Could the Officer really be good?

I believe that the Officer from “In the Penal Colony” is truly a good person, however horrible some of his actions may be. He took pride in his work and always believed what he was doing was right until the very end, and I feel like that is a major component of a good person.

While determining what makes a good person is very difficult, one of my personal criteria is striving to do what is right. Throughout this story, the Officer did this, for he truly believed he was carrying out justice in his punishments. When first describing the machine to the Traveller, he said he was performing an “honorable duty” and that he was “certainly the person best able to explain our style of sentencing” (Kafka par. 8). He was proud of his duties and responsibilities, and we are never proud of something that we do not believe is right. When deflecting some of the Traveller’s questions about the justness of their sentencing procedure, the Officer once again believed he was serving justice, for he said “It would be useless to give him that information. He experiences it on his own body.” (Kafka par. 11)

In the condemnation of the Condemned Man, the Officer believed he had sufficient evidence to judge him, for “Guilt is always beyond a doubt”. When the Condemned Man supposedly threatens a captain by saying “Throw away that whip or I’ll eat you up”, (Kafka par. 12) I would think he was guilty as well.

One must consider the fact that this was a society dominated by military influences, and therefore, before condemning the Officer, realize that he also would have been punished in the times of the Old Commandant if he had spoken out against the machine and this form of execution. He was following orders, and by the time the New Commandant took charge, the Officer believed in the machine and its justness. Once the Officer realized no one else believed in the machine as he did, he freed the Condemned Man and was willing to subject himself to the same torturous death that he had put so many others through. This, in my opinion, is what ultimately makes him good. Even though me met a quicker death without all of the torturous hours, he wanted to put himself through it, and I think he was trying to redeem himself. In my opinion, he succeeded, and therefore was a good man.




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2 responses to “Could the Officer really be good?

  1. Samantha Cooke

    I would disagree. Good and evil are concepts that are defined very vaguely, and they change based on the context they are viewed through. A person who is upheld as a saint or a role model in one culture may be considered a villainous character in another. Yet there still must be a standard to which all are held to be considered as “basically good” or “basically evil”. To take the obvious (and much used) path: if one eliminated all the members of a particular race, religion, or other group out of a belief that they were all “bad” in some way (i.e. unrepentant sinners for continuing to worship (a) “false god(s)”), then regardless of the strength of their belief, I would never consider that person as “good”. I would not call that person “evil”, either: for me, evil implies knowledge that what one does is wrong, but does it anyway. I agree that the Officer is not an “evil” person. As you pointed out, he tries to do what he believes is right. But there is still a very inherent wrongness to his deeds, violating the natural rights of the condemned peoples. And so, I believe the Officer falls into the shades of grey – neither “good” nor “evil”.

  2. siegvald

    I have to disagree and say that the Officer was not a good person. He did not appear to believe in justice: he handed down a terrible sentence for an extremely minor infraction—and that from a one-sided testimony, which was probably not even true. “I’ll eat you up” really doesn’t sound like something a grown man would threaten another man with. I think the Officer was just obsessed with what the apparatus was capable of and was addicted to witnessing torture. There are people who are proud of things that they believe are right, but if they are insane or psychologically ill, their perception of what is right becomes warped. There are, for example, serial killers who take pride in their murders, collecting body parts or creating shrines to commemorate their “accomplishments.” The murderer’s pride in what he does doesn’t make what he’s doing right: just the personal belief that what you’re doing is right doesn’t necessarily testify to its morality or legitimacy.

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