Tradition can be unifying, sentimental and comfortable, but for Kafka’s “In The Penal Colony”, it is presented to be unreasonable, morose, and outdated. The apparatus of the colony is a symbol for tradition, and its destruction embodies the decrepit and catastrophic nature if not reviewed.
In the beginning of the story, The Officer of the colony, who was also the late Commandant’s assistant, zealously explains the logistics of this punishment machine that his Commandant invented. “Here in the penal colony I have been appointed judge. In spite of my youth. For I stood at the side of our previous Commandant in all matters of punishment, and I also know the most about the apparatus” (Kafka). This indicates that The Officer was appointed judge because he was trusted to uphold the values of his former Commandant, the founder of the colony. The late Commandant symbolizes the instability and dispensability of tradition. He is dead and buried, and even mocked by some. The former Commandant’s death exemplifies how feeble tradition can be and how irrelevant his ideals are to the contemporary society he is no longer a part of.
The apparatus itself is portentously complex, reminiscent of medieval torture, and boarding on ornate for such a gross function. Even more undermining is the cryptic framework of the machine, which the explorer finds completely illegible. The ramifications of the excessive materials and the archaic design indicates how esoteric and unreasonable this tradition is. What is keeping the late Commandant’s outdated machine going is the blind loyalty of the officer to tradition. The machine’s crumble elicits how unstable and detrimental upholding archaic tradition can be. The Officer’s decision to fallaciously embrace this unreasonable tradition by placing himself in, triggers the destruction, and asserts Kafka’s petition for social progress.