In Kafka’s In the Penal Colony , I found it undeniable that the Officer is the “villain” of the story. However, he is the kind of villain that is the most frightening to me: a deranged zealot who does not accept his own nature.
In the beginning of the short story, as the apparatus was only starting to be described, I was forcibly reminded of The Machine from The Princess Bride, a somewhat cartoonish “pain machine” built and revered by a power-hungry count. I prepared myself for a similar mustache-twirling villain in the Officer, but upon reading I found myself continuously overtaken by the sheer horror of the apparatus as well as the love the Officer has for it. The Officer’s repeated “Do you know about the previous Commandant?” and his relentless chattering about the apparatus reminded me of a member of my family who sadly became such a zealot of his religion that he cut off all ties with anyone who ever loved him. He of course does not have a machine that is capable of such torture, but the similarities to the Officer are chilling. They both blindly cling to something against which the popular opinion has turned. They both obsess about their object of worship and humble themselves before him.
The Officer’s obsession with the apparatus is tied to his worship of the previous Commandant – it is the last tangible evidence of a time in which the Officer enjoyed his life. His obsession acts as blinders for him. All he sees is the “beauty” of the apparatus, that what he is doing is actually just and right, and that everyone else is wrong. I find him pitiable in that this is what he built his life around; however, my pity stops to a point because I think it’s clear that he could have been rehabilitated and had a good life under the new Commandant. Those who do not want help because they see nothing wrong with their dangerous actions – those are the most frightening antagonists to me.