A Dictator’s Victim

When reading Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, the officer carrying out the death sentences on the apparatus appeared to me to be victimized by a dictator, the previous commandant. This is reflected in three notions in the story. First of all, the officer states the authority of the commandant by mentioning that ”the organization of the entire penal colony is [the commandant’s] work”(par. 4. And nobody would “be able to alter the old plan” (par. 4). In these words the reader senses how the officer had put the previous commandant on a pedestal. At the end of the story this is underlined by the fact that they buried the previous commandant and erected a stone for him.  Second, the officer has adopted the idea that decision should be made by the individual rather than by the collective. It says: “Guilt is always beyond doubt. Other courts could not follow this principle, for they are made up of many heads” (par. 12). Here it becomes clear that the ability to judge is individualized rather than spread among a group of people. This is typical to a dictatorial society in which one person only is able to judge. The third notion that points towards a victimization of the officer is the way he speaks about the apparatus. At a certain moment the officer describes the working of the harrow as “artistic” (par.5). The fact that he uses such idioms for a machine that is supposed to kill somebody, to me shows that the officer does not know what he is doing. He has learned to admire the ingenious working of the apparatus and the ingeniousness of the inventor. He seems to be brainwashed.


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One response to “A Dictator’s Victim

  1. vrosengrant20

    I do agree that the Officer is brainwashed in a way, but I do not think he can be considered a victim. The Officer does idolize the old Commandment, but does not show any sign that he was punished by the old Commandment if he did not support the use of the apparatus. The Officer may have never received a negative stimulus when following the old Commandment in using the machine, but he does receive positive reinforcement in how he sees himself as a reinforcer of justice. The Officer saw himself doing good as an officer of the law and he idolized the old Commandment; this combination led to him brainwashing himself and staying in the old mindset of valuing the machine.

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