Officer was in love with the apparatus.

The Officer in “The Penal Colony” was a sadist, in love with the apparatus; and when he realized he was going to lose it, he decided he would rather die by its hand than live without it. 

It was he who knew “the most about the apparatus.”  (p. 7) and who had taken charge of it after the death of the Old Commandant.  He was obsessed with it:  knowing every last cog and wheel of its mechanisms, knowing just exactly what it needed when something broke down,  and pretending those “diagrams” actually contained some coherent script.   He could explain in absolute, minute detail the process the apparatus took as well as  the effect the apparatus had on a man’s body–emotionally as well as physically.  He really obtained great pleasure from watching men suffer from the harrower’s inscription process, always “standing close by”  to witness their “transfiguration.”  (p. 16) 

The very nature of the apparatus was sadistic:  it was a death instrument, yes, but the nature of the death was a prolonged experience brought about by excruciating torture.  The Officer loved this.  He loved his machine and referred to it as “my machine” (p. 14), and describing the executions as “performances” (p.8), and the work of the Harrow as “embellishment” and “decoration” (p.10) as if it was embroidering cloth and not a human body.  He did not care about justice at all but just wanted to see someone suffer gruesomely.  This is made very plain in his description of justice to the Traveler on p. 7-8.  The Condemned Man’s case was a weak one to begin with, and the Officer didn’t care about both sides of the story:   he was quick to assign guilt to get another victim in the apparatus and witness a bloody torture. 

By the time the Traveler comes to see what’s going on, the Officer is still considered young because he says “Here in the penal colony I have been appointed judge.  In spite of my youth.” It is my opinion that the Officer, in his impressionable youth, began to observe the executions under the guardianship of the Old Commandant; and while at first he may have had to convince himself that these condemned men were really getting their due punishment, any nagging feeling of guilt quickly turned into a sick pleasure.  The Old Commandant seemed to have it out for the young ones, not only by warping the Officer’s perception of justice and violence, but also by insuring other children had front row seats to the executions.  (p. 16)

In the end of the story, the Officer realizes that the apparatus is going to go away once the Traveler gives his statement to the New Commandant.  So, what does he do?  In a masochistic move, he put himself in the machine to die by its hand.  His little setup is going to disappear forever and he cannot bear it.  He would rather die.  If he cared about justice, there are other ways of meting it out.  But, it wasn’t justice he cared about, it was rather watching people suffer. 

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Officer was in love with the apparatus.

  1. Great post. It is clear that you had a strong argument behind your thesis. Your close reading was also done well. All of the points you made were clear throughout the novel. I especially like how you characterized both the officer and apparatus as sadistic. I agree with this because they both were cruel; the apparatus being crue by its functioning and the officer by being in love with the apparatus for its being. To be willing to lay down your own life at the hands of the issue (the apparatus) is an “obsessive” move. The ending reminded me of an everyday “love novel” where we see a brave hero risk their life for someone/something else. Even though the apparatus will still be taken away, the officer, in a frantic move, decides to takes his life instead, unable to bear seeing “his machind” being taken away.

  2. I think the Officer was not only in love with the apparatus, but in addition the ideology it represents. His obsession with the machine only further increases as life as he knows it is threatened to end. I disagree with you, I do not believe he was in love with the slow death the machine caused but rather what he believed to be justice was being served as it should be. I think the Officer truly did believe the law system in place in the colony was a fair and just system. The prisoners know the rules, and if a rule is broken punishment is due. The children having front seats were just a custom in the society and it would also serve as a very visual scare tactic to ensure the laws are followed. I disagree again, I do think he cared about justice and that is why he wanted to watch and make sure they received their due punishment. Do you think our differing interpretations of the novel affect what we take away from the story?

  3. I do agree with you that the officer was in love with the machine but I think that the way he felt about the machine was more than just love- to him the machine was a religion. I also do not believe that he just wanted to see people tortured but that he truly thought that he was carrying out the law and bringing justice to the penal colony. To him, the law is a religion with the machine as the ultimate judge and executioner and the old commandant as God. Once he realized that the machine would be no more, he could not stand the thought of living without his religion, and instead decides to become a martyr.

  4. autumncassidy

    As I was reading your post, I was struck by the impression that you were implying that the relationship between the Officer and the machine was one of a codependent sado-masochistic nature. I was intrigued by this because this implication clearly attributes human-like characteristics to the machine, which I did observe while reading the short story. I thought it was interesting that because of this anthropomorphism, it was a clear jump from the story to your post of the machine having characteristics of a human without any qualms from the poster or the readers. By attributing a “nature” to the aspect, this personification was complete.

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