The Apparatus as a Symbol

The apparatus from “The Penal Colony” is a symbol of an old way of life that is not only obsolete, but is now despised by the community who wishes to forget the past.  The Commandment has cut off funding to the upkeep of the machine and the people have abandoned the executions.  The Officer looks upon the abandonment as a sign that the old supporters have gone into hiding, as opposed to them moving on.  He emphasizes this with the line “There are still a lot of them, but no one admits to it” which shows a sense of denial that comes with watching so many people move on to a different life.  The short and simple structure furthers the notion that the Officer is primitive and simple in his beliefs while the rest of the community has evolved.  With the people moving on, the apparatus, with its medieval cruelty and twisted sense of justice, becomes disused and a source of shame, as evidenced by the presence of the Traveler as they yearn for his opinion.  The apparatus can only continue to work with the support of multiple people behind it, as the support dwindled to a single person it started acting up with its squeaks and noises, though it is possible to chalk that up to a need of replacement parts.  Yet, the greatest evidence would be when the Officer subjects himself to the machine; the apparatus loses its last supporter and subsequently starts breaking down.  The apparatus is not just a physical machine, but an idea and way of life that needs the support of the populace in order to function.




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2 responses to “The Apparatus as a Symbol

  1. looloo14

    I found it interesting that you considered the communities’ point of view on the apparatus. I didn’t think of it as a source of shame for them; I just considered it as something the new commandant wanted to banish. This view made me think of an inhuman social institution, like slavery. This is something that American citizens started to despise, especially during the abolition period. Now, we not only look down upon it but it is despised and evokes sympathy towards the enslaved. This seems to suggest a cycle in the way certain social institutions go about change. The next step for the community of the penal colony would seemingly be to completely outlaw torture during an execution.

  2. The machine being a symbol for the old way that things were done makes a lot of sense, especially when you take into account when the machine finally breaks. I think the machine breaking as its last supporter dies is very significant. The machine would have probably not been used after the Officer’s death so the machine dying with the Officer is a symbol of this form of punishment becoming obsolete. There is also a chance that what the officer wanted inscribed in him was going against the machine’s purpose and existence. So I agree with the point that you make about the machine being a symbol for the law under the Old Commandant.

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