh especially in the case of the condemned man in the story. He was supposed to salute the captain’s door every hour but fell asleep on the job. His commanding officer “found him curled up asleep. He got his horsewhip and hit him across the face… [the condemned man] cried out ‘throw away that whip or I’ll eat you up’”(Kafka). This small offence does not seem worthy of the torture brought on by the apparatus. It seems, even, that being hit in the face with a whip was too harsh a penalty for falling asleep. Perhaps this is why the apparatus falls apart, because it is supposed to bring justice, however fails to do so because the punishment is far too horrific and because the man could easily be innocent.

“In the Penal Colony” seems to conform to many aspects of the Gothic genre. There are countless instances of descriptive violence in the story. Another characteristic of the Gothic genre is the feature of the degeneration of the old commandment’s justice system. When the apparatus falls apart at the end, it seems to symbolize the collapse of this awful system. Kafka’s employment of degeneration when the apparatus collapses seems to support the terror and collapse of human design that the Gothic genre evokes.

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