The self-destruction of the machine at the end of The Penal Colony is surely a symbol of the final unraveling of the penal system in the colony. The apparatus destroyed itself, much like the judicial system of the colony, which did not need the help of the traveller or the commandant to initiate its undoing.
The judicial system in the island is inherently flawed and thus bound for destruction. This is showed in the passage by the squeaking wheel of the machine: “Everything started moving. If the wheel had not squeaked, it would have been marvellous” (Kafka par. 15). The squeaky wheel is a congenital flaw of the machine, which, as hard as the officer may try at the present time, can not be removed. Another inherent flaw of the system is showed in the diagrams of the machine written by the previous commandant. The only people who seem to understand the diagrams are the officer and the deceased commandant which is seen when the officer presents the diagrams to the traveller: “These covered the paper so thickly that only with difficulty could one make out the white spaces in between. ‘Read it,’ said the Officer. ‘I can’t,’ said the Traveller. ‘But it’s clear,’ said the Officer” (Kafka par. 15). This exchange between the officer and the traveller demonstrates the absurdity of the the penal system since it seems that no one alive except the officer can make any sense of the current judicial system, making it impractical for use.
Finally, when the officer realizes that the traveller disagrees with the use of the apparatus he submits himself to the machine. The machine commences to stab the officer and self-destruct- the final coup de grace of the penal system. This final action symbolizes that the reign of the previous commandant and the penal system is over. The destruction of the apparatus occurs from within, and does not need to be destroyed by others because of the inherent flaws of the machine and the penal system. In conclusion, the destruction of the apparatus signifies the destruction of a flawed system, and that perhaps all flawed systems will eventually come to an end from within, without outside help.