The Officer: An Obsessed Madman

In the “Penal Colony”, the character put on by the officer reminds me of a obsessed madman. The officer was obsessed with the death apparatus at the penal colony which makes him a “bad guy”, in my opinion. For someone to actually get “excited” about death is pure evil. He is an obsessed man gone mad. He tries and tries to convince the Traveller of the death apparatus and win him over as well proves him to be a pitiable man.  He says to the Traveller, “The matter stands like this. 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. The basic principle I use for my decisions is this: Guilt is always beyond a doubt.”  With this quote, he tries to explain to the Traveller that though he is young, he is on top and knows the most. He feels as if no one knows the apparatus as he does and that guilt is more than just a gut feeling–it is usually your conscience.

By explaining this to the Traveller, he tries to get off the subject of the apparatus and win his side of agreement. The Officer’s character displays his obsession with the apparatus and shows he is a “good guy” gone crazy–a madman. At the end, I somewhat feel sorry for him for not realizing his obsessive, deranged ways over th apparatus.



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5 responses to “The Officer: An Obsessed Madman

  1. smboehm

    While I do agree that it is heartless for someone to be excited about putting someone to death, I disagree that the character of the officer is a villain in the story. Although he is portrayed as being no sympathy towards the condemned, his ideals aren’t purely based on the obsession with death, but more the obsession of following the law. Even though he does seem mad sometimes, I believe his fixation on finding and following the law consumes his ideals and actions, which ultimately cause him to appear deranged. His passion for the following of the law and his machine should be somewhat admirable, but we as the reader tend to view his ideals too grotesque to be honorable.

  2. looloo14

    I would agree that the Officer can be seen as a madman because he seems to enjoy watching the apparatus torture and kill another human being. It does seem that one must be evil to enjoy such a horrific scene. It makes me think of how, during the old commandant’s rule, people gathered in large groups to watch the executions. I wonder if this is Kafka’s way of saying people are generally evil. Or, perhaps more likely, that people are not necessarily evil however, they do enjoy watching others suffer. I would also agree with you that the officer evokes sympathy in the reader. He obviously feels a connection towards the apparatus and is not even able to feel its true wrath when he commits suicide.

  3. The Officer was not excited by death but rather by the justice that was being served. If anything, I think if anything, he was mad because he took the old commants ideas as laws that were the one and only truth. In that sense I can see the parallel to him as God. I liked how you used the quote that showed the Officer’s youth, I think that is an important point. This means that when the Officer worked and learned from the old commant, he was even younger and most likely very easy to influence. I think it’s interesting how in the end you feel sorry for him. Did the ending surprise you? Did it change your overall opinion of how you viewed the character of the Officer?

  4. I could not agree with you more! I do not know how the officer could not be viewed as the villain in this story. This is what I thought of the officer quickly after he was introduced to us in the story.

    I did think it interesting in the story how the officer was trying so hard to win over the traveler with his opinion of the machine. I thought it almost too much, almost as if the officer was trying to convince himself just how great and necessary the machine was.

    One thing that you mentioned in the end of your post, was you feeling sorry for the officer “for not realizing his obsessive, deranged ways over the apparatus.” I do agree that I felt sorry for him at the end of the story, but more so in the way that he was killed. The machine seemed to go haywire, and pretty much destroyed the officer, which was nothing like the other deaths described by the officer himself. I felt sorry for him just for the terrible way in which he died.

  5. autumncassidy

    Although you make excellent points, I would have to disagree with you regarding the Officer as a madman. Although it is obvious that his nature is clearly sadistic, he follows the strict guidelines of “the Law” and instead of a madman, I would like to postulate that instead he is more of a devout and pious follower of reason, however skewed his perception of what that reason may be. As has been seen throughout history with consequences and judicial systems such as Hammurabi’s Code, reactions to breaking rules are often harsh. By reading the story out of the context of the society, it is easy to make the Officer the villain, but are the observers to the punishment not villainous themselves? I think the Officer is more of a victim himself of a society that utilizes an unjust punishment in the name of justness.

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